Tackling the “Wicked” Conservation Problem of Tropical Deforestation in Global Commodity Supply Chains Using Mixes of Mechanisms

Joss Lyons-White*, Kristjan Jespersen, Caleb Gallemore, Allison S. Catalano, Robert M. Ewers, Andrew T. Knight

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Working paperResearch


Tropical deforestation in global agricultural commodity supply chains is a “wicked” problem. Attempted solutions to wicked conservation problems like tropical deforestation often involve idealised, technical mechanisms. For example, company commitments to “zero deforestation” have become a mainstay of global forest conservation efforts. To be resolved, however, wicked conservation problems require strategically-developed, context-specific mixes of mechanisms. Drawing on interdisciplinary literature from the policy sciences, energy and land-use policy, and conservation, we examine why the contextual complexity of wicked conservation problems demands mixes of mechanisms. We present an operational model of conservation that incorporates the mechanism mix concept. We then explore how the dynamism and uncertainty of wicked problems means mixes of mechanisms must be continually reconfigured. Drawing the concepts of contextual complexity, dynamism and uncertainty together, we propose a conceptual model – the “M3 Model” – which aids understanding of how mechanism mixes can be reconfigured to sustain progress towards a desired outcome. The M3 model has four practical implications, which we discuss with reference to supply chain initiatives to reduce deforestation. First, it makes the need to address multiple interacting variables explicit, countering the tendency to seek panaceas. Second, it emphasises the importance of analysing mechanisms’ contributions to problem amelioration, instead of their shortcomings as idealised solutions. Third, it highlights the possibility of failure, reorienting conservation practice towards learning. Fourth, it emphasises polycentric governance, reinforcing the need for distributed mechanism deployment across stakeholder groups. Our synthesis provides tools to support a more holistic, systemic approach to tackling wicked conservation problems.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationWWW
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 2021

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