Pathways to Success

Taking Conservation to Scale in Complex Systems

Pathways to success

Sources and Further Information

This book is intended as a guide to analytical frameworks and tools for conservation program managers and funders who want to increase both the scale and the effectiveness of their work.

Good conservation is as much an art as it is a science. And like any art, it requires years of hands-on practice to achieve mastery and to know when to follow the rules – and when to bend, break, and reinvent the rules. It is our hope that this book can help you realize what knowledge and skills you need, what you may currently lack, where you can go to find additional training and support, and most importantly, give you confidence in traveling along your pathways to success. 

Chapter 1. Framing and Assessing the Situation

Clarifying Your Purpose

The business literature has many examples of authors advocating for what Peter Senge terms a “shared vision” and Jim Collins calls “big hairy audacious goals.” That said, it’s hard to provide much guidance on what is essentially a values decision. Four very different sources you might find useful:

  • Robert Pirsig (1974) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. A classic exploration of the relationship between classical Western science and romantic Eastern philosophy that argues that you don’t define the right purpose, but rather you define yourself by what you choose as your purpose.
  • James Cone (2000) Whose Earth Is it Anyway? CrossCurrents 50: 36-46. A powerful essay exploring the links between racism and environmentalism. 
  • David Schlosberg (2007) Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and Nature. A theoretical and political framework that draws together moral consideration for nonhuman nature with environmental justice concerns. 
  • FOS (2020) Initiative Prioritization Tool. A template for using both absolute rankings and time & treasure points to get feedback from a team to assess a number of candidate initiatives.  


Selecting Target Factors and Bounding the Scope of Your Program

There is a long history of guidance for defining and selecting target factors:


There is also an extensive body of practice in the Conservation Standards community related to understanding and modeling the links between conservation and human well-being factors, in particular looking at ecosystems services:


Another source of potential conservation and human well-being targets are those being developed by various international conventions:

  • Convention on Biological Diversity (2010) Aichi Biodiversity Targets. These are the global targets promoted by the convention. Note that the convention will soon release the post-2020 targets.
  • UNDP (2015) Sustainable Development Goals. These are the broader sustainable development goals adopted by the United Nations.


Chapter 2. Planning Your Strategies

Understanding Your Impact Trajectory

The material in this section was shamelessly taken wholesale (with permission!) from the following blog:

Finding Key Intervention Points in Situation Pathways

Identifying intervention points is as much an art as a science and thus hard to encapsulate in guidance. That said, some general food for thought can be found in: 

  • Donella Meadows (2008) Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Chapter 6 in this book has an interesting discussion of how to use systems thinking to identify 12 types of intervention points in a system.
  • DJ Abson et al (2017) Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation. Ambio 46: 30-39. This article extends Meadows’ analysis, lumping her 12 types of intervention points into 4 key concepts focused on the system’s parameters, feedback loops, design, and intent, with the latter options being more powerful, but also less commonly addressed. 

Identifying Candidate Actions

There are many resources available to learn more about different types of generic conservation actions for different intervention points:

There are also a growing number of libraries that provide synthesized evidence for the effectiveness of different conservation actions:

Creating Strategy Pathways to Show Theories of Change

The theory of change concept was first developed in the 1990s in the development world by Carol Weiss and soon spread to other fields. Basic introductions include:

Developing Your Approach for Going to Scale

There are many different models for taking programs to scale. Some of the most helpful sources include:


The cash-flow analysis presented in this section is inspired by the methodology developed over decades by Glenn Jenkins and Arnold Harberger at the Harvard Institute for International Development, in particular as taught by Robert Conrad of Duke University:

  • Glenn Jenkins, Chun-Yan Kao & Arnold Harberger (2018) Cost-Benefit Analysis for Investment Decisions. A summary of the cash flow analysis methodology used in this section.
  • FOS (2021). An Economic Cash-Flow Model for Taking Nature-based Climate Solutions to Scale. The cash-flow model example presented in this section.

Determining Your Program’s Investment Approach

Some of the more helpful discussions of different approaches to philanthropy include:

Chapter 3. Operationalizing and Implementing Your Program

Setting SMART Goals and Objectives

There is a long history in the business and social sector world of setting goals and objectives:

Managing Trade-Offs & Conflict

There is a large body of study and practice on conflict resolution that is beyond the scope of this book. Two sources for this chapter:  

Turning Your Strategic Plan Into an Actionable Work Plan 

A recent Conservation Measures Partnership working group review found dozens of guide books and software systems that support waterfall-style work planning (e.g. Asana,, Microsoft Project). There are also a number of systems that support more agile task-oriented software development planning (e.g. Jira). Unfortunately, there seems to be a major gap in systems that link strategic planning to agile work planning. This working group is currently exploring extending Miradi Software to help fill this gap. 

There are nascent efforts to develop standards for recording conservation actions and costs. For example:

Assembling an Investment Portfolio

There is a wide literature on different methods for prioritizing options:

  • R. Gregory, L. Failing, M. Harstone, G. Long, T. McDaniels, & D. Ohlson (2012) Structured Decision Making: A Practical Guide to Environmental Management Choices. A useful overview of structured decision making; Chapter 8 provides a comprehensive guide to consequences tables.
  • Kent Messer & William Allen (2018) The Science of Strategic Conservation. If you want to go there, this book provides a detailed introduction to various mathematical model-based decision tools.
  • CMP (Forthcoming) Making Strategic Planning More Strategic. A review of different criteria and tools for comparing and selecting strategies.

Chapter 4. Synthesizing Existing Evidence

Determining Your Burden of Proof

This section is directly adapted from a paper that Nick wrote with Kent Redford developing the framework for determining the burden of proof for a program:

  • Nick Salafsky & Kent Redford (2013) Determining the Burden of Proof in Conservation. Biological Conservation 146: 247-253. This work also greatly benefited from numerous conversations with Lash LaRue, Professor Emeritus at Washington and Lee Law School.

Identifying Claims Requiring Evidence

This section is directly adapted from work that FOS has been doing with Parks Canada to identify and vet evidence for key restoration strategies: 

  • Jean-François Bisaillon, Lalenia Neufeld, Joshua Kummerfield, Karly Savoy, Amelie Mathieu, Judy Boshoven, Jaclyn Lucas & Nick Salafsky (2021) Developing the Evidence Base for a Caribou Conservation Breeding Strategy in Jasper National Park. Evidence capture sheets developed for a multi-stakeholder workshop review of a critical caribou restoration strategy.
  • Robyn Irvine, Amanda Lavers, Andre Laurin, Becky Graham, Christine Persohn, Paul Harper, Kent Prior, Judy Boshoven & Nick Salafsky (2021) Developing the Evidence Base for Restoration Strategies in Canadian National Parks. Evidence capture sheets for different strategies. Our seabird nesting example is a fictionalized adaptation of a real-world program developed by Robyn Irvine.

Compiling Evidence Sources and Weighing Claims

Chapter 2 above has links to some of the most useful libraries of synthesized conservation evidence. Other sources for this section include:

Chapter 5. Monitoring & Adapting

Developing Your Monitoring Plan

Some good sources to consult include: 

Monitoring Your Strategy Effectiveness
The effectiveness monitoring approach presented in this section was developed for Miradi Software.

Defining and Measuring Long-Term Program Success

The following are some of the key references for systems for assessing ecological targets, threat reduction, and conservation capacity.

Analyzing Data and Using the Information to Adapt

Each type of data will have its own specific analytical approaches and techniques and as such, its own set of guidance materials. One general source is:

Reporting to Your Team and Stakeholders

The Conservation Measures Partnership and Miradi Software have an active working group developing better reporting templates and tools to support key analyses in the Conservation Standards. Specifically, there is great interest in developing standard data reporting and visualization tools and building the Application Program Interfaces (APIs) linking conservation data with other types of data using standard business information systems such as:

Exiting Responsibly

Material in this section draws in part from:

Chapter 6. Promoting Collaborative Learning

Contributing to the Global Evidence Base

Key sources for this section include:

Developing Learning Networks

This material has drawn on the following sources: 

Building the Discipline of Conservation

The overall theory of change in this section is based on similar thinking outlined in sources including:

  • Conservation Measures Partnership (2017) CMP Strategic Plan 2017-2022. A situation assessment and theories of change for transforming conservation practice.
  • Foundations of Success (2020) FOS Strategic Plan. A situation assessment and theories of change for improving the practice of conservation. 

There is an extensive literature about the concept of collective impact based on an original article: