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The 5 principles of Project Management for Wildlife Conservation

Updated: Jul 11, 2022

The following 5 principles of Project Management for Wildlife Conservation have been reproduced from the WildTeam best practice of the same name, which can be downloaded for free here. My own personal favorite is Focus on Impact, but I hope you find all of them useful for your conservation work.


The purpose of the Principles is to provide the project team with a set of fundamental approaches and attitudes to help them focus their efforts and maximise their impact. There are 5 principles:

  • Do something to encourage the project team to start addressing threats to wildlife, despite some level of uncertainty.

  • Focus on impact so that the project team pays more attention to what they want to achieve rather than how they will achieve it.

  • Take responsibility to make sure it is clear what everyone in the project team is meant to decide on and do.

  • Embrace change to help the project team adapt to new information and changing conditions.

  • Do no harm to make sure that the project team avoids unintentionally causing negative effects to other wildlife and humans.

The project team should follow all principles to ensure that their project is run efficiently and has the best chance of delivering a measurable impact. Each project team, however, must decide how best to infuse these principles into the management of their project.

Do something


If a project team chooses to delay starting the project until they have gathered all the information that they need to develop a perfect Project plan, they are also choosing to accept that the biodiversity targets will continue to be degraded while this information is being gathered. The purpose of the Do something principle is, therefore, to encourage project teams to begin work despite some information gaps. Following this principle will help project teams to begin addressing the threats to wildlife as early as possible.


The Do something principle is applied by starting work to address threats to the biodiversity target(s) as early as possible, despite some information gaps. It is up to the project team, however, to judge what level of uncertainly they are willing to accept before starting the project and each work package.

One way of applying the Do something principle is by prioritising work packages the project team is most confident will have the planned impact. Having begun work, the project team can then carry out research to fill in information gaps and guide the implementation of work packages scheduled to be carried out later on in the project. For example, a project team working to save lions in Nairobi National Park may know that in some areas local villagers are poisoning lions, but be uncertain whether this threat alone accounts for the decrease in the lion population. In this case, the project team should begin to address the lion poisoning, while carrying out research to identify and assess the full range of threats facing lions. Further guidance on documenting such information gaps can be found in the connected Strategy Development for Wildlife Conservation best practice. Further guidance on filling such information gaps can be found in the connected Monitoring and Evaluation for Wildlife Conservation best practice. Another way of applying the Do something principle is to accept some level of uncertainty, but to manage this effectively using the Managing change process.

Focus on impact


As conservationists, the project team have a responsibility to ensure that the time and funds they spend are having a positive impact on the biodiversity of interest. The Focus on impact principle is used to ensure that project teams place more importance on what they are trying to achieve (impact) than on how they are trying to achieve it (work packages). Following this principle will help project teams to avoid continually spending resources on ineffective work packages, and instead seek out the quickest and most cost-effective means of achieving the planned impact.


The planned impact of the project is clearly defined in the Project plan, together with objectives and associated indicators to assess when the impact has been achieved . The Focus on impact principle is applied by the project team tracking progress towards achieving the planned impact through regular status meetings. If there is a risk that the project’s impact will not be achieved within the schedule and budget outlined in the Project plan, then the Project plan is either updated with more realistic parameters, or the project is closed. Under this principle, a project has failed if it has not achieved the planned impact outlined in the Project plan, even though it may have delivered all of its work packages within schedule and budget. For example, a project that delivered online training in law enforcement to a government’s forest department staff would have failed if that work package did not achieve the planned impact of an improvement in law enforcement skill levels for those staff, even though the online training was delivered on time and under budget. Conversely, a project has succeeded if the impact has been achieved despite major (authorised) changes to work packages, schedule, and budget.

Take responsibility


If it is unclear who has decision-making authority over, or is responsible for delivering, a given piece of work, there is a risk that time and energy will be wasted by project team members duplicating work, completing their work late, or not completing it at all. The Take responsibility principle is to ensure that everyone in the project team knows what decisions they can make and what work they are responsible for. Following this principle will help to speed up decision-making and the completion of work, and ensure that each team member’s time and expertise are used effectively.


The Take responsibility principle is applied by having a well-structured project team, with clearly defined roles for every team member. These roles should be well-communicated, understood, and acted upon. This principle is applied through the designation of roles and line management in the Project plan, and adherence to the role responsibilities outlined in Roles, Phases, Control processes, and Administrative processes. Furthermore, when implementing the work plan section of the Project plan, every item on that work plan needs to be assigned to a single team member. This avoids any confusion as to who is meant to deliver each item.

Embrace change


The conditions in which a project team is working will never be static, but instead will change in unexpected ways over the course of the project. The purpose of the Embrace change principle is to encourage and enable a project team to welcome and adapt to these changing conditions and new information. Following this principle will maximise the project team’s chances of achieving the planned impact.


The Embrace change principle is achieved through actively identifying, documenting, monitoring, and responding to changing conditions and new information as they arise. The project team can apply this principle using the Control processes, in which they can document, assess, and respond to new information and changing conditions as lessons learned, risks, issues, or opportunities. For example, if a project finds out that a previous awareness campaign in a village was blocked by local leaders, then that project could adjust the Project plan to include additional activities to identify and overcome the local leaders’ concerns.

Do no harm


In the process of achieving positive impact for biodiversity targets, the project team may unintentionally cause harm to other wildlife or humans. For example, a project that reduces the gathering of firewood by local people may help restore the forest but impoverish that group. The purpose of the Do no harm principle, therefore, is to ensure that the project team minimises any potential negative effects that could result from their work.


The project team can apply the Do no harm principle by identifying the possible negative effects of their project, and then including work to mitigate those effects as part of their Project plan. The work to mitigate negative effects can be documented in the Project plan. For example, a conservation project that is working to reduce dynamite fishing may identify the negative effect of reducing the income of local fisher communities. The project team could then include work in their Project plan to reduce this negative effect by encouraging alternative fishing practices that can provide the fisher communities with a more sustainable income.

The project team should also apply this principle by assessing and responding to risks and issues that relate to negative effects on other wildlife and humans. If the project team judge that the negative effects to other wildlife and humans are still unacceptably high, then they should consider closing the project, despite any positive impact they would otherwise have been able to achieve.

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