Questioning conservation project design

Simon Black –¬†

Can we teach ourselves new ways of designing, testing and improving conservation work?

We rarely evaluate the success of project design by looking back at the plans – has it done what was planned? If you think about it, this is because what is important in a conservation intervention is whether conservation has actually been achieved – has it made a difference to species and ecosystems of concern?

Often programmes do not measure the things that matter (to species and ecosystems. Intead the focus is on activities and outcomes. These may have value in managing the project (or not) but do they help us to do conservation better?

John Seddon says “Change should start with study” He also suggests that the convention that you cannot implement change without projects, milestones and ‘deliverables’ are unhelpful. He says these have little value. Essentially systems thinking rejects all of these approaches. Does this have implications for conservation, where we have an addiction for projects and plans?

For Seddon the ONLY PLAN, is to do is go out, study and get knowledge. When you get knowledge you can change things. You follow this by predicting, but you never know by how much, but it is often better than you would ever have predicted. You also design interventions which have counter-intuitive points of intervention. We start to see this in social change programmes in conservation.

You need to avoid assumptions. You need to find out what is happening, the demands, the value of things, what matters.

A conservation programme design should follow this model. Carl Jones, winner of the Indianapolis Prize in 2016 has always followed his model, by seeking what matters to a species and then adapting approach season by season, week by week, year by year. A two or three year plan has little meaning, little predictability with endangered species. Carl has achieved unequalled success in species conservation and recovery.



Black S.A. (2014) Can we engineer an exponential growth in conservation impact? Solitaire 25: 3-5. Durrell Conservation Academy, Jersey.  ISSN 2053-1087.

Copsey, J.A., Black, S.A., Groombridge, J.J. and Jones C.G. (2018). Species Conservation: Lessons from Islands. Ecology, Biodiversity and Conservation Series. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.



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