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Four simple steps to create a conservation project plan

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

The core role of any project manager is to deliver a project. But a question facing many project managers working in wildlife conservation is how to know when your project has been successfully delivered.

Conservation of habitats and species often work along a continuum so a project delivery point can be hard to identify. It is possible though, and the best way to do this is to follow a pre-defined plan which includes of a clear set of objectives to deliver.

The benefit of presenting a clear plan at the outset means that it helps the team understand how they are contributing, it shows your manager your progress and it helps to attract attention from supporters, collaborators and donors.

In this blog I outline the four steps you need to take to create your first project plan, and the order in which you need to do them. This approach can be used for new projects as well as existing ones - it's never too late to start!

Step 1; What's your vision of the future?

1. Define your vision

Start by working out your 'vision'. This is an essential first step in ensuring you are able to meet your ultimate goal. Your vision is a sentence which outlines what your project will look like in 5-10 years time (or more depending on the size of your project).

It’s often useful here to draw the vision first, thinking about what the target landscape will look like and ensuring you include normal things you would expect to see in a landscape including people.

2. Set out your headline outcomes

First off, ignore the term ‘outcomes’ – this terminology if often interchangeable with other words beginning with ‘o’! Like ‘objectives’ and ‘outputs’ but each of these terms mean different things to different people.

The key is to define a set of outcomes which will contribute your project vision. That is, roughly three concise statements of what you are trying to achieve. For example, reduce poaching of wolves in Imaginary National Park.

You should try and limit yourself to between three and four outcomes, otherwise the project becomes unwieldy.The quality of your outcomes will depend on many aspects; one of the best approaches is to ensure you have considered how your project fits into the wider context of the area in which you work. If you’re struggling to develop your outcomes, a good process to help identify them is to create a ‘theory of change’.

Step 2; Reducing the poaching of wolves in Imaginary National Park is an example of a project outcome

3. Decide how you will measure your progress

It’s unanimous in conservation; monitoring is important. This certainty of the value of monitoring may be because conservation is so closely linked to science. However, the monitoring of individual, short-term projects is often limited by resources, specifically available staff time to monitor.

Nonetheless, monitoring of any project is crucial because it indicates whether the project is actually achieving anything. However what is crucial to remember is that unlike a long-term ecological study, there's no value in trying to monitor everything. You should be selective about what you monitor and allocate approximately 10% of any project budget to do this.

Deciding your ‘indicators’ (i.e. the what you will monitor) can actually be pretty simple. To o this, go back to your outcomes and the highlight key words. You can then use these words and ask yourself how you will measure changes regarding them. Crucially, you should choose something that is actually measurable. An example (to measure reduced poaching) might be to measure the number of wolves shot. the 'measurable' element here is the number. We will explore indicators in more depth in a later blog.

4. Add your activities

Once you have your outcomes and indicators finished you can add your activities underneath. These can then feed into your teams individual work plans (if you use them). If your project is slightly larger and you have a lot of activities, you can nest your activities under work streams or ‘objectives’ which group related sets of activities together.

You may question why the activities section has been left to the end. This is both symbolic and practical: As conservationists driving the day-to-day delivery of a project, we inevitably get caught up in the activities. But the activities we undertake in our working day are just the means to the end and should not be driving a project – rather it’s the outcomes and the vision which determine the activities. This is why they come right at the end of the project planning process.

Using your plan

Taking the above steps will create the foundations of a project plan will both improve the ability of the team to deliver the work, and provide a framework for you as the project manager against which to measure your progress. A good plan will also appeal to potential donors who can share your vision.

Project planning is the foundation stone of any conservation project and can be effective in streamlining your work to ensure the maximum benefit for wildlife.

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