Developing a sense of self-efficacy
Ardoin explains that simply sharing information about climate change, biodiversity loss, or any other big, overwhelming topic usually isn’t enough to inspire change. “It’s not just about dumping knowledge into someone’s head or putting a sign on the side of a bus,” she says. “It’s more about supporting people in developing a sense of self-efficacy. They have to build knowledge and skills that allow them to make a difference on important, relevant issues.”
A sense of place can be as complicated and chaotic as the places themselves. While many researchers try to simplify systems and control variables, Ardoin’s team embraces the complicating factors that influence behaviors. “We do our research in the messiness of the real world,” she says.
To fully understand the ways that people perceive and interact with their environments, Ardoin and her team call on the fields of psychology, political science, geography and learning sciences, among others. Her 14-person group includes members with PhDs or master’s degrees in fields such as sociology, anthropology, and science education.
“All of us are quite interdisciplinary,” says Ardoin, who has a PhD in social ecology and an MS in natural resource management, and studied art history, business, and French before taking that life-changing job at the Grand Canyon.
Ardoin’s team has applied its multipronged approach to places like the Galapagos Islands, a Pacific archipelago visited by hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. The tourists face a particular form of cognitive dissonance.
“They have an incredible experience,” she says. “For days, all they hear about and experience is the pristine nature of the islands. Often, just before they are leaving, they learn that the islands are threatened by climate change, pollution, illegal fishing and even pressures from tourism.” That last message, she says, is especially hard to hear.
Thanks to work by Ardoin and other colleagues, tour providers have undertaken efforts to tailor elements of the interpretive experience to provide a more complete — and more actionable — understanding of the islands.
“The more holistic message then becomes: It’s a magnificent place with thriving biodiversity, but it’s also one that is threatened. The positive and hopeful side of this message is that there’s something you can do about it,” she says. “And that’s not just true of the Galapagos, but it’s true everywhere. All places on Earth face challenges, especially when we are talking about an issue like climate change — and those issues differ from place to place, but there is something you can do about it.”