The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation by Design 2.0 Approach and the Role of Conservation Coaches

Story by Olivia Millard, TNC Director of Organizational Learning, and Cristina Lasch, TNC Conservation Planning and Adaptation Lead and CCNet Operations Coordinator

TNC Conservation Coaches meeting in Manly, New South Wales, Australia in May 2018. Photo by Oscar Maldonado, TNC consultant.


In 2016, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) significantly updated its core conservation methodology, Conservation by Design, to reflect today’s increasingly complex conservation challenges and the evolution in conservation strategies that these challenges require. TNC produced guidance for implementing the new methodology, “CbD 2.0,” which can now be found on the website. With systems change at its heart, and with the recognition that the challenges facing people and nature are inextricably intertwined, CbD 2.0 asks significantly more of conservation teams than its predecessor.

Conservation by Design 2.0 documents the significant evolution in conservation methodology that has taken place over the last 20 years, as practiced by TNC and its partners. CbD 2.0 requires not just conservation planning and science skills, but also a suite of new kinds of skills, including social science, complex project management, systems thinking, and coalition building to name a few. As a result, no one person or team could possibly have all of the skills that will be required.

There are many parts of CbD 2.0 that will look quite familiar to conservation coaches who apply the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation (OS). CbD 2.0 catches up to the OS in some ways, while also adding some new elements such as systems thinking. In recognition of the added complexity of the updated methodology and to build on the strong foundation that TNC has established in its coaches, TNC needs to update its expectations, clarify the roles of coaches, and update how coaches are trained.

Towards that end, TNC hired this year’s CCNet Global Service Award winner, Oscar Maldonado, to clarify the similarities and differences between the OS and CbD 2.0, to identify those parts of CbD 2.0 that coaches already have the tools to address, and to start the process of equipping TNC coaches to support teams that are applying CbD 2.0 to develop and implement the ambitious conservation efforts established by our Shared Conservation Agenda.

In his report, “The Nature Conservancy’s Conservation by Design 2.0 Approach and the Role of Conservation Coaches: A Critical Review and Recommendations for Next Steps,” Oscar observed:

“As Conservation by Design did in 1996, the newest 2016 version 2.0 seeks to provide a consistent approach to the conservation practice of The Nature Conservancy. Conservation by Design 2.0 is a whole composed by two parts: the first one is the general philosophical framework that describes the principles by which TNC aims to reach its mission success. The second part contains the methodological guidance that provides a series of detailed instructions to plan and manage conservation under the latest CbD 2.0 approach.

As described in CbD 2.0, the framework responds to the need of achieving systemic changes in a dynamic world. For that reason, the perspective of where and how to work broadens in scope, as do the analyses that support decision-making. Repeatedly, CbD 2.0 emphasizes the need to support these analyses by strong evidence, in order to understand the dynamics of a socio-ecological system and justify the choice of interventions…

…An “upgraded,” tailor-made version of TNC’s Conservation Coaches training aimed to assist the application of CbD 2.0 could significantly improve not only the current use of this approach, but also the quality of the projects and the methodology itself.

TNC’s coaches can play a significant role in spreading the good use of CbD 2.0 in the organization, in sharing best practices and experiences, in testing the method and providing feedback and recommendations for improvement, as well as in adapting external tools for the sake of producing good results. Nobody in the Conservancy has the comprehensive set of skills required to assist projects under the adaptive management approach, in practicing and testing methods and in sharing learning as conservation coaches do. If The Nature Conservancy is committed to systematically use its new methodological approach, it needs to rely on the existing capacity in-house.”

Oscar then concluded that with an upgraded training, TNC’s conservation coaches could play the following roles:

  • Designing, organizing and facilitating planning processes under CbD, and assisting the composition of comprehensive teams custom-made for projects
  • Coaching TNC’s projects in applying CbD 2.0 in all its phases
  • Collecting, analyzing and sharing lessons learnt and best practices
  • Seeking and applying external tools to improve CbD 2.0’s practice
  • Testing CbD 2.0 in practice and providing feedback for an enhanced CbD 2.1 version.
  • Disseminating the use of CbD 2.0 across the Conservancy

After the CCNet Rally in Australia, Oscar conducted a workshop for several seasoned TNC coaches to introduce them to what he had learned and to help them begin to build the skills that they will need. The goals of the workshop were as follows:

  • Identify the role that a Conservation Coach can play in CbD 2.0/Collaboratively define realistic expectations of CbD 2.0 Coaches at TNC
  • Gather lessons and hints for application of CbD 2.0 from an OS Coach perspective
  • Build understanding of the relationship between the OS and CbD 2.0, what OS tools are useful to CbD 2.0, and where CbD 2.0 might ask something different of a Coach than does the OS.
  • Build awareness of those parts of CbD 2.0 that are completely new and how they might be addressed.
  • Exchange experiences, challenges, and solutions, and learn about each other’s work on implementing CbD 2.0.
  • Identify the “binding elements” of CbD 2.0
  • Collaboratively identify ways to build and strengthen additional CbD 2.0 Coaching capability at TNC.

After some absorbing discussions about social science, including social safeguards, diversity and inclusion, systems thinking, and other elements that are new to 2.0, the group dug in to several familia tools that can be used in an expanded way to meet the needs of 2.0. The group explored the use of conceptual models to undertake a situation analysis for people and nature and worked with results chains as a means of identifying risks and negative side effects, and thus the safeguards, that might need to be employed. As an added bonus, the Conservancy’s Yap Island and Pacific Tuna Strategy staff were able to attend this workshop and receive support from peers and coaches as they worked with these new tools.

Many thanks to Natalie Holland and the TNC Australia team for providing logistical support for this workshop, and a tip of the hat to Pip Walsh for telling us about the magnificent venue, Q Station.

TNC looks forward to building on Oscar’s excellent work and this workshop by clarifying and defining expectations and potential roles for conservation coaches at TNC, developing a coach training that meets the needs of CbD 2.0, engaging more coaches in skills building workshops, testing methods and approaches, and working with coaches to improve the CbD 2.0 guidance.

For more information on this process, the May workshop, and future plans, contact Cristina Lasch, Olivia Millard, or Oscar Maldonado.