Get Started: Questions to Ask Before Starting a Tools Search

Species conservation planning can take place in a variety of conditions. Some tools are universally applicable while others work well only in particular situations. The Tools Library is designed to help practitioners navigate towards tools that will help with their particular situation and needs. The first step is to clarify what those needs are by discussing them with relevant stakeholders. The following questions are designed to help.

Are there important social and cultural considerations? Some planning tools are better suited than others to addressing socially complex situations. Social complexity in this case refers to the number of participants involved in planning, the degree to which opinions on key issues vary among the participants, and cultural complexity including diversity in cultural norms, philosophical and ethical concerns, religion, and language.

•    What kinds of social and cultural complexity do you anticipate?
•    Will there be problems communicating with some stakeholder groups because of language or cultural differences, or physical isolation?
•    What is your sense of how stakeholder groups will react to technical or quantitative tools for analyses?

The Planning Tools Index (Abruzzi Table 1) makes no attempt to categorize tools according to their suitability for socially complex situations given the multi-dimensional nature of this criterion and the degree of subjectivity involved in assessing what is, and what is not, socially complex. Though it is clear that some tools are inherently better suited than others to socially complex planning projects, experience has shown that in expert hands many, if not most, tools can be customized for effective use in any situation.

Practitioners should be aware that where there is likely to be a high degree of social complexity some customization of tools is likely to be required and that this is likely to require specialist expertise. 

What is the geographic scope of planning? Species conservation planning may be undertaken at global, regional, national and local levels. Though adjustments may be needed to accommodate variations in complexity and required level of detail, the planning stages and associated tools described here should provide for all of these circumstances.

How many species are involved? Some planning processes are single-species directed and others aim to address the needs of a number of species simultaneously. Some tools are better suited to one or another of these planning situations.

•    How many species or taxa are you planning for?

How much information do you have? How good is it? Both the quantity and quality of data are relevant here and include species' demography (life history traits, trends in population size and growth), spatial characteristics (range, distribution, habitat preferences) as well as information about the effectiveness of specific management activities in reducing threats to populations. Some tools are designed for use in planning where data are relatively scarce, while others are designed to take advantage of the full range of quantitative data on species and their habitats.

•    What is your sense of the quantity and quality of information available to this project?
•    Are there large gaps or areas of significant uncertainty and, if so, where?
•    Will there be enough time and resources available to fill those gaps before planning starts?

What resources are available? Some tools are expensive and/or may require considerable technical expertise for their operation. This may place them out of reach for some projects, and those involved will need to look for simpler and cheaper alternatives. In other cases, these resources will be available or will be sought out by participants.

•    What staff or stakeholder time, expertise and financial resources are you likely to be able to access for the project?

At what point are you in the planning cycle? Is there a particular step that you need a tool for? Or are you looking more generally at the whole planning process and the approach you might take to it?

Once you have diagnosed your planning situation, Abruzzi Table 1 will help you navigate to the tools most suited to your needs.

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