Portrait of a traditional farmer (campesino) in the Andes region of Colombia, South America.

Working Group:
Evidence-Based Conservation

Governments and organizations are increasingly pursuing conservation policies to achieve positive outcomes for both human well-being and natural ecosystems. To achieve such combined goals, clarity is required on linkages between nature and people, and the mechanisms by which specific conservation efforts affect different aspects of human well-being. Despite a critical need, the state of existing evidence on impacts and effectiveness of existing conservation and human well-being policies is neither clear nor adequate.

Photo: ©Diego Ochoa/TNC | More Info
Photo: © Timothy Boucher/TNC

Working Group Summary

Documenting the Links Between Conservation and Human Health and Well-being

Several major international conservation organizations explicitly reference people in their mission statements and aspire to achieve social benefits through conservation. Yet the state of available relevant research documenting the impacts of conservation on human well-being remains unclear. Of the studies that exist, many are scattered, inconsistent and/or otherwise inaccessible, presenting a significant barrier to efficient and comprehensive understanding of current evidence, and uptake of that knowledge into conservation policy decisions. The Evidence-Based Conservation Working Group will advance understanding of how conservation affects human well-being through evidence synthesis, improve ways that people find and assess existing evidence, and expedite how evidence is used to support better decisions for nature and people.

Learn about the Challenge

Photo: © 2013 Heather Perry for The Nature Conservancy

The Challenge

Making the Right Decisions for People and Nature

Understanding and improving the human dimensions of conservation means knowing which interventions have been effective at meeting social and environmental objectives, what evidence is available to support decisions, how and when changes in human well being from conservation work might occur, and which indicators really measure progress.

The costs of making choices and decisions either without evidence, or without using existing evidence are potentially serious. In the absence of evidence-based decision making, organizations and governments risk wasting scarce time and resources on actions and investments that are neither cost-effective nor successful.

In addition, without evidence to support decisions, investments are not accountable to the agencies that fund conservation efforts, nor are institutions able to weigh the tradeoffs between investing in different actions. Organizations cannot learn from successes and failures and therefore risk repeating mistakes and missing opportunities to replicate successes.


Read about this Inquiry

Cautionary road sign to lookout for Orangutan in the remote Wehea Forest in the Berau district of the eastern Kalimantan region of Borneo, Indonesia. the Wehea forest is the site of continuing forest research by The Nature Conservancy. The Conservancy is working with local village leaders, the Indonesia government, industry and other conservation organizations in East Kalimantan, to develop a road map for creating direct economic incentives to maintain the forests. This effort is a key component of the Conservancy’s strategy to ground-truth concepts and policies under discussion as the world’s countries look for a global climate change solution.The approach—called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD)—is about providing alternatives to over-harvesting forests.

The Inquiry

Advancing the Use and Availability of the Science Needed for Evidence-based Conservation Decisions

The Evidence-Based Conservation Working Group will build on the results of a previous SNAPP-funded mapping project that – for the first time – documented the evidence of the impact of conservation on human well-being. To build the map, members of the Working Group searched and assessed 32,000 potential studies to generate a global “evidence map” of 1,100 relevant studies.

The work highlighted three primary issues:

  • evidence documenting relationships between conservation interventions and human well-being outcomes likely does exist, but has not been broadly synthesized to meaningfully inform conservation policy and practice.
  • the time required to locate and characterize this information is substantial.
  • the distribution, and quality of existing evidence is inconsistent, with evidence varying considerably between different nature-people linkages, countries, biomes and study design.

Some linkages, such as economic outcomes of protected areas, have been extensively studied, while other linkages such as health impacts of conservation remain sparse. Furthermore, few studies use rigorous approaches, e.g., experimental or quasi-experimental study designs, with significant number of studies relying on qualitative data from small sample sizes.

To overcome these problems, the Working Group will further synthesize trends within the evidence base, and test innovative approaches to facilitating utilization of existing evidence. Specifically, we will address three objectives:

  1. In-depth exploration and analyses of data and trends within the existing map database, specifically on occurrence and quality of evidence available across prevalent theories of change linking nature conservation to human well-being impacts;
  2. Development of a probabilistic model to more efficiently, accurately and rapidly identify, synthesize and update evidence from online publication databases and search engines to create a dynamic evidence tool;
  3. Design and pilot mechanisms for integrating evidence into decision making of different audiences, representing three key groups: donors, researchers and practitioners, based upon their explicit needs and opportunities for scientific evidence on nature-people linkages

The Working Group will develop three case studies to explore how and when the utilization of evidence can have maximum value.

For donors and policymakers, the Working Group will work with the World Bank’s Program on Forests (PROFOR) to address demand for evidence to demonstrate the contribution of forest conservation to poverty alleviation, such as how financing sustainable forest management affects local livelihoods. Of particular interest is evidence about how forests may help provide pathways out of poverty, not just resources for day-to-day subsistence or safety nets in times of ecological or social stress.

For researchers, the Working Group will explore how different users within the SNAPP network might best utilize our evidence map in their decisions based upon current needs. Understanding and utilization of existing evidence on nature-people linkages has the potential to inform and guide research efforts by SNAPP in several ways: validation of assumptions stated by proposed SNAPP working group, prioritization of knowledge gaps that might be filled by a new SNAPP working group, an evidence base to support in-depth syntheses by current working groups, and a dynamic dataset by which to track SNAPP’s progress.

For practitioners, the Working Group will examine a series of incentive programs instituted by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Incentives can be directly associated with the desired action (Individual Tradable Quotas that ensure fishers a meaningful part of the catch), or provided as compensation for adoption of the desired action (livestock insurance to halt retaliatory killing of lions). Our case study will work with WCS programs to understand needs on program impacts specifically related to incentive-related interventions.

The research required to achieve these objectives will require mixed qualitative and quantitative methods and bring together expertise from evaluation, evidence synthesis, program theory, machine learning, computer science, information science, and statistics, and knowledge of international development and social dimensions of conservation.


Meet the Evidence-Based Conservation Team

Photo: © Bridget Besaw | More Info

The Team

The Evidence-Based Conservation Team