Listen. Empower. Transform. Part III. Transform
You may be thinking that now is the time to show off your skills and really highlight why your organization is best suited to help solve the problem. Wrong! Now is the time to be collaborative and humble. We need to transform our perspectives on what we believe is traditional knowledge and skills for conservation. So many times we come in with a solution in such a way that we overshadow traditional knowledge such as seasonal variations, known species in an area, historical records, and gender/race/sexual orientation/religious significance.
For example, when I conducted focus group meetings in the Bahamas, I met with a group of fishers and one of the youngest fishers ran out of the meeting. Of course I wasn't sure if I should feel offended, but we kept the meeting going. About 20 minutes later, the young fisher returned with an older woman with grey hair. She was smiling from ear to ear and everyone in the room got up to greet her. It was at this time I realized that we had no women in the room (classic male privilege/bias). What I learned was that this single woman was revered as the ultimate fisher on the island. She had knowledge about the history of the island's fishery that nobody else held. She was able to help provide economic data on the past prosperity of the fishery. She said that 15 years ago, the island's women and children made a living by deshelling conchs and packaging the meat. Because of the huge decline in conch, fishers must now deshell while out on their boat and end up throwing the conch shell on the ocean bed. This is actually causing a different ecological problem. Now women and children must find alternative jobs or they don't work at all.
Armed with this local knowledge, I could help local conservation groups understand that a metric of success for a sustainable conch fishery could be the employment of women and children. Not only that, but we better understood why certain areas had become littered with conch shells. Now they could work better with the local fishers and help them understand that an outcome of our work would be the return of certain jobs.
Another example happened during a dam removal project. The conservation organization put in a sensor to measure water clarity and velocity. One of the locals said the location was bad b/c the water would be far above what was expected for the season. The conservation group put in the sensor and come early Fall, they were unable to get to the sensor which led to corrupt data b/c they couldn't provide maintenance.
We can't move so fast in the action phase that we forget to include the community's knowledge. It has been shown that conservation efforts can be overridden when the community/nation doesn't care. People care when you involve them in the process and make them part of the solution. Transforming how we do conservation is the only way we ensure communities are empowered to ensure conservation efforts are sustainable into the future.