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