Information transfer and the effectiveness of behaviour change strategies in conservation

Emiel’s PhD project aims to understand how information from a conservation intervention is transferred, how it flows through a communities and how this affects behaviour.

Photo credit: Emiel de Lange


Almost all conservation interventions are designed to change the behaviour of people in some way, whether it is stopping logging or encouraging tree-planting. Some of the most common such strategies include environmental education, enforcement of rules or providing incentives. In these strategies, the target is expected to change his (or her) beliefs about the world after receiving some information, resulting in new behavioural patterns. For example, law enforcement is only effective as a deterrent if people are made aware of the risks and costs associated with their activities. However, very little is understood about how information reaches its targets, if at all, and how this ‘transfer’ of information can be made more effective or efficient.

humans are social beings whose behaviour is also influenced by the behaviour of others around us – social norms

Another issue with these strategies is that they are often based on a simplistic understanding of how people behave. Law enforcement models often expect people to behave like econs (rational, self-interested, utility-maximisers), and environmental education campaigns are built on a knowledge-deficit model wherein providing the information is seen as enough for people to start making better decisions. In reality, human decision-making is a complex process that is not well understood, but models from psychology can give us a more realistic picture. For one, they highlight that humans are social beings whose behaviour is also influenced by the behaviour of others around us – social norms. When we communicate and receive information, the identities of those we communicate with influences how we use that information. In addition to social norms, this relates to many important social concepts such as power and trust.

In this PhD project, I aim to understand how information from a conservation intervention is transferred and how it flows through a community. I will explore how this information affects behaviour, and how this process is mediated by the routes taken. In collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society in Cambodia I will be studying informational campaigns aiming to reduce wildlife poisonings from pesticide misuse and a scheme incentivising the protection of bird nests.

I will use social network analyses, in conjunction with field experiments, to map the structure of local communities and predict how information flows through these structures. This data will then be used to inform the design of interventions using a variety of targeting strategies. We will then attempt to track the information in these interventions and compare the effectiveness of different strategies.


Emiel de Lange


Aidan Keane (University of Edinburgh, School of GeoSciences)

E.J. Milner-Gulland (University of Oxford, Department of Zoology)


NERC E3 DTP PhD Studentship

Collaborating organisations

Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia


de Lange, E., Dobson, A. D. M., Milner-Gulland, E. J., & Keane, A. (2021). Combining simulation and empirical data to explore the scope for social network interventions in conservation. Biological Conservation, 261, 109292.

de Lange, E., Milner-Gulland, E. J., & Keane, A. (2021). Effects of social networks on interventions to change conservation behavior. Conservation Biology.

de Lange, E., Milner-Gulland, E. J., Yim, V., Leng, C., Phann, S., & Keane, A. (2020). Using mixed methods to understand sensitive wildlife poisoning behaviours in northern Cambodia. Oryx, Early view.

Veríssimo, D., Pienkowski, T., Arias, M., Cugnière, L., Doughty, H., Hazenbosch, M., de Lange, E., Moskeland, A., & Grace, M. (2020). Ethical Publishing in Biodiversity Conservation Science. Conservation and Society, 18(3), 220.

Brittain, S., Ibbett, H., de Lange, E., Dorward, L., Hoyte, S., Marino, A., Milner-Gulland, E. J., Newth, J., Rakotonarivo, S., Veríssimo, D., & Lewis, J. (2020). Ethical considerations when conservation research involves people. Conservation Biology.

de Lange, E., Milner-Gulland, E. J., & Keane, A. (2019). Improving Environmental Interventions by Understanding Information Flows. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 34(11), 1034–1047.

Dobson, A. D. M., de Lange, E., Keane, A., Ibbett, H., & Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2019). Integrating models of human behaviour between the individual and population levels to inform conservation interventions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 374(1781), 20180053.