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Tackling Ocean-Friendly Behavior Through Design-Thinking

By Lindsay Mosher

On October 16th and 17th, members of the Oceanic Society team traveled to sunny Palo Alto to embark on an intensive, immersive and wildly creative experience formally known as a “design thinking” workshop at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, commonly known as the d.school.

The goal of this two-day workshop was to design meaningful and memorable experiences for nature-based travelers that build community identity and lead to sustainable action for ocean conservation.

In collaboration with Stanford, Oceanic Society brought together more than 25 participants that included tourism professionals, scientists, business leaders, artists, and communications experts to gather expertise and apply design-thinking methodologies to ideate and prototype methods for engaging nature-based tourists in long-term pro-environmental and pro-ocean behaviors, or Blue Habits.

The two-day workshop was customized specifically for Oceanic Society by Drs. Nicole Ardoin and Mele Wheaton of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and Woods Institute for the Environment together with d.school facilitator, Matt Rothe, and weaved together these key themes:

1). Empathizing with our Travelers

At its core, design thinking is focused on the needs of the person or group that is being designed for and takes into consideration the overall context and culture of that person or group. Getting into the mind of the “user” allows the designer to see problems through a new lens that considers underlying problems and looks beyond existing solutions. Design-thinking purposefully spends a large amount of time empathizing with the user and generating ideas before jumping in to any design.

From the get-go, our workshop participants were challenged to fully embrace the unique, human-centered approach of design thinking. Initial activities like observing the room through the perspective of a custodian and of a first-grade teacher and noticing any obstacles or advantages for each role led the group to consider a situation through different lenses and establish a more empathetic mindset.

To better understand what makes for memorable and meaningful experiences and what makes people feel connected to the communities with which they identify, we then set out across the Stanford campus to interview random people around these themes. We made note of interesting, surprising and notable findings from each interview and paid close attention to what exactly people chose to talk about and why. We then re-grouped to synthesize the information that we collected and to identify patterns and themes from all of the responses. We were surprised to find many common themes across our dozens of interviews and started to gain valuable insight into what makes for an influential experience. We also categorized people’s responses to match our existing knowledge about the different types of people who participate in Oceanic Society’s travel programs and then hypothesized “need statements” for each type of traveler.

Given that Oceanic Society is focused on nature-based tourism as a tool for ocean conservation, deeply understanding our travelers and their needs is essential to designing experiences for them that help build community and lead to long-term action for ocean conservation.

2). Exploring ‘Peak Moments’

The group also explored the idea of a ‘peak moment’— a moment that represents the height or peak of an experience that leads an overall experience to be meaningful and memorable. Such experiences that that can create ‘peak moments’ include: events that go above and beyond everyday experiences and provoke memorable delight; ‘light bulb’ moments that offer a high degree of clarity; connections or social elements that strengthen moments through shared experience; and feelings of pride and accomplishment that can turn into motivation. For those in the business of changing behavior, a peak moment can be a powerful tool to help facilitate a paradigm shift or fuel motivation for desired behaviors. Our group explored different ways to align Oceanic Society’s whale watching experiences with travelers’ needs in order to facilitate peak moments.

3). Generating Ideas and Prototyping Rapidly

After synthesizing information and categorizing our users, we shifted into idea generation. We considered each user group’s needs in the context of Oceanic Society’s goals (ocean-friendly behavior change), focusing on the intersection between the two. We were then led through a series of rapid brainstorming exercises such as constructing what a peak moment would look like for Oceanic Society travelers, as well as leveraging current societal trends to design meaningful and memorable experiences that meet both the travelers needs and the goals of Oceanic Society.

These exercises and the ensuing discussions, while sometimes resulting in far-fetched ideas, allowed the group to take unbounded, abstract ideas and transform them into more realistic and feasible outcomes for long-term behavior change amongst Oceanic Society travelers.

What We Learned & What We’ll Do Next

The design thinking process encouraged Oceanic Society staff and partners to re-examine the prospect of nature-based tourism to achieve environmental behavior change through a new lens, and to generate many innovative ideas for future testing. The user-centric emphasis of the approach felt especially relevant to the tourism industry, which is all about the user (traveler) experience.

Through the workshop we generated dozens of new ideas for ways to enhance Oceanic Society whale watching experiences in ways that lead to measurable long-term pro-ocean behavior. Working with Stanford education and behavior experts, we are now refining those ideas to be tested and evaluated aboard Oceanic Society whale watching tours in early 2019. The most promising ideas will be further refined if needed and will become a permanent part of Oceanic Society’s whale watching expeditions moving forward. We will also encourage other whale watching operators in California and worldwide to test these same approaches, and we’ll work to adapt them to other types of nature-based tourism, such as Oceanic Society’s expeditions.

We are grateful to the dynamic group of people who participated in this workshop, including representatives from 5 Gyres, Lindblad Expeditions, Mesoamerican Tourism Alliance, Sea Legacy, Stanford University, Booking.com, UC Berkeley, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and more, and are looking forward to working together as this project moves forward.

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Lindsay Mosher is Oceanic Society's Blue Habits project manager. Lindsay has a diverse background with an M.A. in Conservation Biology from Miami University and B.A. in Journalism from Ithaca College. She is deeply passionate about ocean issues and has been working to advance global marine conservation for the past 5 years.


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