Open Standards – Step 2

Based on the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation version 3, April 2013

As mentioned last month, CDFW is using the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation developed by the Conservation Measure Partnership as their planning approach to developing the SWAP 2015 Update. The Open Standards is a widely accepted conservation planning framework that brings together common concepts, approaches, and terminology in conservation project design, management, and monitoring in order to help practitioners improve the practice of conservation.

SWAP Cycle

SWAP Cycle

Last month looked at Step 1 of the 5-step process. This month we’ll look at Step 2: Planning Actions and planning Monitoring

Plan Your Actions and Monitoring
Once the basic project parameters have been described (see Step 1), the next step is to define the goals and strategies.  In addition to defining and developing the project’s goals, strategies, and objectives, this step also identifies the assumptions being made about how the strategies will indeed achieve the project goals.  Together, the project’s goals, strategies, objectives, and underlying assumptions comprise the project’s Action Plan.

Developing a clear idea of what the SWAP 2015 Update should accomplish is the essential first task of putting together the Action Plan.  Goals are linked to the project’s conservation targets and represent the desired status of the targets over the long-term–They are formal statements of the ultimate outcomes SWAP 2015 hopes to achieve through the implementation of conservation strategies.  A goal will be linked to a target and meet the criteria of being Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time bound (SMART). An example of a goal might be:  By 2025, increase distribution of Eagle Lake rainbow trout to upper 5 miles of the main stem of Pine Creek in the North Lahontan HUC 1808 conservation unit. (Target: Eagle Lake Fish Assemblage. See the article Ecoregion Spotlight.)

Once it is determined what accomplishments are desired to improve the target condition (articulated in the goals), the next step is to consider what is needed to actually achieve these goals by defining strategies or sets of activities.  Good strategic planning involves determining where, how, and when to intervene in the system evolving around the targets. Intervention may involve enhancing vital ecological factors to assure the viability of the target, or conversely, reducing the stresses or causes of the stresses which are negatively impacting the target. Regardless, the intention is to effectively improve the target conditions as an overall outcome when the strategies are implemented en masse. An example of a strategy to accomplish the goal above might be: Manage the brook trout population, assess groundwater quality and availability, increase domestic water use efficiency, and establish sustainable livestock grazing practices.

After developing strategies for a given target, it is essential to come up with a clear statement about how each strategy is expected to help achieve the desired conservation results. This process requires an explicit acknowledgement of the assumptions made about the strategies and articulates how the strategy would contribute to achieving the stated conservation goals presuming these assumptions are correct.  A “results chain” (illustrated below) is one tool that depicts these assumptions, in a causal (“if- then”) progression of expected short and long-term intermediate results that lead to long-term conservation results benefiting the target in the end.

Factors-with-Results graphicGeneric Conceptual Model “Factors” with Associated Results Chain

Results chains are also a very useful tool for setting short-term objectives that lead to long term outcomes.  Objectives are formal statements of the outcomes (or intermediate results) and desired changes that are necessary to attain the goals. Objectives specify the desired changes in the factors (direct and indirect threats and opportunities) needed to achieve in the short and medium-term goals.  A good objective also meets the criteria of being SMART as described above under the Goals section.

The goals and objectives specified in the results chain represents what needs to be accomplished and include the assumptions about how the deliverables of an individual strategy will cumulatively help reach those expected accomplishments.  As such, these results chain components become the critical evaluation measures against which the progress of the project will be gauged.

Develop a Formal Monitoring Plan
This step also includes developing a Monitoring Plan that is used to quantitatively evaluate the assumptions made through the project development, and to track progress in achieving the stated goals and objectives. The Monitoring Plan will also be helpful in identifying the resources needed for implementation, a timeline for data collection and analysis, and a reflection of potential risks that should be considered. The evaluation of the acquired data through the monitoring process would be imperative to the future decision making that is necessary to adaptively manage the project during the implementation stage.

More information on developing a monitoring plan will be provided in next month’s newsletter.

Develop an Operational Plan
Conservation projects are ultimately implemented by people and institutions.  Even the best action and monitoring plans are of little utility if not put into operation.  Therefore, an Operational Plan is critical for a successful implementation.

More information on this component of the SWAP 2015 Update will be provided in future newsletters.