Social Science for a Stronger Service

People sit at the heart of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission. As public servants, we work with and for the American public to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats. Yet despite our mission of “working with others,” we are not always as adept in understanding the hearts and minds of the people we serve and who influence our ability to succeed. For nearly a decade, a small and growing group of social science practitioners, allies, and champions within the Service have worked to better equip our workforce with the information, tools, and skills we need to grow the application of the conservation social sciences in our work.

The conservation social sciences are a diverse suite of disciplines focused on exploring and understanding the intersection of humans and the environment. Just as our bureau is equipped with experts who understand the biological complexities of the natural world, efforts are underway to bolster our ranks with experts who understand how individuals, society, and social phenomena relate to conservation and natural resource management.  

Twenty-first century conservation happens in a complex landscape of people and the environment. Social science can improve outcomes for national priorities, such as pollinator conservation or the Urban Wildlife Conservation Program, as well as improve our day-to-day work, such as engaging partners and private landowners, managing human/wildlife conflict, and addressing barriers for making meaningful strides for diversity, equity, and inclusion in workforce recruitment and retention. 

 In February 2020, we held the first U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Social Science Summit. Photo by USFWS

We held a Social Science Summit in February 2020 that developed five key recommendations that represent the Service’s strategic direction for social science mainstreaming:

  • Increase recruitment and integration of social science expertise
  • Increase social science literacy
  • Deepen a robust community of practice
  • Support growth of the social sciences in the Service through a network strategy
  • Activate senior leaders as champions for social science mainstreaming

A core team of social science experts across the Service have taken responsibility for moving these recommendations forward, in collaboration with summit attendees and with support from agency senior leaders and other social science champions. Throughout the pandemic, the group has kept the effort alive and is celebrating a major accomplishment. In 2021, the Service took a major stride forward through the first-ever batch hire of social scientists.