When is the best time to fill in information gaps when developing a conservation strategy?

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Question: When is the best time to fill in information gaps when developing a conservation strategy? When information is lacking (contributing factors, behaviours...) or when confidence in causal links is low, you can plan a research agenda and highlight information that you quickly need and collect data on in order to strengthen your project strategy. So, if my understanding is correct, in that case, research is a work package part of the project. But in order to design a relevant theory of change, you may need this info before planning for activities. In that case, should this information be collected in the pre-project phase during stakeholder consultations? But you may not have yet secured a budget for this? I find it a bit difficult to know when info should be collected in the pre-project phase and when it can be part of the project itself (as per the "do something" principle).


Answer: I would always recommend creating a research work package as part of the project work to fill in those information gaps alongside other work to achieve impact. Depending on the information need you can often fill in a lot of gaps through stakeholder consultations to get enough information to carry out impact related work while you are improving your info base. In every case I would also suggest really thinking about why you think you need better information – what will you do differently if you had that info? Otherwise, you can end up spending a lot of time and money collecting interesting but useless information while the conservation situation degrades further. For example – you don’t need to know why animals decide to eat people/livestock/come into villages to start managing that – because you already know how that conflict manifests itself and can think of ways to reduce those harmful affects to humans and wildlife. If you post a draft ToC I and other members may be able to give more specific advice.

Adam Barlow

Executive Director, WildTeam UK

I help run a UK charity that builds the capacity of conservationists to plan, implement, monitor, and report on their work. I also have a fair bit of experience in tiger and sea turtle conservation.
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Go to the profile of Jon Taylor
5 months ago

Hi Adam - a really nice piece addressing a very real problem - it's great that people are discussing these issues.

I would add that often it's an issue of identifying the right project. We always want to 'fix' the conservation issue, and that's okay IF we understand the problem well enough to map it out, identify possible intervention points and develop results chains / a theory of change / whatever tool we are using. If we DON'T understand the problem well enough, the the first project may not be to 'fix' the conservation issue but to understand it; a follow-up project may then work to fix it, once we've understood it.

You are right - are we looking at a little bit of research at the conceptualisation stage of the project (which, as you write, funders usually won't pay for) or do we actually need to apply for funding for a research project first, in order to understand the issue well enough to fix it?

As you write, unnecessary research is a waste of money. But similarly, history is full of failed conservation projects implemented by people passionate about solving an issue they never truly understood. Finding the balance, the 'correct' level of understanding of a complex issue to enable effective action without wasting resources, is a great skill.

If anyone in this community knows the secret, may I please buy your book? :)