Limitations and Benefits of the Unmatched Count Technique: Considering How We Use New Methods in Conservation

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A New Conservation Toolbox

It is widely accepted that many conservation challenges are directly related to human behaviour. Whether it is the over-collection of a rare orchid by harvesters in Southeast Asia, or the decisions by collectors in Europe to buy and smuggle these orchids home, understanding the extent and nature of these behaviours is essential to addressing the threats they might cause. This has led conservation researchers and practitioners to start looking outside of their discipline, to find methods and approaches from across the social sciences to improve our understanding of these complex issues.

A research assistant carrying out a UCT survey about the use of Traditional Medicine products containing bear bile in China. © Chen Haochun.

A research assistant carrying out a UCT survey about the use of Traditional Medicine products containing bear bile in China. © Chen Haochun.

While this interdisciplinarity is a positive move for conservation, it is important that we treat these ‘new’ methods carefully and understand their limitations. If we don’t, there is a risk that our new toolbox full of exciting methods that sound great on a funding application, may in fact not be making what we do any better, or in extreme cases they may even be making it worse.

With this in mind, a group of conservation social scientists, led by researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Exeter, decided to look in depth into one of these ‘new’ methods, to provide recommendations on when and how it should be used, and when it shouldn’t. Our Open Access article – ‘Asking sensitive questions using the unmatched count technique: Applications and guidelines for conservation‘ – looks at the Unmatched Count Technique (UCT – also called the list experiment), which is increasingly being used in conservation to ask questions about ‘sensitive’ topics. Continue reading

New Studies Aim to Boost Social Science Methods in Conservation Research

Below is a press release about the Methods Special Feature ‘Qualitative Methods for Eliciting Judgements for Decision Making‘ taken from the University of Exeter.

Scientists have produced a series of papers designed to improve research on conservation and the environment.

A group of researchers have contributed to a Special Feature of the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution to examine commonly used social science techniques and provide a checklist for scientists to follow.

Traditional conservation biology has been dominated by quantitative data (measured in numbers) but today it frequently relies on qualitative methods such as interviews and focus group discussions. The aim of the special issue is to help researchers decide which techniques are most appropriate for their study, and improve the “methodological rigour” of these techniques. Continue reading