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When conservation goes viral: The diffusion of innovative biodiversity conservation policies and practices

Michael B. Mascia, Morena Mills

Conservation Letters, 11, e12442

January 29, 2018

Despite billions of dollars invested, “getting to scale” remains a fundamental challenge for conservation donors and practitioners. Occasionally, however, a conservation intervention will “go viral,” with rapid, widespread adoption that transforms the relationship between people and nature across large areas. The factors that shape rates and patterns of conservation interventions remain unclear, puzzling scientists and hindering evidence‐based policymaking. Diffusion of innovation theory—the study of the how and why innovations are adopted, and the rates and patterns of adoption—provides a novel lens for examining rates and patterns in the establishment of conservation interventions. Case studies from Tanzania and the Pacific illustrate that characteristics of the innovation, of the adopters, and of the social‐ecological context shape spatial and temporal dynamics in the diffusion of community‐centered conservation interventions. Differential trends in adoption mirrored the relative advantage of interventions to local villagers and villager access to external technical assistance. Theories of innovation diffusion highlight new arenas for conservation research and provide critical insights for conservation policy and practice, suggesting the potential to empower donors and practitioners with the ability to catalyze conservation at scale—and to do so at less cost and with longer‐lasting impacts.

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