Decision support frameworks and tools for conservation

Mark W. Schwartz, Carly N Cook, Robert L Pressey, Andrew S. Pullin, Michael C Runge, Nick Salafsky, William J. Sutherland, Matthew A. Williamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

151 Citations (Scopus)


The practice of conservation occurs within complex socioecological systems fraught with challenges that require transparent, defensible, and often socially engaged project planning and management. Planning and decision support frameworks are designed to help conservation practitioners increase planning rigor, project accountability, stakeholder participation, transparency in decisions, and learning. We describe and contrast five common frameworks within the context of six fundamental questions (why, who, what, where, when, how) at each of three planning stages of adaptive management (project scoping, operational planning, learning). We demonstrate that decision support frameworks provide varied and extensive tools for conservation planning and management. However, using any framework in isolation risks diminishing potential benefits since no one framework covers the full spectrum of potential conservation planning and decision challenges. We describe two case studies that have effectively deployed tools from across conservation frameworks to improve conservation actions and outcomes. Attention to the critical questions for conservation project planning should allow practitioners to operate within any framework and adapt tools to suit their specific management context. We call on conservation researchers and practitioners to regularly use decision support tools as standard practice for framing both practice and research.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12385
Number of pages12
JournalConservation Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • Adaptive management
  • Decision analysis
  • Evidence based
  • Futures research
  • Planning
  • Project management
  • Structured decision making
  • Systematic conservation planning

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