Results chains: a tool for conservation action design, management, and evaluation

Take-away message. The conservation community has historically struggled with how to measure the effectiveness of its actions and how to learn from its experiences and adapt future actions. This paper describes results chains – a tool that helps teams articulate how they believe their actions will produce positive change. Laid out to illustrate causal, if-then relationships, results chains show how a team believes a conservation strategy will influence indirect threats, opportunities, and direct threats to have a positive impact on species, ecosystems, and/or natural resources. Results chains differ from commonly-used tools such as logic models and logframes in that they are more specific and show direct assumed relationships among discrete actions, intermediate outcomes, and the desired final impact.

The opportunity to make these assumptions explicit as a team allows managers to harmonize unspoken assumptions. At the same time, the project team can systematically test whether these assumptions hold as they implement the project. This ability to test assumptions quickly and early-on so that a team can reflect and adapt is a basic tenet of adaptive management.

More specifically, results chains provide a defined structure for setting relevant goals and objectives and identifying a limited set of key, measurable indicators. This explicit structure also helps teams to easily determine which actions are needed to implement their strategies and when they can reasonably expect to see change in various results.

Results chains also offer many benefits for the conservation community in general. Notably, they can facilitate cross-project learning through their standardized approach for laying out assumptions and testing effectiveness. When two or more teams implementing similar strategies use a common results chain, they can compare results achieved and analyze how different conditions contribute to or detract from effectiveness. This cross-project learning sets the foundation for how we improve the way we do conservation.

Follow-up discussion question. This paper is an opportunity to spread the introduction of results chains more broadly – what other methods would be effective to introduce results chains to the wider conservation community, especially organizations and agencies that often rely on more widely-known but less versatile tools?

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