Conservation by Design

Frequently Asked Questions

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  • Conservation by Design supports TNC teams in building and improving conservation strategies. It should be used by any TNC team looking to:

    • Develop a new strategy.
    • Improve an existing strategy.
    • Review a strategy component during implementation.
    • Incorporate learning from adaptive management.
  • Conservation by Design is intended for use by TNC staff and partners working on TNC strategies. It is not yet supported for external use. However, we make the modules freely available on our modules page as part of our commitment to collaboration and learning.

  • A module is a package of materials that helps a conservation team work through a specific step or aspect of conservation planning in a time-bound, efficient manner. Each module consists of a summary document, one or more tools to support teams in completing the module, and a module Facilitator’s Guide. 

  • A strategy is a coherent body of actions that contributes to TNC’s 2030 Goals. Strategies are defined by a theory of change and executed through projects.

  • Strategies answer the question “What should we do?” Projects answer the question “How should we do it”? Projects are the building blocks of strategies that contribute to our 2030 Goals. Projects are how we implement our strategies, and—critically—where we gather the learning that will inform adaptation of the strategy over time. Conservation by Design is focused on strategies, and is not designed for project management.

  • If you’re developing a strategy that involves Indigenous Peoples and/or local communities (IPLCs), you should also review the Voice, Choice, and Action (VCA) Framework and Human Rights Guide to assess how this guidance should be incorporated into your strategic planning. Remember the principle of Prior Engagement: engaging with and listening to IPLCs before settling on any fixed plans. Conservation strategy design processes with IPLCs must be based on right relationships, where TNC is invited by IPLCs to collaborate, and our interventions support Indigenous self-determination and leadership for the inclusive development and implementation of conservation strategies.

  • Conservation by Design is a core part of TNC's Conservation System, the integrated set of guidance and tools provided by the Conservation Programs Team to support conservation teams and managers in achieving the 2030 Goals.

    This includes the following:

    • We use Conservation by Design to develop and refine impactful conservation strategies.
    • Our Portfolio Management process sets the high-level approach and standards for managing towards our goals, co-created with the field and teams across TNC.
    • The Hub is the system we use to describe the key elements of our conservation work and track progress.
    • Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) helps increase our ability to accurately track improvements and measure progress.
    • Our Metrics work (including Metrics Guidance) will ensure that high-quality data is captured consistently across TNC.
    • The Agility Lab helps teams utilize agile approaches to rapidly improve conservation projects and strategies.

    Conservation by Design is integrated with all other elements of the Conservation System. For example, key information about the strategies and component projects developed using Conservation by Design are entered and tracked in the Hub. Similarly, the strategy review portion of Portfolio Management provides a venue for teams to assess progress and identify if there are opportunities to strengthen strategies using Conservation by Design modules.

  • Conservation by Design has always been a living document. Over the years, it has been updated to incorporate emerging best practices utilized by the broader conservation community as well as key learnings from our own experience. The key advances in the 2024 update include:

    • A modular approach instead of a single all-encompassing guidance document.
    • A broader integration of two of the key advances from the 2016 version (systems change and planning for people as well as nature), so that they no longer need to be highlighted. 
    • A strong focus on equitable conservation (joining evidence and impact as core principles of Conservation by Design).
    • The removal of the “Take Action” section included in previous versions. TNC’s project management methodologies, including Highly Effective Teams and the Adaptive Teams methodology, provide the necessary implementation approaches.  

    The updated Conservation by Design modules replace all previous versions of Conservation by Design and associated guidance. Module resources will be updated regularly to incorporate the latest learning and best practices. Therefore, version numbers (e.g., “2.0”) will not be used going forward.

  • The Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation (“Conservation Standards”) are a shared, open-source resource that guides the work of many organizations around the world, and provide an important foundation for conservation planners everywhere. Conservation by Design shares a rich history with these Conservation Standards; in fact, the Conservation Standards emerged from an early version of Conservation by Design, and both methodologies have continued to share learnings and best practices over the years.

    To meet TNC’s unique organizational needs, Conservation by Design does have some key differences. These include:

    • A direct linkage with TNC’s 2030 Goals.
    • Specific guidance for implementing conservation planning steps (i.e., modules). The Conservation Standards rely on coaches from the Conservation Coaches Network (CCNet) to help teams understand and use the Standards.
    • Variations in terminology (e.g., use of the term “objectives” instead of “targets”).
    • No specific “Take Action” step, deferring instead to established TNC project management methodologies (e.g., Highly Effective Teams and Adaptive Teams).
    • Explicit consideration of equitable conservation throughout, including Integrating Equity and Interested Parties modules. We anticipate this advance will be reflected in the next generation of the Conservation Standards.

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