Essay 5: Policy brief

Essay assigned: 11/3

Outline due: 11/10, hardcopy in class

First draft due: 11/17, emailed by class

Second draft due: 11/22, emailed by class

Final draft due: 12/7, submitted online


As your final assignment, this essay will give you the chance to integrate all of the interpretations we have covered over the semester and apply them in turn to an ongoing biodiversity initiative. A successful assignment will be well-researched, draw evidence from multiple fields and sources, and compile this evidence into a clear argument about the current state and future potential of a pressing conservation issue. Throughout the semester we have focally interpreted wildlife conservation from a variety of perspectives, and for different audiences. This is your chance to incorporate all of these ideas, demonstrating a complex and insightful understanding of conservation as a movement that necessarily considers cultural empowerment and biodiversity preservation in equal measure.

This research project will build on essays three and four. You have already identified a contemporary conservation management initiative, summarized it in a popular media format (essay 3), and critiqued it from a postcolonial theory perspective (essay 4). Your final paper will expand these ideas into a longer policy brief format wherein you will give historical background, identify the biological and conservation context, and summarize the current state of the management initiative in question. You will identify facets of the project that are successful and those that are problematic, be it from a conservation management or postcolonial theory (hopefully both of these) perspective. Finally, you will offer improvements and/or alternative strategies to the current conservation approach.


Your goal is to write a policy brief about the conservation program you have been analyzing for essays 3 and 4. A policy brief is a summary of an urgent issue that is aimed at policymakers and other parties who may be interested in the problem at hand. It explains the issue comprehensively by providing background, identifying all stakeholders, and describing the significance of the problem. It summarizes the project aimed at solving the problem, and provides recommendations for future approaches. The goal of a policy brief is to promote better-informed, evidence-based action. 

Your perspective: You are an independent conservation scientist. Though you necessarily consult many experts in subfields of this discipline, you have a broader comprehension of all aspects involved, and are thus in a unique position to thoughtfully combine all of these views. Your job is to convince the reader of the urgency of the issue.

Your audience: Policy briefs are aimed at government officials, however they are publicly available documents. Your brief should be written in plain language, and should clearly outline the problem and project for a non-technical and uninformed audience.

Research your topic: Consider the conservation project at hand from every angle. This should include, but is not limited to, historical background (e.g. what are the colonial and ecological histories of the region?), socioeconomic factors (e.g. what do people nearby do for a living? do they have access to healthcare? clean water?), and biodiversity goals (e.g. is there one endangered keystone species involved? a population or ecosystem? what are the major threats?). In exhaustively covering these topics, you will need to consult a variety of journals. The texts that we have covered in class will also provide a good framework for interpreting the conservation problem theoretically.

Your policy brief should be organized in the following format:

  1. Title: should be catchy, grab the reader’s attention, and include key words and concepts.
  2. Executive summary (1 page): much like an abstract, this should concisely introduce the reader to the issue and your findings. If this were the only page that a government/non-governmental official read, they should still have a good grasp on the topic overall. This should be written last.
  3. Introduction and Background (2-3 pages): this section should answer the question “why?” and explain the significance of the issue. Provide both biological and sociocultural context. Consider (among other aspects) when this conservation issue was first identified, what measures have been attempted, and their efficacy. Identify all of the stakeholders involved, and state their respective interests.
  4. Current status (2-3 pages): outline the current state of this conservation program. Outline the approaches taken and the outcomes/results of each approach. Include as much hard evidence as you can on features such as the wildlife species’ population increase, human involvement and empowerment, etc. This section should be purely a statement of facts, and should not incorporate your personal assessment (which you’ll address in the next section).
  5. Statement of efficacy (2 pages): identify aspects of the program that are successful, and those that require improvement. This should be the section in which you make a strong argument. Base your interpretation on the themes we have covered in class.
  6. Implications and Recommendations (2 pages): outline the implications of the program as it stands. What will its effects be without any changes? Then offer recommendations and solutions to the problems you have identified in the previous section. You may find it helpful to cite other conservation successes. Be creative, but consider the feasibility of your recommendations.
  7. Conclusion (1 page): this section should summarize your main points and findings. You should provide a strong argument that is defensible based on the information provided in the previous sections. This is also where you should remind the reader of the broader implications of this conservation problem, locate it within a larger discourse, and offer your interpretation of its place in a sustainable future. Your conclusion should stimulate the reader to make the changes you’ve suggested.

Sources: You may use any of the assigned course readings. In addition, you must use at least 8 scholarly sources (i.e. not news articles) that have not been assigned in class. Consult our class library guide for search tips. Your citations may be in either MLA or APA format. I highly suggest using Zotero because getting familiar with a citation manager now will make your life excellent later in college.

Format: 10-12 pages, double-spaced, 12-point Calibri, 1” margins

Submission: final drafts should be submitted through the course website by 11:59 PM, December 7