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Front. Commun., 04 September 2017
Sec. Science and Environmental Communication

Place-Based Dialogics: Adaptive Cultural and Interpersonal Approaches to Environmental Conservation

  • Department of Communication, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX, United States

This study examines conservation campaigns and how they employ place-based interpersonal communication tactics to better engage local communities in rural locations in Indonesia, Philippines, and Colombia. In collaboration with the non-governmental organization Rare, the authors explore how social marketing campaigns coupled with interpersonal communication can influence communities that are often considered the most marginalized and affected by environmental problems. Field research was conducted in Indonesia since 2008 and Colombia since 2014. Ethnography through participant observation and interviews were primary methods for data collection as well as a thorough analysis of organizational documents, such as websites, blogs, reports, and other written work. Using theories of dialogue and place-based studies of interpersonal communication, three key campaign strategies emerged from our research. First, cooperative engagement through semi-formalized information sharing is an important component of building a campaign in rural areas, which might include key stakeholder meetings, relationship building with local governmental, religious, and community leaders, and training sessions with local farmers or fishers. A second approach is based on critical listening and understanding through word of mouth involvement, such as community activities and improved understanding of the challenges that local people face in their communities. Finally, a third approach relates to the recognition of difference through engaging local culture. Campaign managers have used religious leaders, local languages, traditional customs and activities, and other place-based approaches to create inclusive conservation campaigns. These strategies demonstrate that conservation campaigns require intense interpersonal dialogue, long-term commitment, and place-based understanding.


Over the course of the last two decades, environmental communication has blossomed into a thriving field of inquiry that grapples with myriad issues that affect lives and livelihoods around the world. Despite this growth, some areas and methods of communication research remain extremely underrepresented in the corpus of environmental communication scholarship. As Cantrill (2010) explains, “few scholars have incorporated interpersonal theories and approaches into their examinations of communication practice regarding the environment” (p. 32). The dearth of interpersonal approaches in environmental communication research is surprising given that most campaigns intended to improve environmental outcomes are partially, if not entirely, focused on interpersonal engagement. Certainly, environmental communication scholars have theorized topics such as public participation (Senecah, 2004; Callister, 2013), environmental democracy (Peterson et al., 2007), and conflict resolution (Walker et al., 2006)—issues which are all at least tangentially related to interpersonal communication. Others such as Kassing et al. (2012) have attempted to create quantitative scales to assess how people converse about environmental subject matter in daily life.

This essay aims to fill this gap in scholarship by exploring how interpersonal dialogues can be used to foster and sustain meaningful change messaging pertaining to the environment. To that end, we analyze interpersonal communication strategies employed in social marketing campaigns as part of the environmental non-governmental organization (ENGO), Rare (based in Arlington, Virginia, USA, and with offices in Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines, Colombia, China, and Mozambique). These Rare campaigns are part of a long-term research project in which we study how such campaigns work in local contexts in Southeast Asia and South America. In what follows, we first present a discussion on how interpersonal communication has been used in social marketing campaigns, followed by discussions of dialogic theories and our discussion of Rare’s conservation campaigns, known as Pride Campaigns.

Interpersonal Communication in Campaigns

The ability of interpersonal communication to create change has been widely studied in the fields of health communication and public health. Servaes and Malikhao (2010) argue that interpersonal communication is an important part of using advocacy strategies for health communication. One major area of focus is the use of interpersonal communication to aid in smoking cessation. Studies have shown that interpersonal communication about antismoking campaigns stimulates change through both initial interactions about the campaigns (van den Putte et al., 2011; Jeong et al., 2015), and through secondary dissemination of message content (van den Putte et al., 2011). Interpersonal communication is therefore an important addition to mass media campaigns (van den Putte et al., 2011; Jeong et al., 2015). In their study of a telehealth intervention to promote long-term smoking cessation in low-income populations, Parks et al. (2016) found that interpersonal communication was related to the initial utilization of smoking cessation interventions and continued smoking abstinence. Other studies have focused on health outcomes such as nutrition and malaria prevention. In their study of a school-based nutrition program called Taste Lessons, Battjes-Fries et al. (2016) found that interpersonal communication correlated to Dutch elementary school children’s increased knowledge and willingness to taste unfamiliar food and eat healthy food. An interpersonal communication campaign, involving house visits by community health workers, was found to increase the use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets to prevent the spread of malaria in Zambia (Keating et al., 2012). However, a key limitation in these studies is that interpersonal communication is treated as nothing more than a variable, and there is a lack of in-depth exploration into what actual practices of interpersonal communication look like. We understand interpersonal communication to be an important component of change messaging. However, we are also aiming to avoid reductionistic approaches that minimize conversation to a simple variable and do not account for the depth, nuance, or complexity that can be involved when environmental advocates engage in outreach.

We argue that one of the most successful ways to do so is through highly localized conservation campaigns that rely primarily on interpersonal communication, discussion, and connection of one, or a very small number, of key (and interrelated) environmental issues. These communication approaches are the basis for community engagement and the democratic participation of communities. To advance this argument, we focus on Rare, which seeks to address conservation through a focus on behavior change in environmental campaigns in rural communities around the world, but most recently targeted to Latin and South America, Indonesia, Philippines, Brazil, Mozambique, and China. These campaigns rely heavily on interpersonal and dialogic communication through key stakeholder meetings and relationship building, small scale community events, trainings and workshops, and house, church, and mosque meetings to create environmental awareness that leads to behavior change. Such interpersonal communication in small group settings demonstrates the importance of dialogic engagement that is place-based.

This research is based on years-long field research, starting in December 2008. Our university offers a master’s degree program in partnership with Rare; through this program, we have become invested and well versed in the local social marketing and communication strategies used to achieve behavior change on key conservation issues. One author of this paper has coordinated the Indonesia program since 2008 and led a university partnership in Indonesia from 2012 to 2015. Her work with the Indonesia program has resulted in hundreds of hours of ethnographic observation in the Indonesian classroom and field locations. She has also conducted hour long interviews with more than 40 Rare campaign managers in Indonesia, and visited about half of the campaign sites, situated in rural locations. As part of a larger, longitudinal study, another author wrote his dissertation on Rare’s organizational strategies in Indonesia which involved in-depth interviews with over 20 campaign managers and Rare staff, 2 months of field work and participant observation, and textual analysis of over 800 pages of documents. Another author has coordinated Rare’s Spanish language program in Guadalajara, Mexico, over four visits of 1–2 weeks each for the past 3 years, and has visited campaign sites in Colombia over a 3-week period in 2016 for ethnographic observation periods.

All of us have engaged in extensive qualitative research methods that include ethnographic observations through site visits, review of student assignments and campaign materials, and study of Rare’s organizational documents (hundreds of pages of websites, campaign reports, and other materials). We have also conducted interviews with campaign managers in Spanish, Indonesian, and English. Our field research has also involved extensive travel and engagement at least once a year since 2008 for several weeks at a time. This approach was reviewed and approved by The University of Texas at El Paso’s Institutional Review Board and the University of Utah’s Institutional Review Board and written, and informed consent (following our IRB protocol) was obtained from all participants who were interviewed. Participants mentioned in this study consented to the use of their real names. Our analysis is based on our data collection from these visits and regular communication with Rare staff and campaign managers.

After a thorough analysis of Rare’s campaign strategies, we found that interpersonal communication was one of the major approaches for creating community buy-in. After reviewing data again with a focus on interpersonal communication, we used theories from dialogic scholars to explain how such interpersonal communication functions and why it seems to work. Our argument in this essay is twofold. First, we contend that a place-based dialogic approach to conservation creates meaningful and sustainable relationships capable of fostering long-term capacity building and behavioral change. Rather than focusing on interpersonal communication as a passive variable for engaging communities, we understand dialogue to be a constitutive element of public participation and environmental conservation. Our focus, then, is on exploring place-based dialogue and participatory engagement. Second, we argue that a place-based approach to engagement offers environmental activists, scholars, and practitioners a more adaptive and, ultimately, more effective way of engaging target audiences. Rather than relying on top-down approaches to conservation, place-based dialogue necessitates coordination and collaboration with communities to create adaptive solutions to the myriad complex environmental issues that exist around the world.

In building this argument, we begin by tracing key theoretical perspectives about place-based dialogue that emerge from our analysis. Next, we articulate Rare’s unique environmental conservation approach as a model for place-based dialogic engagement. Drawing on our experience with(in) the organization, we detail three key strategies that are crucial to this place-based approach. Our study reveals three key strategies, based on the dialogic works of Paulo Freire, Martin Buber, and Mikhail Bakhtin: engaging cooperatively, critical listening and understanding, and recognizing difference through engaging local cultures. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of the theoretical and practical implications of place-based environmental dialogics.

Theories of Dialogue

Beginning in the 1990s, communication-based approaches to dialogue emerged as a major focal point of analysis in subfields such as interpersonal communication, organizational communication, and rhetoric. Although the meanings and definitions of “dialogue” are somewhat slippery and vary from scholar to scholar, dialogue is generally viewed as a reciprocal process that “exists in moments rather than extended states” (Anderson et al., 2004, p. 14). Cooper et al. (2013) explain that the concept of dialogue originates in the work of Socrates, and rather than telling participants what to think, its use in The Socratic Method leads them to reconstruct their assumptions through dialogue. Understanding dialogue as an adjective or adverb that can be used to describe particular qualities of a speech act being performed (Pearce and Pearce, 2004) enables us to understand and differentiate meaningful encounters that occur at “moments of meeting” (Cissna and Anderson, 1998). In such moments, dialogic communication is differentiated from traditional forms of communication (such as transactional or persuasive) because an inherent focus on reflexivity, ethicality, and mutual engagement is expected (or perhaps, required). Within the realm of dialogue studies, three scholars are generally regarded as the most influential for formulating the dominant view of dialogue today: Martin Buber, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Paulo Freire. A full account of their perspectives on dialogue would obviously be outside the scope and purview of this essay. Still, we begin by tracing their approaches toward dialogue as a way of articulating the theoretical assumptions that undergird our place-based approach.

Martin Buber’s concept of genuine dialogue refers to interpersonal encounters where participants turn toward one another, acknowledging the other’s presence as a whole person. In this form of communication, “each of the participants really has in mind the other or others in their present and particular being and turns to them with the intention of establishing a living mutual relation between himself [sic] and them” (Buber, 1965, p. 19). He describes two fundamental stances people take toward one another in interpersonal communication: an “I-It” attitude involves treating others as objects to be used for our purposes, where an “I-Thou” attitude, by contrast, treats others with mutual respect and understanding (Buber, 1970). Buber is primarily concerned with the latter form of interpersonal communication and frequently equates authentic human life with dialogic meeting. An “I-Thou” approach to dialogue therefore “establishes the world of relation,” and this relation ultimately translates to reciprocity (Buber, 1970, p. 55). We conceive of Buber’s conceptualization of I-Thou vs. I-It as an acknowledgment of the other achieved through critical listening and understanding, which enables the necessary preconditions of dialogic engagement.

Expanding Buber’s notion of reflexivity and understanding, Mikhail Bakhtin’s (Bakhtin and Holquist, 1981) theory of dialogue is predicated upon the assumption that society and social meanings are inherently fragmentary, multi-vocal, and in a constant state of fluctuation. Speech utterances, which are “the operative unit of language in everyday life,” are inextricably bound to the social context in which they occur and are, thus, a “material expression of their speakers’ positions in the social arena and are conveyors of particular worldviews and social ideologies” (Strine, 2004, p. 225). Speech utterances are instantiations of power, ideology, and meaning that have material consequences on not only relationships with others, but the society and culture as well. Put simply, when we speak, we are building the world around us. As a literary critic, Bakhtin is chiefly interested in understanding how discourse of genres (such as the novel) provided a representational text that served as a response to different viewpoints or perspectives. Recognizing that societies, discourses, and cultures are never monolithic or static, Bakhtin advances the concept of heteroglossia—a multivocality and plurality in meanings and values—as a way of explaining how certain speech utterances may be more or less legitimized within a particular social context. Thus, for Bakhtin, dialogue is understood as a relational accomplishment that occurs through the necessity of interacting with different people or perspectives. Dialogism emphasizes difference between interlocutors (via language, stylistics, social position, etc.) and an active, engaged attempt to negotiate heteroglossic interactivity. For the purposes of this essay, we therefore understand Bakhtin’s contributions to dialogue as the recognition of difference.

Finally, Freire’s (2000) approach to dialogue centers on human relationships between the oppressed and those in positions of power who attempt to “deposit” ideas and knowledge into them. He defines dialogue as “the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world,” and stresses that dialogue cannot exist when one group of people denies another the right to speak and name their world (Freire, 2000, p. 88). Freire is therefore concerned with people in dominant positions assuming their knowledge is more valuable than knowledge of people in poverty, and how people in poverty internalize this oppression, viewing their knowledge as less valuable. Without respectful dialogue between “expert” and community points of view, Freire (2000) argues that interactions are based in a “false generosity,” positioning communities as unable to fully achieve their humanity (p. 45). Freire (2000) ultimately understands dialogue as involving a “profound love for the world and for people,” and this love involves courage and commitment to others (2000, p. 89). For Freire, then, it is vital to engage in cooperative, mutually beneficial forms of communication in order to maintain effective dialogue, and we conceive of his approach to dialogue as cooperative engagement.

Critical listening and understanding (Buber), recognition of difference (Bakhtin), and cooperative engagement (Freire) are, in a sense, the foundation of contemporary understandings of dialogue. In achieving these conditions, it becomes possible to move beyond transactional or confrontational modes of communication and, instead, create transformative, participatory praxis. Cooper et al. (2013) offer five characteristics of transformative dialogue. First, it involves a deep respect and valuing of others. Second, the dialogical relationship is based in equality, and interactions are non-authoritarian. Third, transformative dialogue involves an openness to others, demonstrated through a willingness to listen and be changed. Fourth, it requires a willingness to take a step back from a position and view the world through the perspective of someone else. Finally, dialogue is understood as central to growth, development, and social change for individuals, communities, and/or societies as a whole: “Out of communication, or dialogue, a shared understanding of what to do next emerges. If the dialogue is not fair and equitable, then it is likely that the action outcomes are going to privilege some interests over others” (Cooper et al., 2013, p. 80). These general characteristics to dialogue have served as a foundation for the proliferation of communication-based approaches to dialogue in recent years.

As a theoretical concept, dialogue has great potential for transforming and reimagining how we envision social relationships. Yet, in drawing on dialogue to examine how place-based approaches might enable more robust or meaningful types of engagement, we are careful not blindly assume that the concept is a utopic ideal. Peters (1999) for instance, remarks that “in certain quarters dialogue has attained somewhat of a holy status” (p. 33). Montague (2012) contends that current communication research lacks “rich descriptions of how dialogic moments are experienced in real life interpersonal interaction” (p. 398). Hawes (2004) asserts that, despite a proliferation of work claiming to use dialogue to resolve myriad problems ranging “from mean-spirited conversation in daily life to the ethical dilemmas of institutional life…less has been written on how to sustain dialogue at the edges of possibility” (p. 176). These critiques are certainly warranted. Our work in this essay aims to provide an empirically grounded account of how dialogue might be used to form and sustain relationships between environmental advocates and community members, as these relationships are sometimes limited in depth or meaning. By understanding dialogue not as an end-result or utopic ideal but as a relational accomplishment that characterizes the type or quality of a relationship, our aim is to explore how place-based approaches can provide more efficacy and reflexivity.

Dialogue as Place-Based Engagement

Analyses of space and place as communicative phenomena highlight the salience of place-based dialogue as a strategy for environmental engagement. Although much has been written to distinguish place from space as distinct theoretical concepts (Dickinson, 2002; Modesti, 2008; Blair et al., 2010), our focus in this essay is on place as a tangible resource in interpersonal communication. Following Endres and Senda-Cook (2011), we understand place to refer to “particular locations (e.g., a city, a particular shopping mall, or a park) that are semi-bounded, a combination of material and symbolic qualities, and embodied” (p. 259). In the context of environmental conservation campaigns, place is an especially important consideration because location can constrain or enable strategies for interpersonal engagement. Awareness and reflexivity about the social, symbolic, and material contours of place(s) allows for practitioners to understand the unique tensions or problems that exist in situ. As Cantrill (1996) explains, “Perception of the self in relation to the environment can affect appraisals of problems in a number of ways. For example, we know that the self exerts a strong referential effect in focusing attention and stimulating memory” (p. 79). Efforts aimed at interpersonal engagement should be cognizant of place-based exigencies that may shape how people or communities relate to the environment. That is, as humans, we have strong perceptual filters in relationship to the natural world. As Burke (1968) suggests, our terministic screens act as a reflection, selection, and deflection of reality, which Cantrill connects to place: “a sense of place is socially constructed upon an edifice of the environmental self, which in itself, is a product of discourse and experience” (Cantrill, 1998, p. 304). Martinez (2000) further explains that “Somewhere in this mutual construction, persons experience themselves, others, and the world. In taking up communication, in whatever context and through whatever means, persons create experience—consciousness—and have the possibility of self-consciousness. Our very seeing, thinking, feeling, and acting always already partakes in the momentum of the social and discursive world” (pp. 6–7). Put simply, how we describe our sense of place influences how we act in that place and vice versa.

Place-based approaches to interpersonal dialogue are also significant because they contextualize social communities as constitutive elements of environmental behavior. Understanding a community’s sense of place is critical in establishing environmental plans, policies, discussions, and the like (Cantrill, 1998). For instance, Boyd (2015) explains how place-based attachments can be strong catalysts in mobilizing community members to action against perceived environmental threats. She explains, “This attachment and sense of community reinforce and reflect the social construction of risk in the local environment and can be seen as central to the basis by which people select and interpret risks” (Boyd, 2015, p. 185). Place-based social attachments, however, are not bound solely to risk assessment. Appeals to place-based social community can also be a highly effective strategy for activism and engagement. Cantrill suggests that interpersonal networks could be essential for environmental advocacy as “group affiliation strongly influences environmental behaviors” (Cantrill, 1993, p. 71). Opinion leaders within a community can influence others through interpersonal discussions and may likely have the strongest influence on behavior change. Because early experiences are formative, school lessons in the classroom (or small group setting) on environmental issues and scientific principles can also be a strong factor in adopting more pro-environmental attitudes that can in turn lead to conservation oriented behaviors (Cantrill, 1993). Such interpersonal communication experiences are likely more influential than other forms of communication, such as mass media because media tend to focus on environmental problems but not solutions and rely heavily on industry-based press releases, which frame environmental concerns through a pro-development lens. Furthermore, news coverage tends to be very low, rendering the media as ineffective sources for environmental knowledge. Engaging directly with sense of place in interpersonal dialogue can be a highly effective strategy for environmental conservation.

Authentic dialogue is predicated upon reflexivity and the willingness to empathize with others who may or may not share values, beliefs, or social location. Place-based environmental dialogue, by extension, necessitates an attention to the ways in which individuals apprehend the natural world and the social attachments such understanding might engender. Cantrill (1993) contends that experiences are a key aspect of how one develops and relates to environmental discourses:

“We know that people develop reasonably enduring styles of relating to their physical environments (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989) and that unique experiences rooted in early childhood (e.g., wilderness appreciation) tend to galvanize subsequent perceptions of the natural world (Miles, 1991). Notably, those with the most experience in dealing with the environment develop more facile representations of potential threats in their environments, whereas most individuals have a difficult time going beyond concepts and perspectives with which they are comfortable (cf., Ham, 1983).”

To that end, Cantrill (1993) makes suggestions for environmental advocacy campaigns and those who design them: identify key stakeholders, relevant self-interests, relevant beliefs, actions that can be framed for human benefit, similarities of perceived opponents, motivational handicaps of key stakeholders, and easy actions that people can take. Furthermore, as John Dewey writes, the individual must take some responsibility for participation in a democratic society. By democratic society, he (and we by extension) does not necessarily mean democratic government, but how people participate in their communities. As Dewey argues: “From the standpoint of the individual, it consists in having a responsible share according to capacity in forming and directing the activities of the groups to which one belongs and in participating according to need in the values which the groups sustain. From the standpoint of the groups, it demands liberation of the potentialities of members of a group in harmony with the interests and goods which are common” (Dewey, 1927, p. 147). Dewey also contends that communication and sense of place and self is required for such individuals and groups to participate in democratic societies or communities. We use these suggestions as a starting point for understanding how place-based dialogue might be enacted in practice. Using Rare as an example of how authentic dialogue might be enacted to achieve positive environmental outcomes, we contend that place-based dialogic reflexivity enables environmental advocates to more effectively engage with their target audiences. In what follows, we briefly explain Rare’s unique approach to inspiring conservation through dialogue and identify three key strategies that are used in campaigns to bolster dialogue with community members.

Rare: Dialogic Engagement in Practice

Rare is an international ENGO that specializes in sponsoring sustainability and conservation initiatives in tropical and subtropical nations around the world. The organization traces its history to the year 1973 when Rare was an acronym for Rare Animal Relief Effort. In the early 1980s, Paul Butler (who now serves as the organization’s Senior Vice President) began to design community outreach tools in hopes of saving the endangered Saint Lucia parrot. Butler’s model of community engagement, which was later termed a “Pride Campaign,” has become Rare’s signature outreach strategy. In 2001, Rare launched its first regional training program in Great Britain to train English-speaking conservation workers. Regional centers have now been established in Latin America (Mexico and Colombia), Indonesia, Brazil, Mozambique, and Philippines. The goal of each Pride Campaign, as the name suggests, is to encourage local communities to take pride in their natural resources and work collaboratively to create environmentally sustainable practices. Pride Campaigns are the primary focus of Rare’s organizational efforts and comprise the direct method through the organization engages with local communities and implementing partners.

Pride Campaigns are Rare’s approach to community engagement. Pride Campaigns focus on campaign managers’ ability to find localized conservation solutions to endemic environmental problems such as overfishing or deforestation. Each campaign is developed and implemented over the course of a 2–3-year period in which campaign managers receive university training focused on social marketing. Rare works to identify implementing partners—organizations or government agencies—in each region that are responsible for the design, implementation, and assessment of campaigns. Each manager is expected to utilize the Rare Pride Campaign curriculum in order to shape their campaign. Central to the Pride Campaign curriculum is what Rare has termed the “Theory of Change” (Figure 1). The Theory of Change is a training tool that is used by campaign managers to inform their practices in the field by identifying baseline knowledge levels or deficits in local communities, attitudes about particular problems, barriers to behavior change, and potential interpersonal strategies that could be employed to reach the target audiences. Pride Campaigns draw on the Theory of Change to find localized solutions to endemic environmental issues and attempt to draw on communal knowledge to find workable, sustainable solutions. According to Hayden and Deng (2013), the Pride campaign approach has been demonstrated to improve knowledge about environmental threats, change attitudes about conservation, and alter behaviors. At the conclusion of the Pride Campaign, eligible members are awarded a master’s degree for their participation in the training program, social marketing activities, and final campaign report.


Figure 1. Rare’s theory of change model.

The Pride Campaign approach to environmental engagement highlights the potential of place-based dialogue given the centrality of localization and adaptability. Pride Campaigns are often aimed at minimizing environmentally problematic practices (such as overfishing or deforestation) in specific regions and use a variety of strategies such as community events, workshops, meetings in homes, churches, or mosques, and stakeholder meetings. Central to these strategies is the ability of campaign managers to create interpersonal relationships with community members. Although the Theory of Change used as a foundation for the campaigns is somewhat formulaic, managers are given freedom to find solutions that are adaptive to local sociopolitical circumstances, culture, and economic conditions. For instance, some campaign managers in urban areas might employ text message “blasts” to make announcements about their campaign, while others in more rural regions might rely on attending community events at mosques or schools. Because each campaign addresses distinct socioecological problems endemic to the implementing partner’s region, variability and fluidity are inherent considerations in how campaigns are designed, implemented, and assessed. We argue that the highly localized nature of the Pride Campaigns demonstrate how place-based dialogue can be enacted in order to achieve conservation results. In particular, three dialogic strategies emerged from our research: critical listening and understanding through word of mouth involvement, recognition of difference through engaging local culture, and cooperative engagement through semi-formalized information sharing. These approaches highlight how campaign managers work to create and sustain place-based dialogue with community members.

Dialogic Strategies: Critical Listening and Understanding, Recognition of Difference, Cooperative Engagement

Rare trains its campaign managers and staff to look for behavior changes that are in line with Cantrill’s (1993) recommendation, using interpersonal communication as a key strategy for environmental engagement. That is, Rare determines what conservation threats exist within a community and how that community relates to that threat. Through a localized campaign in which the campaign manager involves nearly every key stakeholder, plus other community members, the community is able to identify small, but important and doable behavior changes. Although the amount of effort to implement and organize the campaign is significant, the behaviors targeted for change are generally not major. Interpersonal communication is the primary tactic for conveying information, which is essential for buy-in and individual action (field notes, June 26, 2009; June 1, 2011). Pride Campaign managers are trained to focus on local exigencies and the vast majority of their efforts are focused on cultivating interpersonally driven, place-based engagement with local communities. In what follows, we centralize Rare’s approach by examining the three practices that emerged from our data as the primary methods by which Pride managers were able to foster dialogic engagement for environmental conservation.

Critical Listening and Understanding: Word of Mouth Involvement

Attempting to change behavior to align with conservation values requires far more than providing information about the dangers of an environmental problem. Cantrill (1993) importantly notes that relevant interests, beliefs, and practices must be understood before any attempt to change attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors; without such understanding, failure is the likely result. Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” relationship is thus important in this context because he calls for genuine dialogue, in which mutual relationships are formed and each person is genuinely interested in the concerns, values, and beliefs of the other(s). “Relation is reciprocity. My You acts on me as I act on it. Our students teach us, our works form us…we live in the currents of universal reciprocity” (1970, p. 67). Buber suggests then, that as much as conservationists might want to “tell” others about the importance of their habitats and environments, we also must listen and understand the communities in which we work. Rare’s campaign managers make significant efforts to do so, by originating and/or living in those communities, rather than operating as outsiders. They engage with people so that they understand what their communities need and want. In doing so, they are able to spread conservation messages through two means: word of mouth, and relatedly, volunteer programs (who also use word of mouth).

Reliance on word of mouth is an important component of Pride Campaigns, and this practice facilitates interpersonal communication among community members about conservation goals and strategies. For example, campaign managers often target schools and school children with the hope that they will discuss conservation issues with their parents and create a stronger environmental consciousness as they grow up: “Knowledge about conserving nature is nurtured from an early age so that it is incorporated into the way of thinking of the next generation. Also the children happily pass the information on to their parents” (Dua Belas Langkah Awal untuk Lompatan Besar, 2014, p. 95). Campaign managers can host family-friendly events such as parades and puppet shows at local schools, allowing parents to hear campaign messages alongside their children (Water For Life in Ecuador HD, 2016). Developing and using a mascot costume is also implemented by all the campaign managers to create a fun atmosphere for children and adults alike.

Word of mouth is also a way for community members to share information, and help campaign managers build trust around their campaigns. For example, Nani Saptariani, a campaign manager who worked in Indonesia’s Gunung Halimun-Salak National Park (on the island of Java), spoke of the difficulties of the expanded park boundaries in 2003, in which two million people would then be living within the park boundaries (112 villages). Most of those people did not even know they were living within the expanded park boundaries (from 40,000 to 113,000 hectares), and Saptariani had to rely on many community volunteers to help spread the word about conservation issues in the park and review new maps to locate park boundaries and understand park rules and regulations for those communities living within the boundaries (field notes, July 24, 2010). Similarly, when Mónica Rivera launched her Pride Campaign in El Rincón, Colombia she found it difficult to generate buy-in from community members who previously had negative experiences with the regional environmental authority, Corporación Autonoma Regional del Valle del Cauca (CVC). Once she developed relationships with a few leaders in the community, she found that they were able to spread messages about her campaign more effectively among their neighbors, thus creating a positive impression of her campaign within the community and building a foundation of trust for her future interactions with community members (field notes, June 27, 2016).

Word of mouth as an interpersonal communication practice in Pride Campaigns also allows campaign managers to respond to emergent needs. In a campaign focused on protecting the critically endangered orangutan, the campaign manager needed to address the community’s concerns about how to move away from agricultural practices that cause deforestation and forest fires and feed their families at the same time. Eddy Santoso, who works in Central Kalimantan province in Indonesia, focused on reducing forest fires through various mechanisms and building pride about the orangutan, but the primary focus is more on forest fires than on the orangutan, even though both strategies are useful. That is, one builds a positive message about the community (the orangutan) and the other creates a practical solution for ending forest fires that are also bad for farmers’ crops and their health (e.g., smoke inhalation) (field notes, July 4, 2009; August 4, 2010). Such campaigns, through Rare’s training, mean that organizations can adopt a more systematic, informed, and engaged campaign that enhances not only the campaign manager’s leadership and capacity building, but also their organization’s and their communities’ ability to respond to urgent environmental (and other) issues (field notes, July 5, 2009; July 17, 2010; June 1–2, 2011). Pride campaigns also create an environment where neighbors can share these practical solutions with one another. In Edgar Largacha’s campaign in the Sonso micro-watershed in Colombia, he found that interpersonal communication among neighbors facilitated the implementation of desired conservation behaviors. Neighbors would ask one another how to effectively deal with issues like waste disposal and caring for livestock, then share practical solutions such as composting and creating enclosed areas for animals to prevent them from damaging the watershed (Hodges, 2016).

A related interpersonal strategy that campaign managers use is the recruitment of like-minded and interested volunteers. A volunteer program might involve high school students, college students, or other community members, in which they might participate in social marketing techniques, school presentations, community forest patrols, no-take zone patrols, or other related campaign activities (field notes, August 4, 2010). Volunteers are important for two key reasons: first, the campaign manager is able to immediately access key community supporters and establish buy-in from those volunteers. Second, the volunteers expand the reach of the campaign manager, who is not able to engage in every aspect of the campaign, particularly in larger communities. For example, when Isabel Echeverri became pregnant during her Pride Campaign in La Paila, Colombia, a small group of women helped with campaign management during her pregnancy and after the birth of her child when she was unable to attend events herself. In the examples described above, word of mouth involvement uses place-based dialogue to share information neighbor-to-neighbor, and this practice creates greater buy-in from community members and improves adoption of desired conservation behaviors by taking an approach of listening, understanding, and engaging in reciprocal relationship building.

Recognition of Difference: Engaging Local Culture

A primary challenge for environmental activists and practitioners is understanding how difference (in social location, in knowledge bases, in available resources, etc.) constrains possibilities for action. Bakhtin’s (Bakhtin and Holquist, 1981) dialogic theory provides a framework for understanding the implications of difference which, we contend, can be effectively operationalized by drawing on local culture as a symbolic resource for place-based engagement. For Bakhtin, “The processes of centralization and decentralization, of unification and disunification intersect in the utterance” (1981, p. 272) which is shot through with ideology, value, and meaning. In this view, dialogism is understood as an inter-animation of multiple voices and an emergent tension in discourses between interlocutors. These dialogic tensions, we contend, serve as important opportunities for understanding how organizational engagement can (and, perhaps, should) be culturally responsive. Rare’s approach to community engagement centralizes sociocultural difference by requiring campaign managers to be critically reflexive of their identity in relation to the communities they serve. This concern for localization moves dialogue away from abstraction toward an embodied, interpersonally constructed relational accomplishment that engages place-based difference. Utilizing cultural appeals as our locus of interrogation, we examine how Rare’s campaign managers centralize place-based considerations in their dialogue(s) with communities.

Engaging local culture is a dialogic strategy used by campaign managers to ensure that campaigns are culturally responsive and status hierarchies are minimized as much as possible. Rare recruits campaign managers from local areas in which either the campaign manager is from, or has lived for a long period of time to ensure that the campaign manager will be aware, respectful, and participatory in local customs, cultures, and religions as well as respectful of indigenous people and women. For example, Ahmad Sahwan had lived and worked with a rural community in Central Lombok, Indonesia (near Bali) for more than 5 years when he was recruited to become a campaign manager through the Rare program. In his Pride Campaign, he regularly engages with “adat” (traditional) leaders and “awig-awig” (customary laws) as well as community members from different religious backgrounds, including Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. Using social marketing techniques in interpersonal contexts also is a key feature of cultural and religious adaptation: “Stickers with the campaign logo and slogan are fixed onto every fishing boat. The goal is to call upon fishers to keep the region embedded in their hearts and minds…An approach through religion is used to persuade fishers to adhere to zoning rules. Religious leaders are involved in designing a sermon sheet for Friday prayers and preach about the importance of fisher resources to maintain the survival of future generations” (Dua Belas Langkah Awal untuk Lompatan Besar, 2014, pp. 15, 18). Ade Yuliani, another Rare campaign manager, also reports that adapting to local customs is important, such as appealing to animist traditions in the area where she implemented her campaign, in West Kalimantan, Indonesia (field notes, August 4, 2010).

In Latin America, Pride Campaigns aimed at protecting watersheds honor the “Andean culture of reciprocity” (Climate-Smart Watersheds, 2017). Downstream water users pay into a fund which offers incentives for landowners upstream to conserve land, thus protecting the watershed. For campaign managers, this cultural concept of reciprocity guides their interactions with community members. For example, Ramiro Palma, a campaign manager for the Bitaco River Pride Campaign in Colombia’s Valle Del Cauca, explains that when visiting local farmers to speak with them about land conservation, rather than scheduling a formalized meeting that would cause them to lose valuable time they could be using for tending to crops, he accompanies them while they work (Conde and Yépez Zabala, 2015). Adriana Ramírez, a campaign manager in Pance, Colombia, adds that rather than positioning herself as an authority in the region, she works to present herself as a collaborator who works alongside community members (Climate-Smart Watersheds, 2017).

Cultural practices surrounding food also facilitate interpersonal communication in Pride Campaigns. For example, In Mónica Rivera’s campaign in El Rincón, Colombia, sharing meals has been a way to build relationships with local farmers, and informally track the progress made by her campaign. While sitting down over lunch with Don Manuel, Mónica learned that he and his family had seen sloths on the farm, the species her campaign was aiming to protect, as well as new bird species they had not seen on their property before. This interpersonal interaction served as a moment to celebrate successes of the campaign, and motivation to continue conservation efforts for both parties. While driving around campaign sites in the Valle Del Cauca region, Colombian campaign managers are often invited to stop and share a cup of coffee with farmers and other community members, and this invitation allows them to share information about the campaign with one another, check in about progress, and most importantly strengthen relationships for the continued success of campaigns. Similarly, in Indonesia, campaign managers have coffee or tea and snacks with community members as they work to implement their campaigns and build relationships with the community, using small scale social marketing tools such as brochures, stickers, t-shirts, and coffee mugs. Such social marketing techniques are targeted to very small communities, in which the marketing materials might consist of a banner to put in a food stall in a local market or road side stand. The campaign manager is able to personally explain the materials to customers and others within the communities as they share coffee, tea, and food.

Music is another culturally specific approach to interpersonal communication used in Pride Campaigns. Most campaigns include a song with messaging about specific conservation goals, and these songs are used to bring people together at various community events. For example, in Colombia dancing salsa is a significant form of interpersonal communication during most celebrations. Edgar Alfonso Largacha and Juan de Jesús Salazar Wagner, two campaign managers who happen to be musicians, worked together to produce “Tú y Yo,” a salsa song used in Pride Campaigns throughout the Valle Del Cauca. This song is played at community events, and even broadcast on local radio stations, and the conservation-centered lyrics have been memorized and sung by community members throughout the region.

Another interpersonal communication approach that all campaign managers consider and often implement is style of clothing. When meeting with local fishers or farmers, campaign managers use very informal dress instead of their government or work issued uniforms. This practice helps the campaign managers to discuss a conservation issue on the same level as the fisher or the farmer (or other local community member). However, if the campaign manager has to meet with government officials or attend a ceremony, then they might use their uniforms (for those that work for national park or reserve offices) or other more formal or professional clothing. For example, in the main CVC office in Cali, Colombia, campaign managers often dress formally, wearing dress slacks, button down shirts, blouses, and heels. When in the field, campaign managers dress more casually, wearing CVC polo shirts and jeans with the CVC logo embroidered on the back pocket.

In Indonesia, for religious events campaign managers use appropriate dress that might include Friday prayer clothes or other Islamic dress for religious holidays (field notes, July 22, 2010). Following the dress code of the local people helps equalize the campaign manager with the community, even though the campaign managers might feel that their status as a university educated state employee or NGO worker is higher than that of the community with which they work. Their training through Rare helps them to see that having such status and dressing according to that status does not facilitate their conservation efforts, and in fact, can hinder them in meetings and informal discussions. The wrong kind of dress can make community members see them as outsiders or as having so much status that they will not be as open with them in their discussions (field notes, August 4, 2010). This status and dress issue is particularly important in a country like Indonesia, which is more hierarchical in terms of status orientation, although it varies widely across the archipelago because of the huge number of ethnic and religious groups in Indonesia.

Many of the campaigns have worked to include women and women’s groups as well. All campaigns have a gender analysis component, even when the target audience might be fishers, who are 95% men. In other campaigns, managers have found that more women are involved in work activities than previously thought. For example, Nani Saptariani reported that 68% of women in the communities of Gunung Harimun-Salak National Park participated in rice cultivation (field notes, July 24, 2010). In Peru, Anselma Zumaeta Soplín found that housewives were one of the major consumers of water, and so she worked with them to create a series of commercials demonstrating ways to conserve water while doing household chores. One way in which Milawati Ode has connected with women’s groups and the very family oriented community where she works is to bring her one year old baby with her to village meetings and women’s groups. This approach, instead of impeding her work, has enabled her to connect with both men and women who see her as a mother and someone who shares their family values (Dua Belas Langkah Awal untuk Lompatan Besar, 2014). Her child plays with other children while they discuss the rules and issues of establishing no-take zones. Cooking contests for women (and for men) have also created conservation inspiration; getting buy-in from women in these communities is a key part of getting the buy-in of the men as well, as families often discuss the various issues facing their communities, such as overfishing and coral reef destruction. Rosa Gaman’s campaign hosted a cooking contest for women in Raja Ampat, West Papua in Indonesia. She notes: “Women, as the managers of their households, by spreading these messages, become the agents of behavioral change for their family members” (Dua Belas Langkah Awal untuk Lompatan Besar, 2014, p. 94). Involving women in these campaigns has been essential because even when women do not do the primary work that creates a conservation challenge, they are very much involved in the work that their husbands, brothers, cousins, fathers, and sons do. These women can have a very influential impact within the traditional family structure. These examples show that engaging local culture is a place-based dialogic strategy that enables campaign managers to share campaign messages in culturally appropriate ways, and minimize power distances between experts and community members.

Cooperative Engagement: Semi-Formalized Information Sharing

Throughout his theoretical corpus, Freire (2000) emphasizes that dialogues are critical practices that can simultaneously be used to critique the prevailing social order and work toward collaborative, democratic engagement. By focusing on place-based dialogue, we posit that Rare’s approach highlights how such cooperative engagement might be accomplished in practice by inviting interactions between disparate groups. Fostering meaningful and reflexive communication becomes vital for such cooperation for several reasons. First, rather than taking a top-down approach to environmental organizing, Rare recognizes that message conveyance is far more effective when the source and content of messaging stems from the community itself. In this sense, “Dialogue between ‘local’ knowledge and ‘expert’ knowledge is valued as a way of creating community interventions that are appropriate to the local context, rather than representing irrelevant foreign imports” (Cooper et al., 2013, p. 79). Second, following Freire (2000) our view of place-based dialogue recognizes the inherent limitations of the “banking model” of knowledge transmission in which individuals are viewed as passive vessels in which information can be deposited. By contrast, Rare takes an approach that is problem-centered and attentive to locality; community members can begin to explore the transformative potential of collaboration so that “they come to see the world not as static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation” (Freire, 2000, p. 83). This form of cooperative engagement is accomplished primarily by inviting semi-formal information sharing. We explore how this place-based dialogic approach is operationalized in Rare’s Pride Campaigns below.

Campaign managers facilitate interpersonal communication about Pride Campaigns using semi-formalized information sharing through scheduled meetings, community programs, social marketing techniques, and communication technologies. For example, in Dauin, Philippines, the campaign manager works with the local population (approximately 21,000) to develop fishing enforcement in marine protected areas (MPAs). Nine MPAs existed before the Rare campaign, but fishers did not adhere to restrictions. The MPA focuses on creating no-take zones, which allow fish stock to replenish. “As fish size, quantity, and diversity increase, fishers pledge support and agree to purchase permits. Many are trained as ‘Sea Shepherd’ monitoring patrols” (The Rising Tide of Community-Led Conservation, 2012, p. 7). These trainings and pledged support are mostly done through interpersonal communication, in which the campaign manager holds key stakeholder meetings and events to get buy-in from the local community, particularly the fishers. Community meetings held in people’s homes are also quite common as a way to connect not only the campaign manager with local folks, but also to bring those communities together to discuss common problems and come up with community-based solutions.

In Sabah, Malaysia, another campaign manager, Fazrullah Razak, involved the local community through a ranger patrol program, called “Renjer Kehormat” (Proud Rangers; Membangun Kapasitas, 2012). This program was implemented throughout the national park, and trained rangers to patrol and to know the local and national laws regarding fishing in coral reef areas, primarily through interpersonal communication in small group settings and trainings. Andi Subhan, another campaign manager in Indonesia, used a similar technique of training local fishers to become part of a community-based patrol group. At the end of his campaign, he reported that the number of fishers in the no-take zone of his conservation area declined from six fishers a day to zero (Membangun Kapasitas, 2012), indicating the success of his campaign and the interpersonal communication strategy to change behaviors of local fishers and other community members.

Another interpersonal communication approach related to the training of local fishers to serve on community patrols is through text messaging. Several campaign managers have used text message campaigns to promote a conservation message (Belajar Dari Penggerak Konservasi Akar Rumput, 2010) or as a way to help community patrols call/text in violations they see while on patrols (Rare Indonesia dalam Konservasi Kelautan dan Perikanan Berkelanjutan, 2015). Community members can also call in or text message violations of the no-take zone areas or other such violations of the community-based agreement centered on a conservation issue (Mengasah Batu Menjadi Berlian, 2012). The text message option is of particular importance, because many local fishers use cell phones, but phone calls are expensive, whereas text messaging is relatively inexpensive and much more likely to be used to communicate to local patrols. Community petitions addressed to politicians and other agents of change have also been used; the campaign managers, such as Wahyudi in Aceh, Indonesia, rely heavily on interpersonal communication to discuss the petitions and reasons for taking concerns to mayors, legislatures, and governors (Belajar Dari Penggerak Konservasi Akar Rumput, 2010).

Another campaign strategy that requires extensive use of collaborative interpersonal communication is to develop micro-credit cooperatives. For example, Abdus Sabil, a campaign manager working on the island of Gili Matra, was able to organize 72 local fishers to save about US$4,000 that community members could draw from in case of emergencies. This small amount of money makes a huge difference in the lives of subsistence fishers and other local people who survive on very little income (Membangun Kapasitas, 2012). A photo caption of a community meeting explains: “Establishing Pada Mele Credit Union to develop the financial independence of the community on the island…the zoning rules are also incorporated into the rules of the Cooperative. These rules must be obeyed by all members if they are to continue to receive the benefits of the cooperative” (Dua Belas Langkah Awal untuk Lompatan Besar, 2014, pp. 5–6). Another photo shows Sabil interviewing a local fisher “to ensure that they understand the campaign messages that have been delivered” (Dua Belas Langkah Awal untuk Lompatan Besar, 2014, p. 10). A related approach is to form a cooperative in which the local fishers can determine together what the price of fish should be, what the daily quota per fisher should be, and what kind of sanctions should be implemented in case of violation (Rare, 2014). Such groups can then also advocate to their local and regional politicians as to what kind of laws and policies should be implemented for fisheries management and no-take zones.

Other campaigns in Indonesia use social marketing techniques in interpersonal or small group settings. For example, the campaign manager might show a brochure or other informational material to a local fisher or farmer who is the target of the campaign (to reduce fishing, logging, or other environmental threat). As Rare’s training program indicates, the language and images used are very important: “An illustrated brochure is used to provide information about zoning to the fishers. Information is presented in plain language alongside interesting pictures to help fishers understand its contents” (Dua Belas Langkah Awal untuk Lompatan Besar, 2014, p. 4). Because such rural areas that are the target of these campaigns often have lower educational and literacy levels, this interpersonal approach coupled with images and information helps to convey a fuller understanding of the conservation issue and targeted behavior change.

In order to promote watershed protection in Colombia’s Valle Del Cauca region, campaign managers hold public events and workshops, and facilitate the formation of Management Committees (Hodges, 2016). These committees bring together various stakeholders from the community, and give them a space to come together and talk to each other about sustainable conservation practices. Creating these spaces for dialogue is important because it allows upstream landowners to get to know downstream water users, as well as voice any concerns they may have: “To move watershed conservation forward as a community, the people of each watershed needed to be able to candidly express their ideas, confusion and fears about changing existing production practices and traditional dynamics with nature” (Hodges, 2016, p. 1).

In each of the examples above, campaign managers use semi-formalized communication practices such as meetings, community groups, and social marketing. However, what makes these practices successful is the dialogic engagement and place-based discussions through interpersonal communication about conservation issues and behavior changes that can reduce those environmental threats.

Implications: Dialogic Strategies for Improved Conservation

Achieving progress on environmental conservation requires collaboration between communities, organizations, governments, and various other parties. Cantrill (1993) argues that apathy is usually the result of low motivation based on perceiving constraints that cannot be overcome, not being personally involved, and/or not seeing the issue as a problem. Our analysis in this essay suggests that coordinated efforts aimed at addressing the particularities of local problems, resources, and deliberative processes is one way in which environmental scholars and practitioners might begin to focus on bolstering conservation efforts that more effectively engage and motivate those who are targeted for behavior change. Banerjee (2016) explains, “For collaboration to succeed, there is a need to build trust among key stakeholder groups and to provide them with the opportunities and resources necessary to come together on a common platform and engage in active interaction and constructive dialogue related to their concerns” (p. 118). Trust is certainly a necessary part of this equation, and our analysis suggests that place-based dialogic engagement may be one strategy that can be used to establish rapport with local communities. That is, Rare’s model of community engagement builds on the notion of establishing and fostering trust with communities vis-à-vis interpersonal relationship building. Too often, environmental organizations and practitioners make problematic assumptions about the institutional, relational, and societal factors that shape the contours of participatory practice. We are cautious not to idealize Rare’s model of engagement or suggest that it can be employed universally. However, in responding to Cantrill’s (1993) call for more environmental communication scholarship that draws on interpersonal theories, we believe that a place-based dialogic approach highlights the role of interpersonal engagement as a concrete phenomenon rather than an abstract accomplishment (Peters, 1999). Empirical case studies such as this provide a way of understanding how dialogic theory can better inform practice in situ. Specifically, Rare’s place-based approach to dialogue demonstrates how cultural practices and meanings can be leveraged as symbolic resources for achieving effective, long-lasting community engagement.

In providing an empirically driven account of place-based dialogue, our goal has been to focus on how interpersonal communication can be used as a rich, nuanced strategy for critical listening and understanding (Buber), recognition of difference (Bahktin), and behavior change through cooperative engagement (Freire). By recognizing the potential of place-based dialogue, we are aiming to move beyond reductionistic approaches that treat interpersonal communication as a simple, fixed variable. Effective conservation campaigns should not be understood as “add interpersonal communication to the recipe, stir, and wait for positive outcomes.” Although Rare’s Theory of Change does recognize interpersonal communication as one variable that ought to be integrated into Pride campaigns, our analysis demonstrates that interpersonal engagement ought to be seen as a complex, relational goal and accomplishment. By focusing on interpersonal, dialogic strategies (a term that was very deliberatively chosen for the purposes of our analysis), we have attempted to demonstrate the salience of interpersonal approaches to environmental communication that are not overtly simplistic through the many examples found in Rare’s campaigns.

Additionally, our analysis in this essay is focused primarily on place-based appeals that foster dialogic engagement with local communities. However, in charting the contours of dialogue as spatial, this analysis also compels us to consider another constitutive factor: temporality. Bakhtin and Holquist (1981), for instance, conceptualizes the speech utterances which shape dialogue as inextricably linked to what he calls chronotopes (literally, space-time). As distinct configurations of space and time, chronotopes can be used as a heuristic for understanding how particular exigencies may be regarded as more or less salient depending on the spatiotemporal patterns that shape social meaning. Jack (2006) further explains that certain chronotopes “tend to support a neoliberal economic ideology…while others are inclined to support ideologies of sustainability and environmentalism” (p. 53). Throughout this essay we have consistently focused on how place-based dialogic approaches can be used to foster environmental engagement. Implicit in our understanding of spatiality, however, is a sensitivity to temporality that enables Rare to engage in community outreach. Pride campaigns are focused on finding solutions to environmental problems that manifest in everyday activity and, accordingly, tend to focus on immediacy as a determinant for dialogic strategy. Although most Pride campaigns also incorporate capacity building for long-term environmental change, the strategies employed by campaign workers are largely focused on the circumstances that impact the lives and livelihoods of community members in the present. This analysis suggests that conservation campaigns focused on localization may be especially effective when also coupled with concern for immediacy. Future research should examine the interrelationship between time and space in dialogic engagement.

Finally, our analysis highlights the importance of finding culturally appropriate and specific strategies to deal with complex environmental problems. By employing critical listening, recognition of difference, and cooperative engagement as dialogic strategies for behavior change, Rare’s campaign managers are explicitly engaging with local cultural assumptions, beliefs, and practices as communicative resources. The many successes of these campaigns highlight the importance of culture as a mediating element in engaging with local communities. In offering recommendations for effective sustainability initiatives at the local level, Cantrill (2011) argues that, “Perhaps foremost, is the need to have place-based champions to stimulate community attention who are, themselves, well versed in others’ attempts to do the same” (p. 17). Rare’s campaign managers are “place-based champions” insofar as their efforts aim to develop community-driven and place-based solutions that are also culturally sensitive. Thus, our analysis demonstrates the importance and salience of foregrounding place-based understandings of culture in dialogic practice.

Ethics Statement

The University of Texas at El Paso’s Institutional Review Board approved the research project, which involved interviews with Rare’s campaign managers (UTEP students). A consent procedure/form was used and signed by all participants. No vulnerable populations of people were interviewed for this study. While Rare’s campaigns focus on protecting endangered species, the researchers of this project did not work with any animals or endangered species directly. This study was carried out in accordance with the recommendations of The University of Texas at El Paso’s Institutional Review Board with written informed consent from all subjects. All subjects gave written informed consent in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. The protocol was approved by The University of Texas at El Paso’s Institutional Review Board.

Author Contributions

The three authors on this essay are co-authors, each contributed equally to field research, theoretical development, analysis, and writing.

Conflict of Interest Statement

Rare and UTEP (the authors’ home institution) have a partnership to offer a master’s degree. The students in this program and their campaigns are the basis for this research. This project received IRB approval from UTEP for the interviews and field research conducted. Students who participated in this project have already graduated, so there is no conflict of interest regarding their grades or completion of this program.


This project was funded, in part, by the United States Agency for International Development, through a university partnership with the University of Mulawarman and Rare.


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Keywords: social marketing, rare, Indonesia, Philippines, Colombia, dialogue

Citation: Sowards SK, Tarin CA and Upton SD (2017) Place-Based Dialogics: Adaptive Cultural and Interpersonal Approaches to Environmental Conservation. Front. Commun. 2:9. doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2017.00009

Received: 10 June 2017; Accepted: 09 August 2017;
Published: 04 September 2017

Edited by:

Chris Russill, Carleton University, Canada

Reviewed by:

Arren Mendezona Allegretti, Santa Clara University, United States
Patrick McCurdy, University of Ottawa, Canada

Copyright: © 2017 Sowards, Tarin and Upton. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Stacey K. Sowards,