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How Big Data Can Support More Precise Conservation

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How Big Data Can Support More Precise Conservation

A recent study suggests that the kind of data-driven approach used by tech professionals can also help to inspire new conservation behaviors.

· Big Data Zone ·
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Marketing may, on the surface, appear to have little it can teach conservationists about how to protect precious wilderness, but a recent study from the University of Montana suggests that the kind of data-driven approach used by digital marketers can also help to inspire new conservation behaviors.

The researchers examined how conservationists can use the kind of microtargeting techniques commonly used in digital marketing to better identify landowners who might be agreeable to installing riparian buffers on their land. The landowners were based in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which is home to around 18 million people and is the county's largest estuary, providing habitat for around 3,600 plants and animal species.

The researchers wanted to test the use of microtargeting, which is a method used in marketing that relies heavily on big data to predictively analyze the customer base to determine those most likely to respond positively to a particular message or intervention.

"These are the types of data that inform the ads you get on Facebook or Google," the researchers explain. "We're taking that same technology and instead of trying to sell people stuff, we're trying to find people most willing to invest in conservation."

Precision Conservation

The team developed a land cover data set before overlaying it with detailed property records to help them identify specific land owners where the riparian areas needed better conservation. They took this information and developed a model using a second database of landowners who had previously conducted restoration work to test whether this model could accurately predict future participation.

When the model was tested, it revealed that those landowners identified as being good targets were indeed more likely to support the project. Indeed, they had done so twice as often in the past.

"If you are a conservation NGO or government agency conducting outreach, microtargeting can dramatically increase your impact or cut your outreach budget," the authors say. "The marketing tools that we see all around us can be employed to do really good work for conservation agencies and groups. There's a lot of power there."

Whilst this particular study had a quite distinct use case, the researchers have both used and identified similar data-driven approaches to assess land-use decisions and aptitude for conservation in the past. They are confident that it could be invaluable in a wide range of scenarios.

"There is growing recognition that conservation needs frequently surpass the resources we have to invest in them," they conclude. "If we're going to make progress toward conservation objectives, we have to be smart about where we spend our money, so we have to look for the places that have the highest return on our conservation investment."

Topics:
big data ,big data use cases ,microtargeting ,big data analysis ,predictive analytics

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