Heather Doggett’s ‘Immerse Universe’: a Force for Conservation and Sustainable Behavioral Change

Behavioral science is a vast field that ultimately attempts to answer a simple question: how do we effectively convince people to change their behavior for the better? More importantly—how do we make sure that change lasts? For 27 years, Immerse Universe CEO and Founder, Heather Doggett, has dedicated her days to advocating for conservation and sustainability through her own unique niche of behavioral science: sustainable experience design.

Heather’s distinctive professional journey began in a simple place: “I’m an animal lover, most of all,” Heather shares. “That’s where this all starts.” Her extensive career began with volunteering at her local zoo at 13, where she was inspired by the passion every person there had for caring for the animals.  “But then,” she shares, “something surprising happened.” Heather realized that she liked talking to guests and zookeepers about conservation almost more than caring for the animals firsthand. Within that realization, years prior to the first inklings of its inception, the seeds of Immerse Universe began to grow.

She continued to work in the field of communications, marketing, diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, and conservation, leading and championing strategic planning, exhibit design, and more at massive organizations. But in 2005, another pivotal shift in Heather’s life occurred— an epiphany, brought on by stumbling upon an airport magazine cover that read, in massive red lettering:  CHANGE OR DIE. This felt like a cosmic moment for Heather, drawing forth a question that cast an unchartered path ahead:

“What if talking about conservation wasn’t enough?” She considered for the first time. “How do we really, effectively change people’s behavior?”

By 2022, Heather had reached an exceptional place of achievement in her career— COO of a major aquarium— but she still felt a lack of something inexplicable in the realm of meaningful conservation efforts. “I had this feeling something was missing,” she recalls. “I thought maybe I could start a company that would fill this void I sensed in blending experience design and conservation— the art and science of both.”

Thus, from seeds planted by an animal-loving 13-year-old zoo volunteer years prior, Immerse Universe bloomed.

Immerse Universe, in Heather’s own words, “is a production company with a purpose to work with mission-focused brands to create immersive entertainment that is informed by behavior change science and integrates the very best in experience design to ultimately create measurable mission impact.”

Immerse Universe operates on the foundation of four core aspects: experience design, behavioral science, conservation communication, and audience motivation. In the simplest of terms: they design events and experiences that inspire attendees to enact lasting, positive change in their behavior, related to causes like conservation.

“Studies show time and time again that simply being presented with information, and even feeling that changed behavior is something important to do, does not ultimately lead to behavior change,” Heather explains. “There’s a missing piece there that we have to figure out.”

“Meaningful experiences go beyond being engaging,” she adds. “They directly address why a behavior is difficult to do and why that may be: community, family, social media, and more. We must ultimately ask: is it fun? Is it easy? Is it popular?”

Conservation, on the surface, is none of these things; we are constantly faced with a negative, impending reality. Educational exhibits tell us that animal habitats are being decimated across the globe, resulting in countless animal species becoming threatened or endangered. Many end up feeling helpless and powerless to stop it. “That’s where we come in,” Heather explains. “We find a way to make something that may be depressing, or dire, into something fun and engaging that causes real changes in how people behave.”

It is here, at the delicate intersection of conservation, sustainability, and the stakeholders who enact and are impacted by both, that intuitive zoo design finds its foothold. While Epsten Group has been designing sustainable animal habitats and zoo facilities for years, Heather’s expertise and Immerse Universe’s unique services meet that mission at the close of the design process and carry it forward.

Facilities that center sustainable animal care and guest education create a space for Immerse Universe’s one-of-a-kind impactful experiences to land; they unite all members of a community in not just caring for the future of our planet— but doing something to protect it.

To learn more about the innovative and impactful changes Heather and Immerse Universe are making in the world, visit their website, and stop by their sponsored “Wild Ink” Happy Hour at the 2023 AZA conference, a fundraiser hosted at Sacred Palm in Columbus, OH.

To learn more about our Zoo Design Services, reach out to us here.

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