Vision and goals: what is it all about?

Simon Black –

A key area of capability for a leader is to have a strong sense of purpose for the work that they and their team must undertake. Questions like ‘Why are we here?‘, ‘Why are we doing this work?‘ can be answered with a statement of purpose. In conservation it might be something like ‘ to recover and conserve species X’, or ‘to recover and protect landscape Y’, or ‘to restore ecosystem Z’. That purpose must be reasonably within the control of the team; so a purpose defined as follows: ‘to prevent global climate change’ would be unhelpul and difficult to operationalise (so not really worth the paper it is written on).

Durrell is one organisation which has a clear purpose (they call it a mission) “saving species from extinction“. In any work the organisation undertakes, people can legitimately ask – ‘does this work help save species from extinction?’ The assumption is that if the work does not deliver this expectation, it is the wrong work to be doing.

WWF’s mission is “to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.” This sets a broad expectation but is perhaps less easy to operationalise (or at least to discriminate what to do and what not to do).

In understanding purpose, we need to help understand the work we do – and to have that understanding which is common across the team. In Durrell there may be debate about which species to save from extinction, but thereafter what to do can be carried out. This type of decision making is perhaps less easy to agree with the WWF mission – there are likely to be a myriad of other criteria which are necessary to prioritise WWF’s work.

FFI describe their mission as “To act to conserve threatened species & ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science & take into account human needs“. This is clear, but perhaps also includes qualitative criteria worthy of debate – what is ‘sound science’, what should we do if effective conservation can be achieved without science? What if human needs contravene the conservation of species, or drive unsustainability? What if sound scinece is unsustainable? These are legitimate questions.

Vision then builds a view of the future – and this is a move-able feast driven by the context we are working in; HOW we conserve species might involve building a secure captive population far from harms way, but a different vision might have the population restored in its native habitat, another vision might see the population trans-located to a new uninhabited location; it all depends on context. Which vision is most likely to inspire others to engage with the work and which will also ensure the purpose of the work?

With these things in mind a leader can set short-term goals and learn more about the system that is being worked with.

In the Black, Groombridge Jones paper is a description of some areas to consider in developing purpose, vision, goals and plans:

  • Establish shared long-term vision & common sense of purpose.
  • Identify what is happening/affecting biodiversity.
  • Set clear, short-term achievable goals.
  • Ensure flexibility in all levels of planning.
  • Consider view of stakeholders and partners.
  • Start plans by understanding current performance v purpose.
  • Ensure that staff embrace project aims and culture.
  • Get people to measure performance in relation to project aims.
  • Advocate good governance, particularly in complex projects.
  • Ensure congruency between plans, action and results.

Further Reading:

Black, S. A., Groombridge, J. J., & Jones, C. G. (2011a). Leadership and Conservation Effectiveness: Finding a Better Way to Lead. Conservation Letters, 4, 329-339.