Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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Planning a conservation project - What are objectives?

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By Michaela Plein

This week’s group meeting involved a discussion about chapter 3 in Conservation Planning: Informed Decisions for a Healthier Planet by Craig Groves and Edward Game. The chapter explains the authors’ understanding about objectives in a conservation project and why they think it is important to establish objectives early in the planning process. To paraphrase the authors, objectives are those outcomes of a conservation planning process that the stakeholders want and care about, including the direction in which the outcome should move. There are different types of objectives, but they are always driven by our personal values.

The most important type of objectives are fundamental objectives - those final results that the planning process is supposed to achieve. For example, one fundamental objective for the establishment of a national park could be the protection of biodiversity. To each project there will be a suite of different fundamental objectives representing the values of different stakeholders. Some of these will concern the environment, while other objectives can have social and economic goals. A good conservation plan will include fundamental objectives from each of these categories.

In addition to fundamental objectives, there will be a range of intermediate objectives which relate to the actions that are undertaken to achieve the fundamental objectives. Often people will mistake intermediate objectives for fundamental ones; it is therefore important to separate between the ‘ends’ (where we want to be) from the ’means’ (how we want to get to the goal). The authors give the example of a conservation plan for a fores:, when managers want to “improve forest connectivity”, they might think that connectivity is the objective of the plan, while it is actually just a way to approach the fundamental goal of protecting the forest ecosystem.

A fact that was interesting to several of us is that objectives can be quite vague, very much in contrast with the highly specific objectives in mathematical optimisation, which we are quite familiar with. Conservation planning objectives don’t require temporal, spatial or species limitation etc.; this is done later when we set targets or features, which have to be defined clearly so they can be measured quantitatively.

Given our groups efficiency, we didn’t stop at discussing the nature of objectives, but also tried to come up with a group exercise for students in a conservation decision science class so they could clearly grasp the concept of fundamental objectives. Potential avenues that came up:

  • establishing a grocery shopping schedule for a shared house
  • washing the dishes 
  • planning a dinner
  • developing the class’ grading scheme 
  • designing the homework for the next week
  • deciding on a meeting venue for the next class

Finding a solution to these tasks as a group should in theory expose students to each others’ fundamental objectives. Their objectives will likely differ unless they all just want to eat cheap pasta and maximize their spare time, which would make the discussion fairly brief - let’s hope for the best.

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