Best practices: social research methods to inform biological conservation

Sharifa G. Crandall, Jennifer L. Ohayon, Luz A. de Wit, J. E. Hammond, Kate L. Melanson, Monica M. Moritsch, Rob Davenport, Diana Ruiz, Bradford Keitt, Nick D. Holmes, Heath G. Packard, Jeffrey Bury, Gregory S. Gilbert, Ingrid M. Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Social factors play a critical role in almost every conservation problem. There is a pressing need for conservation researchers and practitioners to understand both the ecological and human dimensions of their systems in order for projects to be successful. At the same time, many conservation professionals come from a natural science background with little training in or limited access to social research methodologies. The purpose of this article is to review the principal methods of social science field research relevant for biological conservation: archival research, key informant interviews, oral histories, surveys, focus groups, participant observation, discourse analysis and participatory research. Our goal is to provide a scaffold of knowledge for those unfamiliar with these methods, outlining each approach and providing examples of how they have been applied to conservation problems. We emphasise social research designed to advance conservation objectives, particularly in the case of the conservation of biodiversity on islands internationally, where high endemism and risk of extinction combine with diverse human needs, values and belief systems. Based on the literature reviewed, we contribute a timeline suggesting when to implement these social methodologies during conservation efforts on inhabited islands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6-23
Number of pages18
JournalAustralasian Journal of Environmental Management
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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