Improving conservation practice with principles and tools from systems thinking and evaluation
- Andrew T. Knight, Carly N. Cook, Kent H. Redford, Duan Biggs, Claudia Romero, Alejandro Ortega‑Argueta, Cameron D. Norman, Beverly Parsons, Martin Reynolds, Glenda Eoyang, Matt Keene
Achieving nature conservation goals require grappling with ‘wicked’ problems. These intractable problems arise from the complexity and dynamism of the social–ecological systems in which they are embedded. To enhance their ability to address these problems, conservation professionals are increasingly looking to the transdisciplines of systems thinking and evaluation, which provide philosophies, theories, methods, tools and approaches that show promise for addressing intractable problems in a variety of other sectors. These transdisciplines come together especially around praxis, i.e., the process by which a theory or idea is enacted, embodied or realized. We present a review and synthesis of the learnings about praxis that have emerged from The Silwood Group, a consortium of conservation professionals, professional evaluators, and complexity and systems thinkers. The Silwood Group believes that for conservation activities to achieve ambitious goals, we should benefit nature without compromising the well-being of people, and that framing a praxis for conservation in the context of social–ecological systems will provide the greatest potential for positive impact. The learnings are presented as four key principles of a ‘praxis for effective conservation’. The four principles are: (1) attend to the whole with humility; (2) engage constructively with the values, cultures, politics, and histories of stakeholders; (3) learn through evaluative, systemic enquiry, and (4) exercise wisdom in judgement and action. We also provide descriptions and references for tools and methods to support such praxis and discuss how the thinking and approaches used by conservation professionals can be transformed to achieve greater effectiveness.
Senior Lecturer, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College London. Director, Sustainable Mind Solutions. Former Senior Lecturer Stellenbosch University
Lecturer in Ecology and Head of Conservation Management Research Group at Monash University. Evaluating, developing and improving decision support tools.
Principle at Archipelago Consulting. Former Director at The Nature Conservancy, Director at Wildlife Conservation Society, Faculty at University of Florida
Faculty at the Environmental Futures Research Institute at Griffith University. Reducing illegal wildlife trade with local communities, evidence and systems thinking.
Tropical forest ecologist at University of Florida. Evaluating impact and improving forest management
Principle investigator in the Dept of Biodiversity Conservation at ECOSUR. Improving design, evaluation and decision making for wildlife management.
Principal and President at Cense Ltd. Lecturer at OCAD University. Adjunct Professor at University of Toronto. Evaluator, designer, systems thinker, psychologist.
President and Executive Director at InSites. Former President and Board Member at AEA, Director at Education Commission of the States.
Senior Lecturer at The Open University. Applying critical systems thinking and systems thinking in practice to evaluation and sustainability.
Founding Executive Director at the Human Systems Dynamics Institute. Working public and private institutions to build resilience and adaptive capacity.
Founder|CEO of The Silwood Group LLC. Visionary Evaluation. The River Cube Project. US EPA. American Evaluation Association. Environmental Evaluators Network.