Understanding Values in Organizational Contexts: The Case of Species Conservation

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Biodiversity loss poses an existential threat to human life, and human activities both intentionally and unintentionally affect other species. Values provide an important tool for explaining such human behavior. While we have evidence of the causes and consequences of wildlife values at the individual level, much human activity that influences wildlife occurs in organizational settings. This project seeks to uncover the roles and negotiation of values in conservation organizations, filling an important research gap.

The project uses a case study approach to illuminate the role and negotiation of values in case studies of three wildlife conservation contexts: national wildlife conservation, red wolf conservation, and horseshoe crab conservation in the mid-Atlantic. Through strategic selection of two organizations in each case, I explore how values function in these varied conservation contexts using interviews with staff and volunteers and content analysis of websites and social media.

I argue that a broader typology of value frames exists within wildlife conservation organizations than is traditionally discussed in wildlife value literature. I find that frames include moral conservationist, community-steward, and complex utilitarian values, adding nuance to the previously understood value spectrum of humans versus nature.

While findings indicated that values were behavior motivators for volunteers, volunteers were more likely to perceive and attempt to construct value alignment than to actively seeking organizations that were compatible with their values. While organizations proclaimed their values and described using values in determining tactics and approaches, they also did not report consciously attempting to align values in processes of volunteer recruitment.

Findings indicated differences in value processes in local versus national organizations, and a complex value framing in organizational settings. Despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is an extremely disruptive social event that was directly tied to wildlife and biodiversity issues, this connection was not highlighted equally by volunteers or organizations, nor did organizations equally or significantly respond to a nationwide call to reckon with racial injustice. I argue that the organizations and volunteers who framed their values and approaches more broadly and included moral value of the wellbeing of both humans and other species were more responsive to changing social contexts.