Thinking beyond formal policy to change human behavior.
In most cases, achieving our goals for people and nature outcomes requires changing the behavior of key groups of people within the socio-ecological system(s) of interest. How we think about strategies that seek to change people’s behavior on large scales is evolving. In the past we often focused on changing formal/government policy (international agreements, laws, regulations, funding), and increasingly on changing corporate policies as well. In the context of systems change, it may be more useful to think about policy more broadly than formal government policies and from a systems perspective as well. Instead, think of policy as a set of rules that guide people’s behavior within the socio-ecological system of interest. Some of the rules are “written rules”, like laws, regulations, or corporate policy. Other rules emerge from the structures and mechanisms we create to implement laws and policies, such as enforcement. Then there are the “unwritten or cultural rules” that guide people’s behavior, such as the values, behavioral norms and mental maps that shape how people deal with and understand an issue. All of these “rules” — which may occur at different scales (global market forces, national laws, local regulations, local norms and beliefs) together guide people’s behavior toward the conservation targets of interest. Framing/thinking about policy in this way may open up a much greater range of strategy alternatives than formal written policy and may in the end be more effective. For more on this concept of policy, see the Policy Working Group report (Evans et. al 2015).