, Volume 48, Issue 2, pp 139–152 | Cite as

Implementation strategies for systematic conservation planning

  • Vanessa M. AdamsEmail author
  • Morena Mills
  • Rebecca Weeks
  • Daniel B. Segan
  • Robert L. Pressey
  • Georgina G. Gurney
  • Craig Groves
  • Frank W. Davis
  • Jorge G. Álvarez-Romero


The field of systematic conservation planning has grown substantially, with hundreds of publications in the peer-reviewed literature and numerous applications to regional conservation planning globally. However, the extent to which systematic conservation plans have influenced management is unclear. This paper analyses factors that facilitate the transition from assessment to implementation in conservation planning, in order to help integrate assessment and implementation into a seamless process. We propose a framework for designing implementation strategies, taking into account three critical planning aspects: processes, inputs, and context. Our review identified sixteen processes, which we broadly grouped into four themes and eight inputs. We illustrate how the framework can be used to inform context-dependent implementation strategies, using the process of ‘engagement’ as an example. The example application includes both lessons learned from successfully implemented plans across the engagement spectrum, and highlights key barriers that can hinder attempts to bridge the assessment-implementation gap.


Conformance-based evaluation Plan implementation Planning-implementation gap Performance-based evaluation Protected areas Research-implementation gap 



This paper evolved from the symposium and associated workshop “From plans to outcomes: towards an implementation strategy for conservation planning” at the International Congress for Conservation Biology 2013 held in Baltimore, Maryland USA. We thank all contributors to that symposium for sharing their ideas and case studies. VMA, RW, GG, RLP, and JGAR acknowledge support of the Australian Research Council.

Supplementary material

13280_2018_1067_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (116 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 115 kb)


  1. Adams, V.M., J.G. Álvarez-Romero, S.J. Capon, G.M. Crowley, A.P. Dale, M.J. Kennard, M.M. Douglas, and R.L. Pressey. 2017. Making time for space: The critical role of spatial planning in adapting natural resource management to climate change. Environmental Science & Policy 74: 57–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Álvarez-Romero, J.G., M. Mills, V.M. Adams, G.G. Gurney, R.L. Pressey, R. Weeks, N.C. Ban, J. Cheok, et al. 2018. Research advances and gaps in marine planning: Towards a global database in systematic conservation planning. Biological Conservation (in press).Google Scholar
  3. Arias, A., J.E. Cinner, R.E. Jones, and R.L. Pressey. 2015. Levels and drivers of fishers’ compliance with marine protected areas. Ecology and Society 20: 1–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Armitage, D. 2008. Governance and the commons in a multi-level world. International Journal of the Commons 2: 7–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baer, W.C. 1997. General plan evaluation criteria: An approach to making better plans. Journal of the American Planning Association 63: 329–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ban, N.C., M. Mills, J. Tam, C.C. Hicks, S. Klain, N. Stoeckl, M.C. Bottrill, J. Levine, et al. 2013. A social–ecological approach to conservation planning: Embedding social considerations. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 11: 194–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beever, E.A., B.J. Mattsson, M.J. Germino, M.P.V.D. Burg, J.B. Bradford, and M.W. Brunson. 2014. Successes and challenges from formation to implementation of eleven broad-extent conservation programs. Conservation Biology 28: 302–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berke, P., M. Backhurst, M. Day, N. Ericksen, L. Laurian, J. Crawford, and J. Dixon. 2006. what makes plan implementation successful? An evaluation of local plans and implementation practices in New Zealand. Environment and Planning B 33: 581–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Binder, C.R., J. Hinkel, P.W.G. Bots, and C. Pahl-Wostl. 2013. Comparison of frameworks for analyzing social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 18: 26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bottrill, M.C., M. Mills, R.L. Pressey, E.T. Game, and C. Groves. 2012. Evaluating perceived benefits of ecoregional assessments. Conservation Biology 26: 851–861.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bottrill, M.C., and R.L. Pressey. 2012. The effectiveness and evaluation of conservation planning. Conservation Letters 5: 407–420.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. CMP. 2013. Open standards for the practice of conservation. Version 3.0. Accessed June 2014.
  13. Day, J. 2008. The need and practice of monitoring, evaluating and adapting marine planning and management—lessons from the Great Barrier Reef. Marine Policy 32: 823–831.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Day, J.C. 2017. Effective public participation is fundamental for marine conservation—lessons from a large-scale MPA. Coastal Management 45: 470–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Economics, Headwaters. 2012. Implementing climate change adaptation: Lessons learned from ten examples. Bozeman, MT: Headwaters Economics.Google Scholar
  16. Ekoko, F. 2000. Balancing politics, economics and conservation: The case of the Cameroon Forestry Law reform. Development and Change 31: 131–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fernandes, L., J. Day, B. Kerrigan, D. Breen, G. De’ath, B. Mapstone, R. Coles, T. Done, et al. 2009. A process to design a network of marine no-take areas: Lessons from the Great Barrier Reef. Ocean and Coastal Management 52: 439–447.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fernandes, L., J. Day, A. Lewis, S. Slegers, B. Kerrigan, D. Breen, D. Cameron, B. Jago, et al. 2005. Establishing representative no-take areas in the Great Barrier Reef: Large-scale implementation of theory on marine protected areas. Conservation Biology 19: 1733–1744.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Ferse, S.C.A., M. Máñez Costa, K.S. Máñez, D.S. Adhuri, and M. Glaser. 2010. Allies, not aliens: Increasing the role of local communities in marine protected area implementation. Environmental Conservation 37: 23–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fisher, J.R.B., and B. Dills. 2012. Do private conservation activities match science-based conservation priorities? PLoS ONE 7: e46429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fox, E., M. Miller-Henson, J. Ugoretz, M. Weber, M. Gleason, J. Kirlin, M. Caldwell, and S. Mastrup. 2012. Enabling conditions to support marine protected area network planning: California’s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative as a case study. Ocean & Coastal Management 74: 14–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fox, E., E. Poncelet, D. Connor, J. Vasques, J. Ugoretz, S. McCreary, D. Monié, M. Harty, et al. 2013. Adapting stakeholder processes to region-specific challenges in marine protected area network planning. Ocean & Coastal Management 74: 24–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Freeman, R.E. 2010. Strategic management: A stakeholder approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Garnett, S.T., M. Kleinschmidt, M.V. Jackson, K.K. Zander, and S.A. Murphy. 2016. Social landscape of the night parrot in western Queensland, Australia. Pacific Conservation Biology 22: 360–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gleason, M., S. McCreary, M. Miller-Henson, J. Ugoretz, E. Fox, M. Merrifield, W. McClintock, P. Serpa, et al. 2010. Science-based and stakeholder-driven marine protected area network planning: a successful case study from north central California. Ocean & Coastal Management 53: 52–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Groves, C.R., and E.T. Game. 2016. From planning to action and communication: The art of implementation. Conservation planning: Informed decisions for a healthier planet. New York: W. H. Freeman.Google Scholar
  27. Guerrero, A.M., and K.A. Wilson. 2016. Using a social-ecological framework to inform the implementation of conservation plans. Conservation Biology 31: 290–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Henson, A., D. Williams, J. Dupain, H. Gichohi, and P. Muruthi. 2009. The Heartland Conservation Process: enhancing biodiversity conservation and livelihoods through landscape-scale conservation planning in Africa. Oryx 43: 508–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. IAP2 Federation. 2014. Public participation spectrum. International Association for Public Participation-IAP2 Federation, Wollongong, NSW.Google Scholar
  30. Joseph, C., T.I. Gunton, and J.C. Day. 2008. Implementation of resource management plans: Identifying keys to success. Journal of Environmental Management 88: 594–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kareksela, S., A. Moilanen, O. Ristaniemi, R. Välivaara, and J.S. Kotiaho. 2018. Exposing ecological and economic costs of the research-implementation gap and compromises in decision making. Conservation Biology 32: 9–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Knight, A.T., R.M. Cowling, A.F. Boshoff, S.L. Wilson, and S.M. Pierce. 2011. Walking in STEP: Lessons for linking spatial prioritisations to implementation strategies. Biological Conservation 144: 202–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Knight, A.T., R.M. Cowling, and B.M. Campbell. 2006. An operational model for implementing conservation action. Conservation Biology 20: 408–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Knight, A.T., R.M. Cowling, M. Rouget, A. Balmford, A.T. Lombard, and B.M. Campbell. 2008. Knowing but not doing: Selecting priority conservation areas and the research-implementation gap. Conservation Biology 22: 610–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Laurian, L., J. Crawford, M. Day, P. Kouwenhoven, G. Mason, N. Ericksen, and L. Beattie. 2010. Evaluating the outcomes of plans: Theory, practice, and methodology. Environment and Planning B 37: 740–757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Laurian, L., M. Day, M. Backhurst, P. Berke, N. Ericksen, J. Crawford, J. Dixon, and S. Chapman. 2004a. What drives plan implementation? Plans, planning agencies and developers. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 47: 555–577.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Laurian, L., M. Day, P. Berke, N. Ericksen, M. Backhurst, J. Crawford, and J. Dixon. 2004b. Evaluating plan implementation: A conformance-based methodology. Journal of the American Planning Association 70: 471–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Margules, C.R., and R.L. Pressey. 2000. Systematic conservation planning. Nature 405: 243–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Mazmanian, D.A., and P.A. Sabatier. 1989. Implementation and public policy. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  40. McIntosh, E.J., M.C. McKinnon, R.L. Pressey, and R. Grenyer. 2016. What is the extent and distribution of evidence on effectiveness of systematic conservation planning around the globe? A systematic map protocol. Environmental Evidence 5: 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Meretsky, V.J., and R.L. Fischman. 2014. Learning from conservation planning for the U.S. National Wildlife Refuges. Conservation Biology 28: 1415–1427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Mills, M., R.L. Pressey, R. Weeks, S. Foale, and N.C. Ban. 2010. A mismatch of scales: Challenges in planning for implementation of marine protected areas in the Coral Triangle. Conservation Letters 3: 291–303.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mills, M., R. Weeks, R.L. Pressey, M.G. Gleason, R.-L. Eisma-Osorio, A.T. Lombard, J.M. Harris, A.B. Killmer, et al. 2015. Real-world progress in overcoming the challenges of adaptive spatial planning in marine protected areas. Biological Conservation 181: 54–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Moilanen, A., H. Possingham, and K.A. Wilson. 2009. Spatial conservation prioritization: Past, present, and future. In Spatial conservation prioritization quantitative methods and computational tools, ed. A. Moilanen, H.K. Wilson, A. Moilanen, K. Wilson, and H. Possingham, 260–268. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Najam, A. 1995. Learning from the literature on policy implementation: a synthesis perspective. IIASA Working PaperGoogle Scholar
  46. Opdam, P., J.I. Nassauer, Z. Wang, C. Albert, G. Bentrup, J.-C. Castella, C. McAlpine, J. Liu, et al. 2013. Science for action at the local landscape scale. Landscape Ecology 28: 1439–1445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ostrom, E. 2007. A diagnostic approach for going beyond panaceas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104: 15181–15187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Ostrom, E. 2009. A general framework for analyzing sustainability of social-ecological systems. Science 325: 419–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pfeffer, J., and R.I. Sutton. 1999. Knowing “What” to do is not enough: Turning knowledge into action. California Management Review 42: 83–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pierce, S.M., R.M. Cowling, A.T. Knight, A.T. Lombard, M. Rouget, and T. Wolf. 2005. Systematic conservation planning products for land-use planning: Interpretation for implementation. Biological Conservation 125: 441–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Pressey, R. 1998. Algorithms, politics and timber: An example of the role of science in a public, political negotiation process over new conservation areas in production forests. In Ecology for everyone: Communicating ecology to scientists, the public and the politicians, ed. R. Wills and R. Hobbs, 73–87. Sydney: Surrey Beatty and Sons.Google Scholar
  52. Pressey, R.L. 2002. The first reserve selection algorithm: a retrospective on Jamie Kirkpatrick’s 1983 paper. Progress in Physical Geography 26: 434–441.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Pressey, R.L., and M.C. Bottrill. 2009. Approaches to landscape- and seascape-scale conservation planning: Convergence, contrasts and challenges. Oryx 43: 451–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pressey, R.L., M. Mills, R. Weeks, and J.C. Day. 2013. The plan of the day: Managing the dynamic transition from regional conservation designs to local conservation actions. Biological Conservation 166: 155–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Pressey, R.L., M.E. Watts, T.W. Barrett, and M.J. Ridges. 2009. The C-Plan conservation planning system: Origins, applications, and possible futures. In Spatial conservation prioritization: Quantitative methods and computational tools, ed. A. Moilanen, K.A. Wilson, and H.P. Possingham, 211–234. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Reed, M.S. 2008. Stakeholder participation for environmental management: A literature review. Biological Conservation 141: 2417–2431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Rein, M., and F. Rabinovitz. 1980. Implementation: A theoretical perspective. In American politics and public policy, ed. W. Burnham and M. Wienburg, 307–335. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  58. Reside, A.E., N. Butt, and V.M. Adams. 2017. Adapting systematic conservation planning for climate change. Biodiversity and Conservation. Scholar
  59. Saarman, E.T., and M.H. Carr. 2013. The California Marine Life Protection Act: A balance of top down and bottom up governance in MPA planning. Marine Policy 41: 41–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Sabatier, P., and D. Mazmanian. 2005. The implementation of public policy: A framework of analysis. Policy Studies Journal 8: 538–560.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sinclair, S.P., E.J. Milner-Gulland, R.J. Smith, E.J. McIntosh, H.P. Possingham, A. Vercammen, and A.T. Knight. 2018. The use, and usefulness, of spatial conservation prioritizations. Conservation Letters. Scholar
  62. Talen, E. 1996a. After the plans: Methods to evaluate the implementation success of plans. Journal of Planning Education and Research 16: 79–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Talen, E. 1996b. Do plans get implemented? A review of evaluation in planning. Journal of Planning Literature 10: 248–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Talen, E. 1997. Success, failure, and conformance: An alternative approach to planning evaluation. Environment and Planning B 24: 573–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Vane-Wright, R.I., C.J. Humphries, and P.H. Williams. 1991. What to protect? Systematics and the agony of choice. Biological Conservation 55: 235–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Weeks, R., and S.D. Jupiter. 2013. Adaptive comanagement of a marine protected area network in Fiji. Conservation Biology 27: 1234–1244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Weeks, R., R.L. Pressey, J.R. Wilson, M. Knight, V. Horigue, R.A. Abesamis, R. Acosta, and J. Jompa. 2014. Ten things to get right for marine conservation planning in the Coral Triangle. F1000Research 3: 91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wilson, K.A., N.A. Auerbach, K. Sam, A.G. Magini, A.S.L. Moss, S.D. Langhans, S. Budiharta, D. Terzano, et al. 2016. Conservation research is not happening where it is most needed. PLoS Biology 14: e1002413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wong, C., and C. Watkins. 2009. Conceptualising spatial planning outcomes: Towards an integrative measurement framework. Town Planning Review 80: 481–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vanessa M. Adams
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Morena Mills
    • 3
  • Rebecca Weeks
    • 4
  • Daniel B. Segan
    • 5
    • 8
  • Robert L. Pressey
    • 4
  • Georgina G. Gurney
    • 4
  • Craig Groves
    • 6
  • Frank W. Davis
    • 7
  • Jorge G. Álvarez-Romero
    • 4
  1. 1.Geography and Spatial Sciences, School of Technology, Environments and DesignUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Life SciencesImperial College LondonBerkshireEngland, UK
  4. 4.Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef StudiesJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  5. 5.Global Conservation ProgramWildlife Conservation SocietyBronxUSA
  6. 6.Science for Nature and People PartnershipBozemanUSA
  7. 7.Bren School of Environmental Science & ManagementUniversity of California Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  8. 8.Tahoe Regional Planning AgencyStatelineUSA

Personalised recommendations