Our Science

Conservation by Design

Our Conservation Compass

Navigating by Compass in a Forest
Compass Navigation Nags Head Woods Preserve, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina © Ben Herndon

A Strategic Framework for Mission Success

For two decades, The Nature Conservancy’s work has been guided by a framework we call Conservation by Design. From the beginning, Conservation by Design has unified our efforts around the world by providing a common language and consistent approach across the diversity of systems, cultures, geographies and communities in which we engage.

It has guided us in identifying what to conserve and where and how to conserve it, and in measuring our effectiveness.

Conservation by Design articulates our conservation vision and marries our collaborative, science-based approach with key analytical methods. Around the world, this strategic framework guides the Conservancy and our partners in conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. We seek solutions that will meet the needs of people, as well as species and ecosystems.

The basic concepts of Conservation by Design are simple: set goals and prioritiesdevelop strategiestake action and measure results.

A satellite tracker will help scientists map the route that female hawkbill turtles
Protecting Endangered Turtles Scientists and local communities are working together to protect endangered sea turtles and their nesting grounds in the Western Pacific Ocean. © Justine Hausheer

Set Goals and Priorities

Conservation goals describe the results we want to achieve. Based on the best available scientific information and our sophisticated mapping and planning tools, The Nature Conservancy sets both long-term and near-term goals for conserving the abundance and geographic distribution of critical species and ecological systems. Our overall goal is to ensure the long-term survival of all biodiversity on Earth.

And to make the most effective progress toward our conservation goals, we establish priority targets — those places, threats to biodiversity and strategic opportunities that are most in need of conservation action or promise the greatest conservation return on our investment.

Develop Strategies

Guided by those priorities, we then work with a range of partners to design innovative conservation strategies toward meeting our goals. Our strategies reflect not just our understanding of ecology and critical threats to biodiversity, but also our assessment of the social, political and economic forces at play. We seek solutions that will meet the needs of people as well as species and ecosystems.

Take Action

The Conservancy is committed to place-based results by taking action locally, regionally and globally. The bulk of our resources — human and financial — are spent executing the strategies we develop together with partners. Our actions are varied and agile, but typically include:

  • Investing in science to inform decision-making;
  • Protecting and managing land and waters, as we did with the largest forest conservation deal in the United States;
  • Forging strategic alliances with a variety of groups from all sectors;
  • Creating and maintaining supportive public policies, practices and incentives;
  • Strengthening the institutional capacity of governments and non-governmental organizations to achieve conservation results, through programs such as the Amazon Indigenous Training Center;
  • Developing and demonstrating innovative conservation approaches, such as our work to create resilient networks of protected marine areas;
  • Building an ethic and support for biodiversity conservation, such as we do with community restoration projects;
  • Generating private and public funding, including through innovative debt-for-nature swaps.

Measure Results

We measure our effectiveness by answering two questions: "How is the biodiversity doing?"and "Are our actions having the intended impact?" Tracking progress toward our goals and evaluating the effectiveness of our strategies and actions provide the feedback we need to adjust our goals, priorities and strategies and chart new directions.

Jennifer Carah, an applied scientist on the The Nature Conservancy's California staff, checking logging devices she uses to record and collect water temperature data.
Data-Informed Strategies Data used byTNC to develop priorities and strategies for protecting and improving habitat conditions for species like Coho salmon in the face of climate change. © Bridget Besaw

Meeting The Challenges Of The 21st Century

We envision a world where the diversity of life thrives, and people act to conserve nature for its own sake and its ability to fulfill our needs and enrich our lives.

But as society struggles to provide enough energy, food, water and other resources to sustain a growing population, solutions are often found at nature’s expense. In this century, we will see hard-earned conservation gains erode unless we stabilize the climate and find better ways to meet these increasing resource needs.