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Conservation in a Wicked World

By Eve McDonald-Madden and Eddie Game

Conventional approaches to conservation can learn from complex military decisions in Afghanistan.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Conservation is not rocket science. It’s far more complex. Rocket flight obeys well-understood laws, is predictable and varies in only four dimensions. Most rockets reach their targets but, when they don’t, the reasons why they didn’t are likely to be obvious.

Most conservation actions, in contrast, cannot be assured of reaching their target, and the reasons for the failure are often poorly understood. The uncertainties are largely due to the fact that most conservation problems are embedded in socio-ecological systems possessing all the characteristics of “complex systems”: numerous interacting elements lacking any central control, nonlinear interactions between elements, constant change that is often irreversible, and no clearly defined boundaries to the system.

These characteristics contribute to what have been come to be known as “wicked problems”. Wicked problems generally lack clear solutions because each problem is linked to other problems, and the nature and characterisation of each cannot be isolated.

Of course, it’s not just conservation that grapples with challenge of complexity. Complex systems (and the associated wicked problems) have been the focus of research in various fields, including mathematics, psychology, social science, military studies and business management.

Can those in the conservation game draw any insights from...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.