Investing in strategic planning

What is the optimal investment in strategic planning?  At what point does increasing sophisticated planning have diminishing returns or even become counter-productive? Nick Salafsky considers these questions in a recent review for Biological Conservation:  

One of the more interesting meta-questions in conservation practice concerns the strategic value of strategic planning and other systematic decision support exercises. Specifically, what is the return on investment in different levels of effort in strategic planning? Fig. 1 shows a rough curve I developed in which the X-Axis is investment in strategic planning around a given decision and the Y-Axis is some measure of whether the decision was “correct” (e.g., if insufficient hindsight the decision makers are given a do-over, what is the probability that they make the same decision?).

Model of return on investment in strategic planning

Figure 1. Model of return on investment in strategic planning

The Y-intercept here (Point A) is greater than zero since there is some chance that the decision maker would get the right answer just by luck. I suspect that there is then a steep part of the curve (between Points A & B) where a minimal investment in strategic planning will greatly improve the probability of a correct decision. In my experience, this investment lies in framing the conceptual underpinnings of the decision being made. Do the decision-makers have a shared understanding of the situation and context of the decision? Have they agreed upon clear goals? And do they have a common theory of change about how each decision option will lead to these desired goals? Much of the power here comes from developing shared mental models across key stakeholders that enables the team of decision makers to harness the “wisdom of the crowd.” Then there is a flatter part of the curve (between Points B & C) where there is still positive, but diminishing returns to expending additional effort on strategic planning. This phase of investment generally involves trying to more precisely and quantitatively compare trade-offs between different options. It often involves handling the problem over to specialized quantitative researchers who then report back to the primary decision makers. The curve then starts to dip south (between Points C & D) when additional planning may just start to confuse the situation. Finally, the curve at somepoint plummets to the X-Axis at Point E, representing the cases when planning paralysis sets in and no decision is ever reached.

— Nick Salafsky. Strategically Investing In Strategic Planning: A review of: Kent D. Messer and William L. Allen, III The Science of Strategic Conservation: Protecting More with Less, 2018, Cambridge University Press; Cambridge UK. ISBN: 978-1-107-19193-8.

Posted in Blogs, Nick Salafsky | Comments closed

A Bird in the Bush Equals Money in the Hand


FOS’s Arlyne Johnson and colleagues Paul Frederick Eshoo, Sivilay Duangdala, and Troy Hansel find that an ecotourism direct payment approach for wildlife sightings reduces illegal hunting.

Tourists spot a deer during a NamEt-PhouLouey Safari Credit: Leigh Vial


Vientiane – Lao-PDR  (2017) – A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Foundations of Success (FOS) finds that an ecotourism strategy based on “direct payments,” where local people are compensated for the amount of wildlife seen by tourists, has resulted in a reduction in illegal hunting and an increase in wildlife sightings.

In the study, the scientists tested a new model in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR)’s Nam-Et-Phou Louey (NEPL) National Protected Area (NPA) that used a direct payment approach to encourage villagers to reduce illegal hunting and trade, which is driving wildlife decline.  The model included a contractual payment to villages that was directly tied to the numbers of wildlife seen by eco-tourists as well as a reduction in payments for occurrences of hunting violations.  The approach was designed to reduce illegal hunting pressure, increase wildlife sightings, and ultimately wildlife numbers, while generating ongoing economic incentives for conservation.

The scientists implemented and then monitored this approach for four years. Results indicated a three-fold increase in hunting signs in the non-tourism sector of the NPA as opposed to no increase in the ecotourism sector. Additionally, an overall increase in wildlife sightings was observed. A wide range of threatened species benefited from the program, including Sambar deer, barking deer, primates and small carnivores.

“If eco-tourism or nature tourism is going to help increase these wildlife populations, there must be a direct link between the incentives for communities and the wildlife itself, “said Bounpheng Phoomsavath, Director of Nam Et — Phou Louey National Protected Area. “Many projects claim to be benefiting wildlife but they often lack this direct link.  Villagers get benefits but the wildlife populations continue to decline.  The direct links are the key to our success.”

In cases where ecotourism is used as a biodiversity conservation strategy, projects are often questioned for lack of resulting proof that threats to biodiversity have been averted or conditions for biodiversity have been improved.

“This study illustrates the importance of monitoring along a theory of change to evaluate if and how a conservation strategy is leading to expected outcomes and to inform adaptive management,” said WCS Lao PDR Country Deputy Director Dr. Santi Saypanya.

The scientists say the case “provides key lessons on the design of a direct payments approach for an ecotourism strategy, including how to combine threat monitoring and data on wildlife sightings to evaluate strategy effectiveness, on setting rates for wildlife sightings and village fees, and the utility of the approach for protecting very rare species.”

“Design, monitoring and evaluation of a direct payments approach for an ecotourism strategy to reduce illegal hunting and trade of wildlife in Lao PDR,” appears in the current edition of PLOS One. Authors include: Paul Frederick Eshoo and Troy Hansel; Sivilay Duangdala of WCS-Lao PDR; and Arlyne Johnson of Foundations of Success (Bethesda, Md.)

This project was supported by funding from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund, the European Union, the French Agency for Development (AFD), the German Development Bank (KFW), the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

For a copy of the paper, please click here.


Posted in FOS News | Comments closed

Lessons from the Field December 2017

Photo by: Suzi Eszterhas

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to be sure you’re not investing your precious conservation dollars in ineffective strategies? You’re in luck! There’s a framework set up to help teams assess their work and adapt based on new information. In this month’s Lessons from the Field, we bring you a shining example of what that framework, the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation, has done for one small NGO, Proyecto TitíThe Proyecto Tití team and FOSer, Armando Valdés, have been working and learning together for several years. Proyecto Tití has been a champion of the Open Standards as they continue to implement, monitor, learn, adapt, and share the result of their work with the conservation community.


Highlights include:

  • Charismatic monkeys
  • Adaptive management useful for small, community-focused NGO
  • The Open Standards helped prioritize strategies & funding with low budget
  • Strong leadership allowed team to stay on track as they institutionalized the use of Open Standards tools and Miradi Software

Read more: Lessons from the Field December 2017



Posted in FOS News | Comments closed

Adapting Strategies with the Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme


Using the Open Standards to plan and prioritize in the Munella Mountains.

The Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme has completed another loop around the Open Standards adaptive management cycle with the help of FOS Europe. The team took information gathered on their conservation strategies and considered it as they conceptualized and planned for the following year’s activities.

The team, including PPNEA, MES, KORA, and Euronatur, gathered in Munella Mountains, Albania for an annual review of their work. They use adaptive management to monitor their strategies and adjust as needed. During this year’s review, the Albanian team recognized that enforcing laws that keep the lynx safe is not all that’s needed to protect the animal. As a result, they’ve shifted focus onto the benefits that local people receive from coexisting with the lynx in the Munella Mountains.  

Annually revisiting their management plans allows the Programme to check in with their strategies and be sure they’re having the intending impact.


The planning team “caught on camera” where a camera trap snapped an image of the Balkan lynx.



The Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme works to protect the critically endangered Balkan Lynx within much of its known range (Macedonia, Albania, and Kosovo). Specifically, the Programme aims to: halt further decline of the Balkan lynx population and secure its survival in the protected areas of the Green Belt; generate knowledge needed for long-term conservation of the species; build the professional capacity needed to maintain the programme in the region and; improve partnerships, public awareness, and involvement in conservation.

Visit their Facebook page for updates and stunning camera trap footage! 





Posted in FOS News | Comments closed

CCNet Europe Celebrates 10 Years!

Congratulations to the Conservation Coaches Network (CCNet) Europe franchise for recently celebrating 10 years of jointly promoting the use of the Open Standards in Europe!

CCNet Europe and friends held their rally in the stunning Pyrenees mountains of Catalonia, Spain. The Fundació Catalunya La Pedrera hosted the event at their nature education center and hostel, where marvelous views could be seen from any direction.

Additional congratulations to the new leadership team, Xavier Escuté (Fundacion La Pedrera), Nico Boenisch (FOS Europe) and Daniela Aschenbrenner (independent). You’ll be missed, Ilke Tilders (FOS Europe)!

Participants in the 10-year anniversary rally included representatives from: WWF Spain, WWF Russia, WWF US, WWF NL, WWF Madagascar, WWF Danube Office, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Conservation International, Foundations of Success Europe, MAVA Foundation, BBF, various County Admin Boards in Sweden, The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Tour du Valet estate, Swedish Freshwater and Marine Agency, BIOM, Independent Consultants, and Miradi Software.

Posted in FOS News | Comments closed