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Westley, F., M. Holmgren, and M. Scheffer. 2010. From scientific speculation to effective adaptive management: a case study of the role of social marketing in promoting novel restoration strategies for degraded dry lands. Ecology and Society 15(3): 6. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss3/art6/


From Scientific Speculation to Effective Adaptive Management: A case study of the role of social marketing in promoting novel restoration strategies for degraded dry lands

Frances Westley 1, Milena Holmgren 2 and Marten Scheffer 3

1Social Innovation Generation, University of Waterloo, 2Forest Ecology and Forest Management, Department of Environmental Sciences, 3Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management Group, Department of Environment


This article focuses on the role of social marketing, in particular the analysis of the motivations and capabilities of stakeholder groups, in encouraging acceptance of an innovative experimental approach to semiarid shrub land restoration in Chile. Controlled scientific experiments involving herbivory control during El Niño events have proved promising, but have not yet been introduced into ecosystem management approaches. Social marketing, as a lens for focusing on and understanding stakeholders’ motivations, provides a valuable framework in which strategies may be developed for diffusing promising scientific experiments into regional management contexts.

Key words: adaptive management; climate fluctuations; dryland restoration; ecosystem restoration; ENSO; herbivory control; matorral; Mediterranean shrub land; reforestation; social entrepreneur; social marketing; stakeholder.


Despite a growing body of literature on the importance of scientific experimentation for policy makers and managers (Biggs and Carpenter 2009), there is little systematic exploration of the process of moving from successful scientific experimentation to effective management practice, whether through the establishment of social policy, grass-roots mobilization or stakeholder engagement. This is due, in part, to the sheer complexity of the problem: an understanding of the entire system is necessary to produce widespread transformation (e.g., population reduction through family planning policies and simultaneous regulation that avoids unintended or dysfunctional consequences, such as female infanticide [Ness and Ando 1984]). "Marketing" social innovations also produces challenges. Many attempts to scale up new ideas for greater impact assume a supply-demand relationship (Mulgan 2006). However, this relationship may not exist if the product or idea is too new to have generated a demand, too complex to be understood by those who might benefit, or too disruptive to gain the support of powerful individuals in society. Some approaches employ a diffusion of innovations technique (Rogers 1995, Cooperrider and Dutton 1999), a process that is time-consuming and focuses not on stakeholder groups but rather on consumers' relationship to novelty (early adopters vs. late adopters). The rapid movement of new scientific ideas or experiments can be challenging when that goal requires the cooperation of a multitude of heterogeneous social actor groups who are not scientists and who may not immediately recognize the positive benefits of new practices.

In this paper, we use the problem of how to market a novel approach to the restoration of the degraded drylands in central Chile as a case study to explore the more general challenge of moving from a scientific idea to its general acceptance and use in practical land management.

About 40% of the drylands worldwide face signs of vegetation loss and degradation (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005), and this is only expected to increase under future climate change scenarios (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007). In many of these ecosystems, human intervention is necessary to stimulate the recovery of perennial vegetation. The fact that reforestation projects often have limited success makes it a priority to assess the socio-ecological barriers to successful ecological restoration.

The focus of this discussion is Chile's fragile, semiarid central region where the country's human population is most concentrated and where, consequently, land uses have radically changed the original landscape. In ancient times, extensive shrub and tree stands probably covered large parts of this region, but since the arrival of the first colonists in 1570, mining, deforestation, agriculture and overgrazing have reduced native vegetation and replaced it with urban sprawl, plantations, exotic species and degraded land (e.g., Fuentes and Muñoz 1995, Armesto et al. 2009). As late as 1962, there were descriptions of native forested areas in the valleys of central Chile. Since then, even these patches of dry forests and evergreen shrub lands have been taken over by large-scale agricultural production (Altieri and Rojas 1999) and by spreading urbanization. Chile's environmental protection has suffered from the alternation and instability of political regimes, which has left the environmental ministry responsible for conserving the native forests (CONAF) with relatively little clout compared to the industrial, resource extraction, timber and even agricultural interests. Therefore, although legislation is in place concerning native forests, the relatively low perceived economic value of the original evergreen shrub lands and forests (matorral), combined with the flexibility built into the legislation, means that there is very little real protection for native species (Diez 1996, Silva 1997). Today, most of the non-cultivated areas of this long central valley are dominated by a human-made Acacia cavens savanna (Fuentes et al. 1989). Only the foothills of the Andes and small pockets of the Coastal Range preserve remnants of the matorral, albeit mostly in a disturbed patchy state (Fuentes et al. 1984, 1986, Holmgren 2002, Armesto et al. 2009).

Restoration of degraded drylands has proved challenging. In the remaining matorral, the combined effect of drought and grazing makes the establishment of new trees, crucial for the restoration of the original semiarid shrub lands and dry forests, extremely difficult (Fuentes et al. 1984, 1986, Holmgren et al. 2000). Both of these constraints are often so serious that the amelioration of only one of them is not enough. Therefore, ecologists have advanced the theory that while removing herbivores does not help the vegetation to recover during normal years, removing vegetation during a wet year may tip the balance enough to allow recovery (Holmgren and Scheffer 2001).

In 2001, a group of ecologists set out to discover if the rainy periods associated with ENSO events (El Niño Southern Oscillation) might be used in combination with grazer control to facilitate tree establishment in the drylands of both central/northern Chile and northern Peru. Rainy ENSO years are a valuable resource because they can be forecasted months in advance, their predictability is increasing, and rainy ENSO episodes have triggered structural and long lasting changes in other arid and semi-arid ecosystems in the past (Holmgren et al. 2001, 2006b). Examples include regeneration of woodlands in semiarid Australia (Austin and Williams 1988) and Peru (PREMIA 1992, Quispe-Cáceres 2002, Vilela-Pingo 2002, Albán et al. 2003, Bravo-Ferro and Rodríguez-Sánchez 2003), as well as large increases in shrub cover in the Chihuahuan desert, which straddles the US-Mexican border (Brown et al. 1997).

In Chile, small-scale controlled field experiments demonstrated that tree seedling establishment was undermined by herbivores and that protection, particularly against rabbits and hares, was essential to successful establishment (Holmgren et al. 2006a, Gutierrez et al. 2007, Squeo et al. 2007). Thus, to expand these experiments into a full restoration project would have required the collaboration of the individuals and groups who owned or controlled the patches of matorral, using them for agricultural, urban development or resource extraction purposes. These "stakeholder" groups, including governmental organizations, private landowners, farmers and natural resource industries (particularly mining) would eventually have to be convinced to work with scientists, on short notice, to establish restoration projects. At one level, successful restoration would require the collaboration of a variety of government departments (see Table 1). At another level, it would require the collaboration of the remaining stakeholders. While the scientists working in the National Parks participated in the initial experiments in the interests of science, what would motivate other stakeholder groups to undertake long-term collaboration? Would the soundness of the experiment alone be enough? Insights drawn from the field of social marketing suggest otherwise.


Marketing has become a sophisticated management science, vital to private sector organizations intent on selling products or services in the marketplace. Market research is based on the premise that a heightened understanding of the lifestyles, needs and motivations of the distinctive market "segments" that the producer wishes to exploit will allow the producer to get the right "market mix" of product, price, place, promotion and people to sell the product. Understanding the perceptions held by the target consumers about the product, the value they place on the product (and the price they would be willing to pay for it) and where and by whom it is best delivered help to inform advertising and promotion campaigns.

In 1989, Kotler introduced the idea that not all transactions in the market are cash transactions for concrete products. Ideas are also "sold," Kotler argued, and certain ideas are of enough value to society to be "marketed" irrespective of individual consumer demand (Kotler and Roberto 1989). This perspective gave rise to the field of "social marketing."

While there has been some discussion in the conservation literature about the use of social marketing in "selling" scientific environmental knowledge to concerned stakeholders (Chapin and Whiteman 1998, Whiteman 1999, Bromley 2002, Brechin et al 2002), in general, the emphasis has been on promotion strategies and communicating value to different groups through clear and appealing messages. As in other areas of social marketing (for example, health care), there has been a tendency to forget that marketing is fundamentally about exchange, or as Kotler put it, "encouraging voluntary behavior of the target audience by offering benefits they want, reducing barriers they are concerned about and by using persuasion to motivate their participation in program activity" (Kotler and Roberto 1989:24). An exception is Rothschild (1999), whose excellent analysis pointed out that in the social marketing of health care, the notion of exchange is more problematic than in classic commercial exchanges because a) there is often not a clear correlation between the changed behavior and self interest (e.g., people may actually find it more rewarding to eat rich food than to diet, despite the health consequences) and b) the time lag between exchange and payback may be much longer (health does not improve after the first day of eating healthy food). This, Rothschild argues, should make researchers more--not less--aware of the intricacies of exchange, as persuasion alone may be of limited value.

Whether a stakeholder group is prone, reluctant or unable to support a social initiative, such as conservation, will depend on three things: the group's motivation to act, its ability to act (in terms of having the appropriate skills) and its opportunity to act (in terms of whether or not the external conditions support action). In the domain of conservation studies, three different motivations seem to lie behind corporate inclinations to protect the natural environment (Vredenburg and Westley 2002). They may be motivated by regulation: if the corporation fails to engage in conservation, they will suffer penalties. They may be motivated by the market: if they engage in conservation activities, there will be some tangible short- or long-term economic benefit. Alternatively, they may be motivated by non-economic values: they engage in conservation because they value the ecosystem for scientific, traditional, aesthetic or spiritual reasons. Of course, individuals or groups may be motivated by a combination of these factors.

Opportunity and ability are also important. Opportunity points to availability of external resources. For example, one might be motivated to recycle but be prevented by the absence of such a program in the community. Ability is also important and may inhibit or facilitate a response if the skills to respond are not possessed by the individual or organization motivated to do so. Obviously, when skill, opportunity and motivation coincide, very little education, marketing or coercion is needed. In the complex world of conservation, however, this is seldom the case. Conservation scientists interested in moving their projects beyond the laboratory and into a broader social context need to be aware of the role of all three of these qualities in groups with whom they seek to interact (Rothschild 1999).


With Rothschild's framework in mind, the authors of this study conducted exploratory interviews to provide the scientists interested in El Niño restoration experiments with some insight into the range of possible barriers and benefits for turning experimentation into adaptive management of the matorral.

We selected five different "stakeholder" groups in one of the experimental areas: the central valley south of Fray Jorge National Park and close to the coast. In addition to the three park scientists who were already involved in the experiments, we interviewed two private landowners, two small farmers in colectivos, three mining industry executives and two government policy makers (located in Santiago). In the interests of exploring the attitudes and concerns of these five groups, open-ended exploratory interviews were held with several representatives of each group. It was our assumption that, in conservation in general and the El Niño experiment in particular, different groups who control potential experimental sites would be motivated to "buy" the concept for different reasons. Furthermore, following Rothschild (1999), we assumed that securing cooperation is not only a matter of education and persuasion, but fundamentally of exchange. Short of regulation or coercion, we assumed that we would find different patterns of motivation, opportunity and ability for involvement in the experiments among the different stakeholders involved. Risks and benefits would vary from one group to the next, but it would be unlikely that any group would be prepared to cooperate unless, at a very minimum, the risks and benefits were shared between experimenters and collaborators.

With this in mind, we conducted twelve interviews of about an hour each. Some were conducted in English and others in Spanish, with the help of translators. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed to understand possible motivations to participate or collaborate with the experiment. Our goal in conducting the interviews was not to provide a detailed picture of the sub-worlds of these stakeholders (which would be impossible with so few interviews), nor to build a grounded theory of stakeholder perception, but rather to uncover the variation that might exist between stakeholder representatives' motivations and attitudes towards the matorral. We asked questions first about their concerns relative to the physical environment in which they operated, about their perceptions of the value and importance of the matorral, and about their desire and/or ability to conserve the matorral. We concluded by asking what factors might increase their interest in participating in the experiment.

While the data gathered are neither a representative sample nor an exhaustive exploration of motivations, the data allowed us to make a preliminary identification of five distinct sets of concerns and motivations relative to the matorral landscape. The quotations that follow simply illustrate the complex motivational landscape revealed by Rothschild's social marketing framework. Further quotations are displayed in Table 2.


Private land owners

Between 30% and 40% of the matorral lands have traditionally been in the hands of large private landowners (Zeitlan et al. 1976). In some cases, this dates back to land tenure agreements made by Spain during colonial times. These families are not threatened by environmental regulation, although in the past, agrarian reform has forced them to parcel out some of their land to small farmers or to take measures to protect it (Bellasario 2007). Today, the farms are maintained for sentimental reasons, for tourism, and often as an investment.
Well, now I have only two hundred and fifty hectares, but this farm is around five hundred and sixty hectares. I've split it and handed part over to my children. They don't live from this, they earn their money elsewhere, but they love this and inject money and do things. Fortunately in this area, lots of this is happening. The farms (do not) have the capacity to generate income. They have another value, a sentimental value and a tourist value. But there is no relation whatsoever between the price of a hectare here and the capacity for generating income - nothing. I think that economically, all of these farms here, except a couple a little bit up in the hills which have tree plantations, are uneconomic. You don't make money from the farm - no. So, people who own these proprieties either have to have independent wealth or they make their money otherwise. So, in a sense, they become almost like hobby farms, or vacation proprieties as opposed to income generating properties (Interview with large landowner).
In interviews, these landowners expressed a sentimental "love of the land" and a desire to maintain it "for our children." When queried about whether restoration and reforestation of the kind envisioned by the El Niño project appealed to them, the conversation quickly turned to economic feasibility. The increased dryness of the past few years has had negative effects on agricultural productivity. In the coastal region where this study was carried out, only the flat lands were available for cultivation (lentils and wheat) and grazing. On the hills, trees have been used for producing charcoal. However, with the increasing emphasis on tourism in the area in recent years, by far the most profitable use of the land is in development. Chief struggles have been over what kind of development will occur in the areas designated "urban." The large landowners seemed unlikely to sacrifice land for parks.

Appeals to the heads of such families to donate land for experimentation would probably have to rest on the following factors: a) sizable government subsidies - unlikely until ecosystem restoration is a higher priority; b) appeals to family pride and tradition - these would need to focus on families where some of the land has been kept intact as matorral; or c) scientific persuasion about the value of forests for increasing humidity in combination with perceptions of increasing drought in the area, persuasion about the value of increasing biodiversity, and appeals to aesthetic values. Of these, the second is worth further exploration, because the chance to sell eligible land for recreation development means that economic incentives favor development rather than conservation. Where the families are old and have wealth unconnected with the land, they may be motivated by tradition or family pride to keep or restore the land to its original state. Such a decision would be fairly straightforward; if the head of the family wishes it, the land would be available for protection and experimentation. It should be remembered, however, that such decisions may be capricious and are easily reversed.

Communal agricultural farmers

In the period of agrarian reform around 1965, a number of farmer cooperatives or "colectivos" were established in Chile (Bellisario 2006, 2007, Altieri and Rojas 1999). These are groups of small landowners, each with separate plots that they manage separately. Broader issues of marketing and land management are brought to the cooperative for decision-making.

This was started with the Reforma Agraria process. In Chile, in 1965, the Reforma Agraria was a very advanced process because it gave dignity to the small farmers, first of all because before that these houses did not exist, they were just "ranchos de techo" [very poor houses made out of mud with a roof made from the leftovers of wheat plants after the crop]. The Reforma Agraria process woke up the interest of the farmers. Before that, we were all "medieros." That means that only 1?4 of the production was for the farmers and 3?4 for the landowners. We never knew how to sell our products, only the owner of the land knew how to sell. Everything you produced you gave to him - potatoes, beans - and he would sell them. He would do the bookkeeping and if at the end there was some extra left then you would get some money, but many times he would just say, "We are settled now." That was also because the great majority of the farmers were illiterate (Interview with small landowner organized in a farmer cooperative).
Generally, the problem for communal agriculture is the lack of water. Despite their expressed awareness of (and attachment to) the native vegetation and their understanding of the value of reforestation, they perceive themselves as blocked because of the expense. The Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF) requires a forest engineer to approve reforestation projects and offers subsidies only afterwards and only when a high rate of tree establishment has been achieved. Both conditions are difficult for farmers' cooperatives to meet. For example, in the studied area there was no forest engineer available, and the colectivo already had a considerable debt. Perhaps the greatest barrier, however, is the high percentage of success demanded by the government. The communal farmers are not rich and cannot afford to give up any land currently used to grow avocados that are sold by cooperatives on the world market.

The native species of the matorral are not perceived to be of much inherent value (Silva 1997), and because the available subsidies for native forests can also be used for plantations, farmers are prone to move toward higher value crops. Nonetheless, unsustainable agricultural practices of avocado and other orchard products have seriously compromised the vegetation (Armesto et al. 2009) and soil condition in Central Chile (Castro-Ríos and Espinosa-Toro 2008). The farmers recognize the value of trees in conserving water, but they would need hefty subsidies to be willing to give up land for experimentation purposes, unless that land was of no agricultural value. Even then, ensuring that the land was protected from grazers, especially rabbits, for the appropriate time span would require external resources.

National park scientists

In Chile, a broad range of protected wildlife areas fall under the National System of Protected Wildlife Areas (SNASPE) administered by the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF). While it would appear that experiments on governmental protected land would be fairly straightforward, the system of park management is complicated and scientists associated with a park have, in many cases, strained relationships with the park management. Park scientists already involved in some conservation projects stress the lack of understanding about long-term science projects, the competition between university and park based scientists for funding, and the lack of rewards (both financial or prestigious) attached to a career in environmental science in Chile. Scientists feel caught in a complicated web of relationships that must be managed for them to get their work done. In general, the system of protected areas is part of CONAF, which in turn is part of the Ministry of Agriculture. Due to the complex nature of negotiations at the highest level, scientists operating at the level parks are subject to constant political vicissitudes. Maintaining good relationships with park management and local communities offers some protection, but neither park managers nor locals have much understanding of scientific principles and methodologies.
I've seen that one of the difficulties is there is no link between science and community, no good bridge, because we're not prepared to inform to the community about what we are doing (Interview with a park scientist).
The scientist who wants to create space for social transformation needs to build and maintain bridges with stakeholders outside the park. Park scientists may also need to deepen their understanding of the political imperatives of park managers, including tourism and agriculture, if they are to gain support for long-term experimentation. Experiments that threaten these interests may be hard to "sell."
There are not many connections between scientists and policy makers. Now the interaction is increasing, but not too much yet because there is a different language of scientists and policy makers. Another comment on institutions like CONAF, CONAMA is that there are not many technical people working there. Those institutions are directed by politicians, the director of the institution is political. That makes the communication difficult between scientists and directors (Interview with a park scientist).
Park scientists are certainly likely to be motivated to collaborate even in the absence of incentives, consistent with a history of long-term ecological experimentation in national parks made possible by good communication between scientists and managers (e.g., Fray Jorge National Park). Their training also gives them the ability to do so. However, the opportunity may be constrained, either by policy makers higher up in the system (responding to political pressure) or by local stakeholders who misinterpret their experiments. Therefore, they will likely need support from the experimental scientists in building motivational bridges with colectivos, industry and landowners, and in supporting the creation of new environmental protection laws (discussed below). Moreover, they rely on the pressure for policy change created by international environmental groups:
Several important countries and other countries have been asking for environmental laws. So there is external pressure on the government to introduce this. There are several environmental organizations such as Green Peace, there are Green Parties, and also in the Senate there are certain legislators that are more concerned about the environment. People are more aware now of environmental problems than they were ten years ago. Ten years ago, nobody talked about environmental problems. Now you also have the newspaper, TV and radio, so more people become involved with environmental problems. The governmental change in policy has been more influenced by external pressure than by the internal awareness of scientists and environmentalists (Interview with a park scientist).
Foreign resource extractors

Resource-based industries such as mining and logging dominate the Chilean economy. Environmental regulation in Chile is not particularly strong, and there is evidence that much of the existing regulation favors economic development over protection (Clapp 2001). Foreign companies operating in extraction industries within Chile are subject to more stringent environmental laws than national companies, despite the absence of pressure from NGOs (non-governmental organizations). Such pressure is common in many parts of the world. Indeed, based on interviews with managers of an American-owned mining company in the area, it seems that pressure at the international level causes some companies to voluntarily exceed local limits and self-impose restoration requirements. The positive image that results can offset or mediate the kind of negative publicity that has affected the stock prices of companies such as Shell (Nigeria) and Talisman (Sudan).

When you are competing in the international market, you can have problems because some countries say, "We won't buy Chilean copper because they don't take care with environment." I see this in the future. And in the end all the companies, the big companies, the big mine companies will have the same problem. We plan to stay here for about forty years. At the moment in Chile there are regulations, but our company is American and defines the principles we need to remove all the installation, clean the installation and all the different things needed to try to return the area to the ambient environment. We were approved two years ago for an expansion, and received the permit for an expansion of this mine. We had no opposition. In general, our company has very good record and has a very good relationship with the authorities (Interview with mining company executive).
The mining company officials interviewed for this study indicated their commitment to restoring the mining site to its original condition within 40 years. The excess water used for processing minerals could be used for maintaining the restored system. However, there was some concern that the site would not be suitable for indigenous plants due to high levels of copper and sulphate deposits (see Table 2). Permits would be required from multiple government agencies and there would be additional costs for fencing (to keep out rabbits) and possibly for purifying water. In theory, given the reputational incentives for mining companies, uncontaminated sites within their properties should be promising targets for reforestation experiments.

Policy makers – CONAF

Unfortunately, the policy makers interviewed for this project did not see high "value" in the native evergreen shrub lands (see Table 2). The policy makers' opinions mirrored those of the Chilean government, which does not prioritize the environment. While it was within their purview to protect natural areas, the perceived worth of the matorral was not high enough, and the effort would fly in the face of more powerful ministries responsible for mining and urban development. Nor did they feel that the matorral was of much interest to the general public, apart from some NGOs. Overall, there was little motivation to invest in changing the situation.

The conclusions of the policy makers interviewed are particularly problematic for the future of the matorral. CONAF has the ability to provide both positive and negative incentives, and thus has the power to create the exchange that is crucial to successful social marketing. Here again, however, as the scientists and mining company executives noted, the international community has a key role to play. While scientists struggle to make the importance of the matorral more evident to all involved communities, the policy makers concede that pressure from the international community has the greatest potential to influence policy in the near future (see Table 2).


In summary, the exploratory interviews suggest that the likelihood of collaboration varies significantly across the five different groups sampled (Tables 2 and 3).

Viewed through Rothschild's framework, it appears that the large landowners have the ability and the opportunity to provide sites for experimentation, but what would motivate them to do so? If family pride is key, a landowner might be motivated if promotional materials gave him widespread recognition. To the extent that the individual landowner is interested in tourism, a restored matorral might provide him with additional "eco-tourism" resources. In all cases, however, some considerable financial outlay on the part of the experimenters might be required, if only to ensure publicity for the participation.

The farmers' cooperatives have neither the opportunity nor the ability to turn over land for experimentation. Their motivations for participating would almost surely involve an exchange, not just in the form of a subsidy but also in the form of expertise. Again, a monetary outlay could be anticipated. However, finding alternate economic uses for the matorral and providing training and expertise might also improve the chances of persuading farmers' cooperatives to participate (see Garrity et al. 2002).

The stakeholder group most likely to support such a collaboration might be the international mining companies, if they felt they could gain political support and greater freedom of action by participating. Viewed from Rothschild's perspective, the exchange of risk and benefits between the mining company and the experimenters might be the most equal. They have the ability and opportunity (in the demand for environmental stewardship) to take on such an experiment. Furthermore, the very act of entering into the collaboration would signal their willingness to act as good environmental citizens, which would ease the way for future operations.

The National Park scientists, whose inherent motivations would be closest to those of the experimenters but who are constrained by the highly political nature of their position, are also likely to support such a collaboration. Private landowners are potential (but unstable) partners, and the farmers' cooperatives would need the most support in terms of skills and resources. However, in the long run, if El Niño-related restoration projects were to be implemented on the expanded scale desirable, all of these groups would need to play a part. For this to happen, both "bottom up" and "top down" strategies would be required. The low motivation expressed by policy makers emerges as a key challenge. The stricter environmental policy governing mining practices has clearly opened a window for experimentation and innovation in environmental management (Westley et al. 2006), and the government and the mining companies are particularly sensitive to international censure in this arena. When it comes to the matorral, how will such international censure be raised?

The matorral is one of the 33 global hotspots of biodiversity (Myers et al. 2000). The matorral is not much valued by Chileans, who tend to see it as an "unused," "unproductive" land covered by "shrubs" and poorly protected in the national system of conservation areas (Armesto et al. 1998). However, an argument can be made that the matorral provides ecological services (such as regional climate regulation, soil and biodiversity conservation) and aesthetic value. During the past decades, land cover change in central Chile has been driven by intensive agriculture directed to external markets (Altieri and Rojas 1999; Armesto et al. 2009). Expansion of orchards on hillsides combined with the complete removal of plant cover and unsustainable agricultural practices have increased soil erosion and seriously compromised the productive capacity of these ecosystems (Armesto et al. 2009). Current assessments estimate that 60% of the country's territory shows signs of soil erosion that directly affects 13% of the Chilean population (CIREN 2009). The avocado and vineyard plantations are the clearest examples of these trends.

Recent research has estimated that ecosystems in their natural or "wild" state are approximately 100 times as valuable in terms of total ecosystem services as the same land in a state transformed by humans (e.g., mangrove systems versus shrimp cultures, wetlands versus agricultural lands, etc.) (Balmford et al. 2002). But how can these insights be tailored to fit the motivations of these stakeholders? Both the small farmers and the landowners recognize that trees capture precious moisture. Could scientific comparisons be made of the moisture-retaining properties of the matorral versus a tree plantation? Would such studies further capture the international imagination?

Marketing the "El Niño restoration approach" is a further challenge, for both short-term and long-term reasons. In the short term, it involves convincing local owners to collaborate in a restoration project. Although the success of forest restoration by one group may lead to acceptance of the idea by another group, it is not necessarily true that success in a park setting will trigger acceptance of the approach among farmers or landowners. In the long run, if the El Niño restoration approach is to be implemented on a large scale, a flexible and coordinated plan will need to be devised--one backed by government policy that can be quickly implemented when El Niño is announced. This could take the form of a simulation; however, while simulations have proved valuable in training for response to disasters, their application is less promising in contexts where no emergency is perceived (Edwards 2009).

Perhaps, given the attachment to the land expressed by the small farmers and landowners as well as the need for collaboration and for a broad-based action plan, a participatory planning process should be attempted. Reforestation programs in Chile are usually prepared in advance, based on average conditions (e.g., institutions plan to reforest a certain number of hectares per year). Using El Niño for ecological restoration requires agencies to save their effort and invest it in the short periods of time when climate conditions are right. It demands that all participants in the process change their way of thinking. While it goes against the mainstream of policymaking in Chile, "whole system" planning processes (such as future search and scenario planning) have proved effective in a number of instances, from the managing of endangered species (Westley and Miller 2003) to ecosystem assessment (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005) to Scandinavian transportation systems (Leleur 2007).

Case studies from other areas of the world have suggested that restoration of degraded ecosystems, if built on the involvement and cooperation of local stakeholder groups, is feasible, but difficult (Orlove and Tosteson 1999; Holmgren 2009). In addition to the "whole system" planning processes mentioned above, the involvement of local groups in both collecting and interpreting scientific data would build social capital by linking local groups together and help stimulate an approach broad enough to allow for multiple interests to be met (Pinkerton 1999). In the case of Chile and the matorral, such a scenario is close to the one identified and described by the government scientists. It would mean making the science transparent to local groups and building bridges between large landowners, farmers' cooperatives, managers and corporate actors. It would also mean recognizing that the motivations and interests of these stakeholder groups are different and that the benefits must be equally shared.

Further research is needed to answer the questions raised by this paper. Clearly, in the case of the landowners and the colectivos--those with the least incentive to cooperate in the present system--a legislative change to reward restoration would help tip the balance. However, continuing pressure from the international scientific community and international NGOs appears to be necessary to increase the value of such legislation for the policy makers themselves.

While complex environmental challenges are difficult to understand and even more difficult to manage, we have raised the possibility in this paper that social marketing in general, and Rothschild's framework in particular, offer practical insights into the trade-offs and policy interventions that might help move a system towards conservation. We acknowledge that social marketing is not a panacea. Nonetheless, it needs to be added to the development literature like other approaches that are better documented, such as participatory management and community-based management. Its contribution, however, is that it reveals the significant differences in motivation that characterize different social groups concerned with or affected by conservation imperatives. As such, social marketing can provide a source of further insight for those dedicated to restoration in complex social contexts.


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.


We appreciate the comments of two anonymous reviewers, and the participation of the small-hold farmers, landowners, mining company managers, scientists and government officials who helped us in understanding the challenge of dryland restoration in Chile


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Address of Correspondent:
Frances Westley
J.W. McConnell Chair in Social Innovation,
Social Innovation Generation (SIG)
University of Waterloo
195 King Street W., Suite 202,
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 1B1

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