FOS M&E How-To Guide now available!

Conservation projects tend to have limited resources and need to choose M&E designs that match those resources and that help them make good management decisions. This new guidance document provides a basic overview of M&E to clarify some common areas of confusion and misuse of terminology and to distill the basic components of M&E design into a series of simple concepts. This guide should help you understand key decisions you need to make and how those decisions may influence your ability to draw conclusions from your M&E efforts.

Download the guide here and start improving your M&E efforts today.

Researchers Allen Enokenwa and Peter Njumbe tracking data on chimpanzee nests in Southwest Cameroon.

This guide is one in a series of how-to guides designed to help conservation practitioners using the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation develop and operationalize their strategic plans. These guides are sta

nd-alone documents, but practitioners will get the most value out of them when they use them together to support the broader process of moving from planning (Step 2) to implementation (Step 3).

The current list of guides (available at includes:

  • Conceptualizing and Planning Conservation Projects and Programs (manual for implementing Steps 1 and 2 of the Open Standards)
  • Conceptual Models: An FOS How-To Guide
  • Results Chains: An FOS How-To Guide
  • Designing Monitoring and Evaluation Approaches for Learning: An FOS How-To Guide (this guide)
  • Developing High-Level Work Plans and Budgets: An FOS How-To Guide

FOS staff will continue to develop guides and other training materials for various steps across the Open Standards cycle. As the guides are published, they will be available on the FOS website and the Open Standards website (along with a peer-reviewed rating). The Open Standards website also contains implementation and operationalization guidance from other organizations, with Bush Heritage Australia providing numerous documents and examples based on their own experiences.

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MAVA Foundation Guest Blog

Excerpt from “The OAP-approach: the quest for impact at scale”

Read the full blog on our partner’s page: MAVA Foundation Blog
The FOS Europe Team (2018), (from left to right) Vladimir Milushev, Nico Boenisch, Daniela Aschenbrenner and Ilke Tilders
The FOS Europe Team (2018), (from left to right) Vladimir Milushev, Nico Boenisch, Daniela Aschenbrenner and Ilke Tilders

For us at FOS Europe, it has been a wonderful and enriching experience to be part of this transformation process. Our role is to provide support in the realm of adaptive management, using the CMP Open Standards. We work hard to build the capacity, processes and tools needed by partners to adaptively plan, measure, and improve their OAPs, making them more responsive to contextual changes and more effective in their response. One of the core challenges in this process has been to get discussions focused on that nasty question that keeps us awake at night; the question of impact. A nasty question indeed,  because achieving real change is often hard and painfully slow (see also Julien Semelin’s blog: The question of our impact in 2022). Given that the conservation work is top urgent, we can’t afford to not discuss the effectiveness of our work. We have to understand whether, for example, our awareness-raising campaign is leading to behavioural change. Or if the research in which we have invested is actually leading to better management, changing the way in which natural resources are used. What if we are wrong? What if the change is not happening?

Continue reading: MAVA Foundation Blog

By Ilke Tilders,  FOS


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Investing in strategic planning

What is the optimal investment in strategic planning?  At what point does increasing sophisticated planning have diminishing returns or even become counter-productive? Nick Salafsky considers these questions in a recent review for Biological Conservation:  

One of the more interesting meta-questions in conservation practice concerns the strategic value of strategic planning and other systematic decision support exercises. Specifically, what is the return on investment in different levels of effort in strategic planning? Fig. 1 shows a rough curve I developed in which the X-Axis is investment in strategic planning around a given decision and the Y-Axis is some measure of whether the decision was “correct” (e.g., if insufficient hindsight the decision makers are given a do-over, what is the probability that they make the same decision?).

Model of return on investment in strategic planning

Figure 1. Model of return on investment in strategic planning

The Y-intercept here (Point A) is greater than zero since there is some chance that the decision maker would get the right answer just by luck. I suspect that there is then a steep part of the curve (between Points A & B) where a minimal investment in strategic planning will greatly improve the probability of a correct decision. In my experience, this investment lies in framing the conceptual underpinnings of the decision being made. Do the decision-makers have a shared understanding of the situation and context of the decision? Have they agreed upon clear goals? And do they have a common theory of change about how each decision option will lead to these desired goals? Much of the power here comes from developing shared mental models across key stakeholders that enables the team of decision makers to harness the “wisdom of the crowd.” Then there is a flatter part of the curve (between Points B & C) where there is still positive, but diminishing returns to expending additional effort on strategic planning. This phase of investment generally involves trying to more precisely and quantitatively compare trade-offs between different options. It often involves handling the problem over to specialized quantitative researchers who then report back to the primary decision makers. The curve then starts to dip south (between Points C & D) when additional planning may just start to confuse the situation. Finally, the curve at somepoint plummets to the X-Axis at Point E, representing the cases when planning paralysis sets in and no decision is ever reached.

— Nick Salafsky. Strategically Investing In Strategic Planning: A review of: Kent D. Messer and William L. Allen, III The Science of Strategic Conservation: Protecting More with Less, 2018, Cambridge University Press; Cambridge UK. ISBN: 978-1-107-19193-8.

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A Bird in the Bush Equals Money in the Hand


FOS’s Arlyne Johnson and colleagues Paul Frederick Eshoo, Sivilay Duangdala, and Troy Hansel find that an ecotourism direct payment approach for wildlife sightings reduces illegal hunting.

Tourists spot a deer during a NamEt-PhouLouey Safari Credit: Leigh Vial


Vientiane – Lao-PDR  (2017) – A new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Foundations of Success (FOS) finds that an ecotourism strategy based on “direct payments,” where local people are compensated for the amount of wildlife seen by tourists, has resulted in a reduction in illegal hunting and an increase in wildlife sightings.

In the study, the scientists tested a new model in Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR)’s Nam-Et-Phou Louey (NEPL) National Protected Area (NPA) that used a direct payment approach to encourage villagers to reduce illegal hunting and trade, which is driving wildlife decline.  The model included a contractual payment to villages that was directly tied to the numbers of wildlife seen by eco-tourists as well as a reduction in payments for occurrences of hunting violations.  The approach was designed to reduce illegal hunting pressure, increase wildlife sightings, and ultimately wildlife numbers, while generating ongoing economic incentives for conservation.

The scientists implemented and then monitored this approach for four years. Results indicated a three-fold increase in hunting signs in the non-tourism sector of the NPA as opposed to no increase in the ecotourism sector. Additionally, an overall increase in wildlife sightings was observed. A wide range of threatened species benefited from the program, including Sambar deer, barking deer, primates and small carnivores.

“If eco-tourism or nature tourism is going to help increase these wildlife populations, there must be a direct link between the incentives for communities and the wildlife itself, “said Bounpheng Phoomsavath, Director of Nam Et — Phou Louey National Protected Area. “Many projects claim to be benefiting wildlife but they often lack this direct link.  Villagers get benefits but the wildlife populations continue to decline.  The direct links are the key to our success.”

In cases where ecotourism is used as a biodiversity conservation strategy, projects are often questioned for lack of resulting proof that threats to biodiversity have been averted or conditions for biodiversity have been improved.

“This study illustrates the importance of monitoring along a theory of change to evaluate if and how a conservation strategy is leading to expected outcomes and to inform adaptive management,” said WCS Lao PDR Country Deputy Director Dr. Santi Saypanya.

The scientists say the case “provides key lessons on the design of a direct payments approach for an ecotourism strategy, including how to combine threat monitoring and data on wildlife sightings to evaluate strategy effectiveness, on setting rates for wildlife sightings and village fees, and the utility of the approach for protecting very rare species.”

“Design, monitoring and evaluation of a direct payments approach for an ecotourism strategy to reduce illegal hunting and trade of wildlife in Lao PDR,” appears in the current edition of PLOS One. Authors include: Paul Frederick Eshoo and Troy Hansel; Sivilay Duangdala of WCS-Lao PDR; and Arlyne Johnson of Foundations of Success (Bethesda, Md.)

This project was supported by funding from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service Rhinoceros and Tiger Conservation Fund, the European Union, the French Agency for Development (AFD), the German Development Bank (KFW), the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

For a copy of the paper, please click here.


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Lessons from the Field December 2017

Photo by: Suzi Eszterhas

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to be sure you’re not investing your precious conservation dollars in ineffective strategies? You’re in luck! There’s a framework set up to help teams assess their work and adapt based on new information. In this month’s Lessons from the Field, we bring you a shining example of what that framework, the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation, has done for one small NGO, Proyecto TitíThe Proyecto Tití team and FOSer, Armando Valdés, have been working and learning together for several years. Proyecto Tití has been a champion of the Open Standards as they continue to implement, monitor, learn, adapt, and share the result of their work with the conservation community.


Highlights include:

  • Charismatic monkeys
  • Adaptive management useful for small, community-focused NGO
  • The Open Standards helped prioritize strategies & funding with low budget
  • Strong leadership allowed team to stay on track as they institutionalized the use of Open Standards tools and Miradi Software

Read more: Lessons from the Field December 2017



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