Kayla A. Cranston, Ph.D., is a 2016 graduate of the Ph.D. Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch University, New England

Dissertation Committee:

  • Beth Kaplin, Ph.D., Committee Co-Chair
  • Carol Saunders, Ph.D., Committee Co-Chair
  • Raymond De Young, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Jean Kayira, Ph.D., Committee Member


Capacity building, biodiversity conservation, conservation psychology, individual capacity, evaluation, validity, training methods, survey instrument, psychometric, empowerment, long-term capacity building, capacity building strategies

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Capacity building has become the centerpiece of recent attempts to strengthen regional biodiversity conservation. Many conservation organizations aim to increase this capacity by training local conservation professionals. While many practitioners will agree that these trainings presumably have a psychological effect on their participants that may benefit long-term local action toward conservation goals, there also seems to be a resignation that these effects are difficult if not impossible to measure and target, especially within diverse cultures. The common result is a perfunctory evaluation of observable behaviors or basic knowledge, which may be easy to count but undoubtedly fails to represent the nuance of complex psychological variables associated with long-term capacity to conserve biodiversity. My dissertation is fundamentally aimed at investigating capacity for biodiversity conservation at this psychological level. Specifically, I explored the current understanding of capacity for biodiversity conservation and how this understanding can be supplemented by psychological theory to strengthen the development, evaluation, and prediction of this capacity over time. I did this within the context of case studies that focus on three separate populations of conservation professionals who participated in capacity building trainings in Africa and North America between 1994 and 2014. I administered surveys to these conservation professionals to create and validate an instrument that measures the construct I call psychological capacity for biodiversity conservation (PCBC). PCBC includes psychological dimensions such as meaningful ownership, effective autonomy, being needed, group effectiveness, and understanding. I administered the PCBC survey instrument to training alumni and conducted interviews with their trainers to the evaluate the effectiveness of the capacity building methods at increasing PCBC directly after and two to ten years after a training. I found that meaningful ownership, effective autonomy, and being needed predicted 34% of the variance in long-term capacity behavior in conservation professionals after training. I recommend specific training methods that I found to significantly increase these dimensions of PCBC. Together, these results offer a novel approach to capacity development and evaluation and a psychometric instrument that can be used to predict long-term capacity for biodiversity conservation in a diverse population of conservation professionals.


Kayla A. Cranston

ORCID Scholar ID# 0000-0002-3455-1113