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This Guidance represents a significant evolution in the conservation approach of the Conservancy. The motivations for the evolution and the differences with previous approaches are elaborated upon in the 20th Anniversary Edition of Conservation by Design. This version of Conservation by Design, CbD 2.0, is centered on four key advances: 1) explicit consideration of linkages between people and nature, 2) design interventions focused on creating systemic change, 3) integration of spatial planning with the development of new conservation strategies, and 4) robustly drawing upon and building the evidence base for conservation.

This document supplements the 20th Anniversary Edition by providing more detailed instruction on implementing Conservation by Design 2.0. Our approach is based in the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation and also is intended to reflect an evolution from it.

Overview of Conservation by Design 2.0

Conservation by Design 2.0 contains 14 steps grouped around five major phases (Figure 1). Here we describe what is accomplished in each step.


Identify Challenges & Goals

  1. Specify Planning Context. Define the scope to ensure a focus on significant conservation problems and the relevant geographies where those challenges will be addressed.
  2. Conduct Situation Analysis. In close collaboration with key stakeholders, analyze evidence to describe current and predicted future situations to identify conservation targets, directly related human interests, threats, drivers, risks, and opportunities for creating change.
  3. Draft Goal Statement. Specify the minimum change needed to contribute to desired systemic change, both for nature and directly connected outcomes for human well-being.
  4. Share Advances in Knowledge Through Relevant Pathways. Identify the key lessons you have learned in the process of identifying challenges and goals, determine who needs or will use that knowledge, then document and disseminate appropriately.

Map Strategies & Places

  1. Identify Candidate Strategies. Articulate potential strategies to meet your goals, using insights gained in the situation analysis to consider both known and novel strategies and to seek strategies that lead to systemic change.
  2. Construct Results Chains. Articulate the logic for why proposed actions will change an undesired state to a desired state. Articulate the assumptions necessary for this to happen, and synthesize evidence regarding these assumptions.
  3. Strategy and Opportunity Mapping. Characterize the potential magnitude of the effect of different candidate strategies, enabling the evaluation of the contribution of each strategy toward stated goals. This allows an estimate of the conservation return on investment (ROI) for each strategy, which can inform the selection of which strategies to implement. Strategy and opportunity mapping also aids the implementation of selected strategies by identifying where each strategy can most effectively touch down in space.
  4. Select Strategy or Strategies. Identify strategies that, if successfully pursued, at least meet the minimum goal, have relatively good conservation ROI, avoid negative impacts to vulnerable people, and have acceptable levels of financial and reputational risk.
  5. Share Advances in Knowledge Through Relevant Pathways. Identify the key lessons you have learned in the process of mapping strategies and opportunities, determine who needs or will use that knowledge, then document and disseminate appropriately.

Finalize Outcomes & Develop Measures

  1. Articulate Theory of Change. Convert draft minimum goal statements into specific outcomes based on insights gained in developing results chain and strategy maps. Articulate the problem, the solution, and why your organization or team is positioned to implement the solution, in a succinct way that colleagues, partners, stakeholders and funders can understand and support.
  2. Define Measures and Create a Monitoring and Evaluation Plan. Explain how essential evidence gaps and monitoring needs will be filled to determine project success or failure, mitigate legal and reputational risk, avoid and mitigate negative impacts, influence others to replicate and leverage work, satisfy donor expectations, and adaptively use monitoring and evaluation information to manage the project.

Take Action

  1. Implement Strategy(ies) using Sound Project Management. Provide clarity around roles and develop work plans and budgets. Implement monitoring and evaluation plan.

Evaluate and Adapt

  1. Evaluation. Conduct analysis and evaluation to fill essential evidence gaps and satisfy monitoring needs.
  2. Adapt. Use monitoring and evaluation to assess progress towards goals and outcomes and assess the need to adapt to changing conditions, unintended consequences, and new opportunities. Share lessons learned via relevant pathways.

These steps constitute the conservation process. Historically at the Conservancy, we completed comprehensive conservation plans, and more recently, conservation business plans, that described the results of every planning step in detail. Completing these plans required a significant upfront time commitment to planning before any actions were taken. However, in today’s complex world, this approach is inefficient and often counter- productive. Increasingly our planning and implementation is much more integrated and iterative. We strongly encourage that approach when using the CbD 2.0 Guidance. Accordingly, we envision that the outputs from the 14-step conservation process could be captured in several independent documents generated at different times for different purposes. Please see Table 1 for outputs from each planning step and how these may be incorporated into different products/documents. Minimum standard questions are included in each step throughout the Guidance document. Please see Appendix A for a compiled list of the minimum standard questions that should be used to assess whether the different components of CbD 2.0 have been sufficiently addressed.


This Guidance document aims to help teams develop strategies to address the major conservation challenges of our day. These challenges require us to be bold and adapt our traditional ways of planning and implementing our work. To achieve our mission, we must move from strategies and projects that treat symptoms at a local scale to strategies and projects that address underlying systemic causes at a much broader regional and global scale. The four key advances of CbD 2.0 form the foundation for the approach described in this Guidance document, and are intended to help in the identification of strategies aimed at achieving systemic change.

This Guidance document outlines the approach used by The Nature Conservancy to develop, evaluate and strengthen strategies in support of the advances described in Conservation by Design 2.0. It is intended to describe leading practices for conservation which can readily be adapted and adopted by The Nature Conservancy and other organizations. It replaces the Conservancy’s Conservation Business Planning guidance, although nearly every element from the business planning approach is included here. Other planning approaches and their planning material used by the Conservancy, such as Major Habitat Assessments, Ecoregional (and other regional) Assessments, and the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation (the Conservancy’s original Conservation Action Planning approach is now captured within Open Standards) may be useful for completing specific aspects of this guidance.

CbD 2.0 Guidance is relevant to all major business functions and scales of Conservancy work including place-based work, marketing, education and outreach, external affairs and corporate engagements. Given the increasingly global scale of the challenges we seek to address, and our intent to drive our work in ways that contribute to systemic change, CbD 2.0 is most appropriately applied sequentially from global to regional to whole system scales. This approach better ensures that work at smaller scales “adds up to more than the sum of the parts” in contributing to larger system-scale impact. For this reason, we strongly encourage practitioners of CbD 2.0 to include in their framing and scoping a consideration of conservation efforts that may be happening elsewhere and at higher levels, so that their proposed engagement can align with, contribute to, leverage and advance those larger scale strategies and initiatives. Conservancy staff who have questions about organizational expectations around CbD 2.0 implementation should refer to information provided on the CbD 2.0 page on the Conservancy’s internal CONNECT portal.

When updating an existing plan, the best results will be obtained by going through the whole process, as the success of each step depends on the preceding step. This is because, as illustrated in Table 1 above, outputs from each step are used to inform subsequent steps. Therefore, we caution against skipping to the portion of your work that your team wants to update without considering the key advances of CbD 2.0 in previous steps. Furthermore, if new participants are brought in at intermediate steps, they need to be briefed about outputs from previous steps as well as issues discussed and decisions made to ensure an effective process from start to finish and to secure buy-in from the whole team.

We note at multiple places throughout this Guidance that a trained facilitator can be very helpful for particular steps. The Conservancy has a rich history of peer '​coaching' via our Efroymson Coaches Network, which has since evolved into the Conservation Coaches Network (CCNet), a global community of practitioners who support the application of the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation. Please see Appendix B for more information about CCNet as it relates to CbD 2.0.

The CbD 2.0 Guidance is written as a linear sequence of steps but keep in mind the iterative nature of the conservation process as you read through them. We provide the following for each step of CbD 2.0: 1) purpose; 2) products; 3) overview of process; 4) recommended best practices and tips; 5) minimum standard questions (summarized in Appendix A); and 6) FAQs.

Before describing each of the 14 steps associated with the five phases, there are four special sections: People in Conservation, The Imperative for Systemic Change, Integrating Spatial and Strategic Planning, and Evidence Based Conservation. These four sections provide important context to understand the motivations behind the updated Guidance, and provide a conceptual framework for implementing CbD 2.0 Guidance. We consolidated the discussion of these issues up front because they permeate Conservation by Design 2.0, making it redundant to include this information at every place that it is relevant. Moreover, it is essential for teams to understand these advances if they are to effectively implement CbD 2.0. Indeed, we strongly encourage teams to discuss how these advances apply to their planning context before initiating the process, to make sure that the advances stay fully embedded throughout.

We note that CbD 2.0 Guidance is intended to be comprehensive enough to help practitioners identify successful strategies, choose the most effective areas to work, and avoid common pitfalls. However, it is by no means a detailed, step- by-step guide for each component. The conservation planning book by Groves and Game, is an excellent source for more detailed information and examples on some key elements of the CbD 2.0 process. Where relevant, more detailed exploration of each step is provided in appendices that provide links to external guidance, tools, and further discussion.

Finally, we use two case studies that recur throughout the document to facilitate understanding of how teams adjust their thinking when progressing through the steps of CbD 2.0 Guidance. Table 2 provides an overview of conclusions from relevant steps for each case study. Where useful, additional case studies are included for particular steps.​