What conservation leaders must get to know for themselves

Leadership is a broad spectrum skill set. It related to personal, interpersonal, intellectual, perceptive and learning capabilities.

If it is possible to bil it down to a few topic areas, then the best and broadest categores are those suggested by Deming in his System of Profound Knowledge.

As a leader you need to know:

1. How people ‘tick’ – basics of psychology

What is motivation? How does a leader sap mtivation out of people? What can be changed to enable people to perorm at their best? How can wwe get pwopel to collaborate and share? How can we help people to improve the work that we do?

2. How systems work – organisations, ecosystems, social systems

What is a system? WHat factors affect how a system works? How do we measure performance? What are the effects of changes on a system?

3. How data over time (longitudinal) tells us how a system is working

What is ‘good’ performance, what is ‘bad’ performance? What is predicatble? How do we know if things are going wrong? What is risky performance? What is chance or a ‘one-off’?

4. How different levels of knowledge can – and should – be used

Can we oly work with facts? Are facts real facts or something else? How do we make uncertain information into facts, or at least, useful infomation?


Black, S. A., & Copsey, J. A. (2014). Does Deming’s “System of Profound Knowledge” Apply to Leaders of Biodiversity Conservation?. Open Journal of Leadership2014.

Leading conservation change – picking the right point of intervention

I have provided input to a number of conservation programmes which are dealing with the pressures of human-wildlife conflict, particularly where large predators pose a threat to livestock and people.

Some of these  animals are a mortal threat, such as tigers in the Sundarbans. In other locations such as the Himalayas or East Africa,  local villagers, regard leopards, hyenas or wolves as pests, because of their tendency to prey on livestock. As a result, villagers or livestock herders in these locations may resort to retaliatory killings of these animals.

An innovative Himalayan Homestays ecotourism programme in the Ladakh region of Northwest India, suggests that educating communities on the ecological importance of snow leopards to instill greater value for this keystone species. The scheme is based around provision to locals of an opportunity to earn an additional source of income by hosting nature tourists. Locals were trained in housekeeping while youth acquired skills as guides to lead nature tours.

“People who used to kill snow leopards in revenge, before our intervention, are today trying to attract the cat to their villages,” says Tsewang Namgail, scientist and director of the Snow Leopard Conservancy-India Trust and co-author of the study. “This was unthinkable 20 years ago when people wanted the snow leopard as away from them as possible.”

We are now understanding better that people’s attitudes and, perhaps even more importantly, their behaviour towards snow leopards is driven by a complex of factors. importantly, some behaviour controls, like economic interests, may over-ride intentions. These controls will be amplified or reduced in effect by the social norms of the community. If people have positive social norms it will assist, but not eliminate confounding effects. At the same time, education also will not be able to permanently shift behaviour, other factors must also align.

Adapted from Vannelli et al (2019) – following the Theory of Change (Ajzen, 1991)

“Himalayan Homestays, and ecotourism, in general, should provide economic value, but also ideally foster value, beyond economic, for the species itself, if that positive relationship is to persist through fluctuations in the tourism industry,” explained Kate Vannelli, lead author of the study, which was her Master’s dissertation at the University of Kent.

Whilst incentives may appear to be the drivers of people’s changes in attitudes, it is not quite so simple. This has implications for leaders. We need to design social and behavioural  interventions so that they deliver the desired behavioural outcome (not just percieved attitudinal changes). Second we actually need to be better at designing interventions which reshape human behaviour in natural landscapes, such as making livestock less attractive to predators in the first place. In the latter case there is new interesting work using foxlights in the Himalayas to deter predators from entering villages. Nevertheless other initiatives to ensure suitably abundant natural prey also needs consideration.


Jain, N. (2019) In Ladakh, community-based ecotourism is helping promote positive perceptions of the snow leopard. Firstpost, 27 march 2019. https://www.firstpost.com/india/in-ladakh-community-based-ecotourism-is-helping-promote-positive-perceptions-of-the-snow-leopard-6253391.html

Vannelli, K. Hampton, M.P. Namgail, T. & Black, S. A. (2019). Community participation in ecotourism and its effect on local perceptions of snow leopard (Panthera uncia) conservation, Human Dimensions of Wildlife, DOI: 10.1080/10871209.2019.1563929

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. http://www.durrell.org/network/resources/solitaire/

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.



Towards an understanding of conservation impact

Simon Black – 

Monitoring and evaluation is a common headache for conservation leaders. how do they evaluate the impact of a programme, intervention, or project? One of the big problems is that conservation professionals cannot attribute ’cause and effect’ to their interventions, so assume that they cannot suggest or claim that improvements have been ’caused’ by their intervention.

This false modesty is a problem, because it encourage even more spurious claims in its place – like recovery of species on a global scale, or a discussion of increased population counts when other factors may be involved. Few can claim (although some can truly claim with certainty)  that without intervention an extinction would have occurred.

We end up in a spiral of despair – will anything we do make a difference?

A new approach to leadership is required. This includes seeking ways of understanding the impact of conservation work on the systems of concern. this means understanding the status of the species and ecosystems involved. That understanding will never be complete – there will be many gaps and unknowns.

For example, the status of a species will not be known merely from its population size. There are many demographic, genetic, health and range-related factors well as an understanding of threats. However often there is no such data available nor the resources to measure and monitor these factors. In some instances we might not even know the baseline or historic situation for the species or ecosystem.

To improve our understanding  in these situations the first thing that needs to be done is to start looking at the available data over time. Instead of a snapshot look at the dynamics of the data as a surrogate measure of the status of the species.

In this cas

In this case a population of birds remains stable (Pungaliya et al 2018)

e a bird population has declined in size, but has become more stable  and less prone to fluctuations in size (Pungaliya and Black 2017).


If we look at a threat, such as deaths of manatees in human-built lock and canal systems, we can start to see if the situation is improving, or not. In this case, new control systems on lock has reduced the number of deaths (Black and Leslie 2018)

Statistically derived limits (defined by the data itself and NOT an ‘expert view’) enable us to see whether actual changes can (i) be identified and (ii) be attributed to any actions taken in terms of conservation effort.

We can start to consider management conservation for real improvements.

Further reading:

Black SA and Leslie SC (2018) Understanding impacts of mitigation in waterway control systems on manatee deaths in Florida. Int J Avian & Wildlife Biol 3 (5), 386‒390.  https://medcraveonline.com/IJAWB/IJAWB-03-00124.pdf

Pungaliya AV, Leslie SC, Black SA. (2018) Why stable populations of conserved bird species may still be considered vulnerable: the nihoa finch (telespiza ultima) as a case study. Int J Avian & Wildlife Biol. 2018;3(1):41‒43.  https://medcraveonline.com/IJAWB/IJAWB-03-00050

Pungaliya AV, Black SA. (2017) Insights into the recovery if the palila (Loxioides bailleui) on hawaii through use of systems behavior charts. Int J Avian & Wildlife Biol. 2017;2(1):4‒5. https://medcraveonline.com/IJAWB/IJAWB-02-00007

Developing more impactful conservation

Simon Black – 

Does conservation have the capacity to learn new ways of designing, testing and improving its interventions and impact? Good disciplines of management can be learned from other sectors, but still need to be applied, whether in the field, in zoos, and in collaborations with scientific institutions, governments and communities. The conservation sector is blessed with a motivated workforce – people who are committed to the recovery and survival of species and ecosystems and we need to make better use of their motivations.

Impact will not be amplified just through our best efforts which, whilst worthy, will essentially involve pushing water uphill (Deming, 1994). Rather we need to ‘work smarter’ by finding a better way to protect, recover and restore. This is not a far-fetched expectation, shown by examples of dramatic turnarounds with species like the Mauritius Kestrel and Echo Parakeet. It is a question of learning.

Conservation needs to apply new methods of problem identification, decision making, planning, monitoring and review, even in situations where we already have a sound understanding of conservation science of the species? I am always surprised by the frequency of projects that, despite available expertise and resource, are hampered either by people rigidly sticking to outdated plans of action, or by being allowed to drift off course due to the pursuit of ill-conceived goals. These are symptoms of a hesitant or uninformed management approach. Science cannot provide the answers to these problems (Clark and Reading, 1994).

Conservation practitioners also need to learn how to grapple with scientific uncertainty, building arguments for the recovery of species in situations of scant information. Decisions of critical importance (such as how to save the last few individuals) can rely on little more than hunches, best guesses or deep assumptions; an approach which flies in the face of scientific expectations for decision-making based on hard evidence (Game et al., 2013). A vast proportion of thorny conservation problems are rooted in issues around people (either the ones generating the threat or the ones implementing the action) rather than biology. In the face of these demands only now are we beginning to realise that the old ways of managing conservation can be radically improved through skills which enhance thought, courage and emotional insight alongside better collaboration and creativity (Black and Copsey, 2014).

Aside from practitioners needing to acquire management skills, there is a second side to this; the humility to lead effectively. A conservation professional that is prepared to admit “I don’t know” is ready to pursue the right knowledge. The project manager who is prepared to admit “it is not working” will be ready to experiment with new solutions. The leader who is prepared to ask “what can we learn?” when someone has made a mistake will enable even the most experienced team to gain new insights into their work. This is a new horizon for many conservation professionals and it is not on the curriculum of a biological sciences degree. How much are we, as conservation managers, prepared to change the way we think?

Fortunately we can call on nearly 100 years of sound management theory and practice, tested and validated through scientific study of psychology, statistics, experimental design, human behaviour and organisational theory. Good conservation management practice; working with species, people, resources, logistics, problems and policies requires a both a disciplined and passionate approach – an appreciation of the importance of long-term vision of what we need to achieve, alongside an understanding of the practical realities required to set meaningful short-term goals (Black, Groombridge & Jones, 2013).

Many aspects of this ‘better way’ of managing (Deming 1994) are reflected the basics of effective conservation; knowing the species (morphology, behaviour, ecology nutrition, reproduction and its natural history) and understanding the threats, followed by a pursuit of ever-improving knowledge (husbandry, enclosure requirements, health management), usually alongside practical interventions (intensive management, captive breeding, community engagement). Often the tangible gains in recovering species are made through incremental improvements in knowledge and these changes start with anecdotal evidence of what works and what doesn’t. Over time, with good data management and systematic project design (data monitoring, planning and method development) the accumulation of anecdotes becomes data of scientific value. Scientific understanding thereafter enables wider questions to be explored and better understanding of species, communities and whole ecosystem recovery. There are many examples where a blossoming of scientific knowledge has run in parallel with concrete progress on the ground (Young et al., 2014).

It is an exciting time to be a conservation professional and an important time for zoos and field projects to adapt, learn and accelerate improvement: a better way for conserving species and ecosystems.


Black S.A. (2014) Can we engineer an exponential growth in conservation impact? Solitaire 25: 3-5. Durrell Conservation Academy, Jersey.  ISSN 2053-1087. http://www.durrell.org/network/resources/solitaire/

Black S.A. and Copsey, J.A. (2014) Purpose, Process, Knowledge, and Dignity in Interdisciplinary Projects. Conservation Biology, 28 (5): 1139-1141.

Black, S. A., Groombridge, J. J. and Jones C. G. (2013) Using better management thinking to improve conservation effectiveness. ISRN Biodiversity http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/784701.

Clark, T.W., Reading R.P. (1994) A professional perspective: improving problem solving, communication and effectiveness. p351–369 in T.W. Clark, R.P. Reading, A.L Clarke, eds. Endangered species recovery: finding the lessons, improving the process. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Deming,W. E. 1994. The new economics for industry, government, education. 2nd edition. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for Advanced Engineering Study, Cambridge.

Game, E.T., Meijaard, E., Sheil, D., McDonald-Madden, E. (2013). Conservation in a wicked complex world; challenges and solutions. Conservation Letters 7 (3): 271-277

Young, R.P., Hudson, M.A., Terry, A.M.R., Jones, C.G., Lewis, R.E., Tatayah, V., Zuel, N., Butchart, S.H.M. (2014) Accounting for conservation: Using the IUCN Red List Index to evaluate the impact of a conservation organization. Biological Conservation 180:84-96





Unpacking the processes of effective conservation effort: Demand-Value-Flow

Simon Black – 

The identification, definition and management of key processes is an important element in understanding the value of the conservation interventions. however, most conservation leaders rarely even identify their core processes, let alone manage them for improvement. This shortfall has been repeatedly observed in organisational research in conservation (Black and Copsey 2014; Black, Meredith et al, 2011; Moore et al, 2018). It is more usual for work to be defined in strategic plans (often detailing activities to the fine details) and managed through work plans (including schedules and milestones). Success is often erroneously debated in terms of ‘activities completed’, objectives achieved’, ‘outputs’, or ‘outcomes’ and reported as such in formal reports and scientific papers alike, in the hope this provides some form of management wisdom. It barely provides a partial picture. Unfortunately these measures rarely reflect the fundamental nature of conservation, namely that it involves on-going and continuing efforts and outcomes.

On-going activities need an understanding a knowledge of process.

In process terms there is no difference between an ‘output’ and an ‘outcome’ – they just relate to sub processes and large (or further extended) processes. The boundary of the process defines the level of measurement. A poorly defined boundary could derive an effective, but futile process which pumps out good results but has no sustainable effect on its ecosystem of concern, such as a captive release programme which puts animals into a degraded habitat where animals only succumb to extant threats. Graham Caughley saw this as a major weakness in conservation in the 1990s, but the lessons are still not fully understood.

The lack of process definition was a classic problem observed in the early years of the Black Footed ferret rescue programme (Black and Groombridge, 2011). A productive captive breeding programme was undone by releases which saw most animals die in a short time in the wild. To remedy this a wider process of reintroduction needed to be defined, which incorporated pre-release conditioning of the animals (e.g. aversion to humans and domestic animals), vaccination of ferret kits, vaccination of prey in the wild locations, as well as careful selection of release locations themselves. only when the total process was defined and measured for improvement did reintroductions start to succeed and predictably achieve the right results.

Flow is another key concept in process management – getting things in the right order. The Po’ouli succumbed to extinction as milestones for achievement were followed which did not meet the perilous status of the bird in the wild. Whilst huge (and commendable) effort was made to construct fenced habitat, free from invasive species, sadly the bird population itself fell into decline. There was no knowledge or effort or success  in even considering breeding the birds, neglected until only three aged individuals remained (Black and Groombridge, 2011).

Of course, to measure process performance (as opposed to project outcomes) you need an understanding of performance over time. this requires new measures and analyses of longitudinal data – Systems Behaviour. Only understand variation in process performance can give the helpful feedback insights needed to accelerate improvement in a timely and meaningful manner (Seddon 2003; Black et al, 2013). Anything other would be ‘trial and error’.

Finally a conservation manager must define a process by the needs of the species and ecosystems of concern. Form a practical point of view this is likely to be driven by an understanding of threats – the ‘demands’ placed on the species. the process should then deliver something of value that addresses those threats. Anything less than value is just us, as humans, keeping ourselves busy. Being busy might make us feel better, but it is unlikely to ever help to conserve species and ecosystems.


Black S. A. and Groombridge J.J. (2010) Use of a Business Excellence Model to Improve Conservation programs, Conservation Biology, 24 (6): 1448–1458.  DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2010.01562

Black, S. A., Groombridge, J. J., & Jones, C. G. (2011). Leadership and conservation effectiveness: finding a better way to lead. Conservation Letters, 4(5), 329-339.

Black S. A., Meredith, H.M.R. and Groombridge J.J. (2011) Biodiversity Conservation: applying new criteria to assess excellence, TQM and Business Excellence 22 (11): 1165-1178

Black, S. A., Groombridge, J. J., & Jones, C. G. (2013). Using better management thinking to improve conservation effectiveness. ISRN Biodiversity, 2013.

Black, S. A., & Copsey, J. A. (2014). Purpose, process, knowledge, and dignity in interdisciplinary projects. Conservation Biology, 28(5), 1139-1141.

Black S.A. (2015) System behaviour charts inform an understanding of biodiversity recovery. International Journal of Ecology, 2015 (787925): pp6 http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/787925

Caughley, G. (1994) Directions in conservation biology. J Anim Ecol 63, 215–244.

Moore A.A., Weckauf, R., Accouche, W.F. and Black, S.A. (2018) The value of consensus in rapid organisation assessment: wildlife programmes and the Conservation Excellence Model. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence

Seddon, J. (2003) Freedom from command and control. Vanguard Press, Buckingham, UK.


Leading across cultures

 – Simon Black

A recent paper by Straka et al (2018) suggests that cultural considerations have not been well examined in conservation leadership literature. Whilst in the broadest terms this may be  true (they systematically reviewed 15 paper is total), they miss one theme which I push consistently when working with international groups of conservation leaders. The start point for any human interaction at work (and that includes leadership, of course) is meeting people at the common point of interaction for all cultures; DIGNITY.

This has been mentioned by others as a new way to consider how conservation professionals should work with local communities (Mattson and Clark 2011). If we accept others, even if their world view is very different from our own, we have a chance to communicate. If we communicate we can understand because we build our own knowledge (if we are open minded) and can build the knowledge of others (if we are clear and unambiguous). This allows us to open up new possibilities in our own minds.

Straka et al (2018) suggest it appears similarly important that training programs in conservation leadership and conservation science acknowledge, promote and use cultural diversity to inform effective leadership practices. This may be true, but the same can be said about being better at mathematics – if you pick the wrong technique, no matter how good you are at it, you will fail. We really do need to understand effective leadership practices and ineffective leadership practices and use that knowledge to develop good leaders. We already know a lot more about what works and what does not than might be generally recognised.

We need to take care to deal with inequity and imbalance in gender in leadership roles.  The problem comes when barriers are presented, as often experienced by women, which preclude them from leadership roles, or make their experience in the role one where their time and energy is wasted on irrelevant prejudicial behaviours of others. We need the best leaders, whatever the gender, and the barriers that exclude women are also likely to allow inappropriate people to get into leadership in their place. 

As it turns out, the best blend is with a mix of people; gender, background, discipline, culture, thinking processes – diversity adds value. But these are just ingredients – you also need method and the difference between a good approach and a bad approach is a gulf of effectiveness. You cannot, as a leader, simply ‘do the wrong things righter‘. We need to be more clever than that.

It is not a question of understanding the intricacies of different cultures (although that will help, of course). It is a matter of having an approach that cuts through those differences. So it is not about being seen as ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ by certain cultures, or being ‘participative’ or ‘dictatorial’ by some, or ‘informal’ or ‘formal’ by others.

It is also certainly nothing to do with being ‘motivational’ or ‘transformational’ – these are buzz words which mean little in practice.

For an effective leader it is a matter of being purposeful and getting colleagues to realise that they too must be purposeful. If we act with integrity and communicate to understand and seek knowledge, then we can make progress whatever our world view.


Black S.A. and Copsey J.A. (2014) Purpose, processes, knowledge and dignity are missing links in interdisciplinary projects. Conservation Biology  28 (5): 1139-1141 DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12344

Mattson, D. J., and S. G. Clark. 2011. Human dignity in concept and
practice. Policy Sciences 44:303–320.

Straka, T. M., Bal, P., Corrigan, C., Di Fonzo, M. M., & Butt, N. (2018). Conservation leadership must account for cultural differences. Journal for Nature Conservation.


Towards Modern Management in Wildlife Conservation

Simon Black –

Management has been a serious discipline of academic note at least since the 1940s, with Peter Drucker popularising its study by managers and organisations with over 30 books. Starting from The Concept of the Corporation in 1946 which first introduced the idea of organisational management, Drucker is considered one of the most important thought leaders in management.  It is notable that whilst he encouraged focus on customers and rejected the concepts of command-and-control, his ideas hold many inconsistencies. Less helpful suggestions include his emphasis on work design based on ‘front office’ and ‘back office’ concepts, outsourcing, and management-by-objectives. What is interesting about these ideas is that they appear very plausible – the bread and butter of management surely. Yet in practice these approaches fall down time-and-time again (and for good reason when you understand systems theory and psychology).

It can be argued that these ideas appear far from the operational concerns of wildlife conservation. Nevertheless, time and again I see conservation NGOs and government departments using management-by-objectives. It is also common for decision makers to be based in HQ whilst people on the ground have to take grief from local people, or to find field professionals fiddling around waiting in frustration for senior authorisation to make necessary interventions. Worse, whole programmes get defined by the requirements of funders, not the needs of species and ecosystems of concern.

In most instances these difficulties are of course not the deliberate fault of central management. But as senior managers we must not omit to make effort to understand the realities of management – if you design the work and the organisation incorrectly it prevents purposeful action by staff. The best conservation managers focus on having a whole picture of conservation management – purposefully leading people “to do the right work better“, for the benefit of species and ecosystems.

This requires an understanding of the function and nature of systems, variation, psychology and knowledge (Deming 1982), which often challenges our preconceptions about management, organisation and leadership. Yet the combination of these areas of capability enables more meaningful and effective planning, goal-setting, partnership development and conservation work improvement. These new facets of leadership capability and the associated range of skills and disciplines needed for successful implementation are not taught in business schools or in conservation degrees and rarely appear in training courses. Yet, all remain vital for our sector with its challenges and uncertainties.

This is real Modern Management in Conservation.


Black, S. A., Groombridge, J. J., & Jones, C. G. (2013). Using better management thinking to improve conservation effectiveness. ISRN Biodiversity, 2013http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2013/784701

Deming, W. E. (1982) Out of the Crisis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Advanced Engineering Study, Cambridge,
Mass, USA.


Let’s not have species and ecosystems paying for the mistakes of conservation organisations

Simon Black –

I am optimistic for the future of conservation and for the impact that dedicated professionals and committed communities can make for species, ecosystems and landscapes. Time and again I encounter individuals and teams who are doing fantastic work devising interventions which make a difference.

But we must remember, as leaders, that the best efforts of people are not enough, and may sometimes even be damaging. Instead it is our use of KNOWLEDGE and applying it to understanding what to change to enable improvement that really counts. This is not ‘knowledge for knowledge sake’ – it is not ‘research for our interest only’.

It is about being purposeful. Knowing what we want to achieve, understanding the method to achieve it (including how to test out the method) and knowing, through measurement, when we have accomplished our purpose (or at least if we are on the way to accomplishing it).

Thankfully there are professionals who are now exploring new ways of implementing initiatives, of working with key communities, of understanding how to accelerate the recovery of ecosystems. This is not easy work and often requires convincing others of new ways of operating – throwing off the suffocating security blankets of conservation goals, plans, strategies and techniques. But this is necessary, in order to cut through the blinkered thinking and bureaucracies which hamper progress or prevent innovative thinking.

Species and ecosystems eventually pay for the delays and mistakes of conservation, just as, in the observation of Deming, consumers and society pay for the mistakes and delays of industry through a reduced standard of living.

If we as conservation professionals rely on complex investment, planning, prioritisation, science, training and human resource strategies without focusing on the real issues that impact on improvement of ecosystems, then we risk wasting money, opportunity, influence and reputation. In the long term it will be species and ecosystems which pay.

Let us, as conservation leaders, take a better path to achieving conservation of the vital biodiversity that shares the planet with us.


Black SA, Copsey JA (2014). Purpose, Process, Knowledge and
Dignity in Interdisciplinary Projects. Conserv Biol 28(5): 1139-1141.

Black SA, Copsey J (2014) Does Deming’s System of Profound
Knowledge Apply to Leaders of Biodiversity Conservation? Open
Journal of Leadership 3: 53-65.

Coonan TJ, Schwemm,CA, & Garcelon DK (2010) Decline and recovery of the island fox: a case study for population recovery. Cambridge University Press.

Leslie SC, Blackett FC, Stalio M, Black SA (2017) Systems Behaviour Charts for Longitudinal Data Inform Marine Conservation Management. J Aquac Mar Biol 6(5): 00171. DOI: 10.15406/jamb.2017.06.00171

Martin, T. G., Nally, S., Burbidge, A. A., Arnall, S., Garnett, S. T., Hayward, M. W., … & Possingham, H. P. (2012). Acting fast helps avoid extinction. Conservation Letters, 5(4), 274-280.

Pungaliya AV, Black SA (2017) Insights into the Recovery of the Palila
(Loxioides bailleui) on Hawaii through Use of Systems Behaviour
Charts. International Journal of Avian & Wildlife Biology 2(1): 00007.

New paradigms needed for managing conservation change

Simon Black –

Traditional conservation practice follows a couple of familiar paradigms.

The first involves an enthusiast taking up a cause, for a particular species or landscape. that enthusiasm maybe a scientific professional, a lay person with a personal interest , or a local community member. Progress is reliant on the wit and wisdom of that individual and their ability to gather together the necessary resources and support to make things happen. Progress may take weeks, month, years, decades. I have seen this with individual scientists following lone paths in places like Hong Kong, Assam, Madagascar, Comores, Oman, and the Cayman Islands. It is a path well trodden by well-known individuals like Dian Fossey, Gerald Durrell, Tom Cade, and Peter Scott. it is admirable and without exception reliant on determination and a long term view.

A second paradigm is where better-organisaed and resources NGOs or government departments take up the mantle of work using their own infrastructure and methods. This is a ‘conservation plus’ approach which takes the form of time bound period of work (driven by funding cycles) which is generally called ‘a project’, or if a series of funding cycles can be strung together into a coherent, long-term approach ‘a programme’. this is the most common form of conservation work. The excellent work with the California Channel Island fox is a good example.

A third form of approach has emerged as NGOs and governments have realised the need for long term interventions, most easily observed in USA ESA  species such as the California Condor or black-Footed Ferret, but also in successful programmes on the coastal and oceanic islands of New Zealand and programmes on mainland Australia.

As larger-scale landscape approaches are recognised as important, the long-term model has been broadened to supply a funding infrastructure or socio-economic system that enables long term recover and incentives to establish new landscape and species protection. These large-scale approaches are observed in the Atlantic forest states of Brazil with water catchment and reforestation initiatives involving private landowners and land users across a mosaic landscape.

These types of systemic approach which establish human use of natural landscapes within certain ‘acceptable’ parameters (e.g. sustainability or biodiversity recovery) offer a dramatic shift in how we as humans can re-engage with the natural world.

However it is not enough. Emergency action is still required – recovering populations, preventing poaching, breaking illegal trade, halting forest destruction. These all require major change and interventions which will make a dramatic difference.

Unfortunately the traditional project management mindset will never deliver the required speed of change. Project management is the poorest method for delivering change (especially change that requires a shift in psychology of key stakeholders). Project management is alos applicable where a known design and outcome is specified – yet in conservation the complexity of ecosystems, socio-economic systems and species behaviour is rarely predictable.

A different approach is required – and conservation managers need to be ready to take it on.