Enabling Collaboration In Conservation: An Exploration Of Change, Diversity And Funding

Elliott, Lindsey Celeste (2022). Enabling Collaboration In Conservation: An Exploration Of Change, Diversity And Funding. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00014f65


Conservation is a mission-driven field to sustain the diversity of life on the planet. The use of collaborative approaches in conservation has grown rapidly, and it is argued that ‘supraorganisational collaboration’, which describes interorganisational collaboration to address complex societal meta-problems, is needed to tackle ‘wicked’ conservation issues. Management literature clearly shows how collaboration between organisations is itself complex and often challenging in practice. The Theory of Collaborative Advantage (TCA) uses theoretical conceptualisations about the management, leadership and governance of interorganisational collaboration to develop robust understanding about themes that are recognisable to collaboration practitioners, helping them to reflect about issues of importance and act appropriately.

This research bridges collaborative theory and conservation in research and practice to explore ways to enable collaboration in conservation. The study is interdisciplinary in bringing together theoretical concepts from the TCA and the context of conservation. It is additionally transdisciplinary in its use of a Research Oriented Action Research (RO-AR) approach, similar to that used for the ongoing development of the TCA, to make novel contributions to knowledge through practice-oriented research with actual conservation collaborations. The research journey was emergent as it was directed by collaborators’ needs in practice.

The study involved working directly with participants within two settings, the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and the Biodiversity Revisited Initiative, via a number of interventions to address the challenges they faced. Different types of data about individuals’ perspectives and collaborative interactions and settings were collected through: participant observation, interviews, conversations, surveys, key document review and feedback opportunities. Three interconnected themes – change, diversity and funding – emerged during in-depth analysis.

The thesis considers different types of change and how these are achieved through collaboration. Conservation is recognised as a field that requires working across multiple individual and organisational differences, and ways of doing so in practice are explored. Funding is identified as a key enabler for collaboration within this severely underfunded field. Consideration of findings in light of relevant interdisciplinary literature led to two types of contribution. Firstly, the study generates actionable knowledge about ways that collaborators can work together to achieve change in complex systems, as well as ways the field of conservation itself can be changed to further enable collaboration. Secondly, the thesis extends collaborative theory through the conceptualisation of the change paradox and a management tension that can support reflection about the management of different ambitions for change within conservation collaborations.

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