The extent to which systematic conservation plans have effectively influenced management remains elusive, particularly regarding our understanding of the factors contributing to successful implementation. Several scholars have argued there is an important gap between planning and doing, sometimes even referring to it as the implementation crisis in conservation planning. Irrespective of the nature and size of this gap, few conservation practitioners and scientists have successfully navigated the transition from planning to on-ground actions. Studying these stories can thus help us understand the factors that can facilitate this transition.

Led by Vanessa Adams, researchers from the Conservation Planning Group and conservation practitioners explored the factors facilitating the transition from assessment to implementation. Based on an analysis of the foundations of implementation theory and methods for evaluating implementation success, the group developed a framework for designing implementation strategies, taking into account three aspects identified as critical in implementation success: planning processes, inputs, and context.

To facilitate the transition from plans to actions, conservation practitioners and scientists need to assimilate an implementation strategy into the assessment phase of planning (Figure 1). Whilst an assessment describes where to act, an implementation strategy is akin to a plan of how to act. An implementation strategy thus complements an assessment by ensuring that the appropriate resources and processes are in place to implement the priorities identified within the assessment. Ultimately, the goal of developing an implementation strategy is to help planners integrate assessment and implementation into a seamless process.

Figure 1. Definitions of assessment and implementation in relation to the planning stages of Pressey and Bottrill (2009). Stages in brackets marked ‘A’ (1–9) constitute assessment. The implementation stage (10) is indicated by shading. Asterisks indicate where assessment and implementation inputs (e.g. adequate funding, good-quality data, a planning team with broad interdisciplinary skill bases) should be appropriately scoped and resourced for subsequent stages. The stages that are most aligned with the four broad types of processes are indicated by colored bars: green (identify and ensure enabling factors such as timeline, roles, legitimacy, resources, and institutions are in place), pink (engaging with stakeholders, building relationships, connecting with appropriate governance processes), purple (supporting the technical aspects of assessment getting data, proposing actions, selecting places), and orange (supporting implementation, on-ground action). Source: Adams et al. 2018, Ambio ©

To illustrate the possible relationships between planning context, inputs, and processes, five successfully implemented conservation assessments were explored (Figure 2). Given engagement is critical for implementation (regardless of context), it is important to pay particular attention to the processes of engaging with stakeholders, building relationships, and connecting with appropriate governance processes. Stakeholder engagement processes vary notably depending upon the planning context and inputs available for planning.

Figure 2. (a) Pullen Pullen Nature Reserve was established to protect the endangered night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis); following acquisition of the property, the public were informed of the location of the reserve, to which all access is restricted (Photo: Nicholas Leseberg). (b) As part of the planning process for the Great Barrier Reef rezoning, public meetings were held in many small local communities; a summary of how public concerns were addressed was published along with the final zoning plan (Photo: GBRMPA). (c) Stakeholders are involved in drafting marine protected area proposals at a public workshop in California (Photo: Marine Life Protection Act Initiative). (d) During the New South Wales Regional Forest Agreement process, conservation planning software was used interactively by multi-stakeholder planning teams to identify conservation designs that were acceptable to all parties (Photo: Bob Pressey). (e) In Kubulau, Fiji, community members and traditional leaders made the final decision on the design of spatial management to be implemented (Photo: Rebecca Weeks). Source: Adams et al. 2018, Ambio ©

Reviewing the components of implementation strategies demonstrated the importance of matching appropriate inputs and processes with the planning context. Therefore, while there might be a thirst for ‘one size fits all’ advice for designing implementation strategies, the study suggests that context-specific implementation strategies will need to be developed alongside conservation assessments. With an understanding of the planning context, appropriate implementation processes and inputs can thus be identified and brought together.

This work further contributes to advancing protected area implementation and management and conservation impact evaluation, two active research areas of the Conservation Planning Group.

The results of this study are reported in: Adams, V. M., Mills, M., Weeks, R., Segan, D. B., Pressey, R. L., Gurney, G. G., Groves, C., Davis, F. W., Álvarez-Romero, J. G., 2018. Implementation strategies for systematic conservation planning. Ambio: in press.

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