What makes collaborations work in landscape and seascape scale conservation?

Posted: 1st December 2023

Photo: Iona Haines

In this guest blog, Dr Natasha Constant, RSPB Senior Conservation Scientist, and Joelene Hughes, RSPB Principal Conservation Scientist reflect on research conducted as part of an Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme Advancing and Applying Knowledge Project

In landscape-scale conservation projects, collaboration is key for success. Collaboration is often necessary between multiple people from different backgrounds that may have a variety of values and ambitions for the landscape. Understanding what individual behaviours help collaborations to work, and the broader context that support these behaviours, would be useful to support and develop teams, and ultimately increase the likelihood of conservation success.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) worked with Warwick University, with funding support from the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme (ELSP) to create a two-part toolkit for project managers and their teams to help better plan and nurture partnerships on landscape- or seascape-scale conservation projects. The first part focuses on how to identify and develop a collaborative partnership, whilst the second part provides a framework for assessing the  collaborative behaviours of team and individuals against the needs of a collaborative project. Together, this toolkit is packed with ideas and information on collaboration and the behaviours that support it. By using the resources in the toolkit, people are taken through a six-step process of collaborative planning that we hope will help benefit landscape-scale conservation.

Here we talk about some of the research behind the work.

What do we mean by collaboration?

Collaboration involves working together with external and/or internal partners to achieve mutual benefits through access to and sharing of resources and capabilities. Landscape conservation and restoration involves multiple project partners working together to deliver, or at least approve of, land and marine management to achieve conservation outcomes. These multi-partner projects, therefore, rely on relationships maintained through partnerships to deliver these objectives at scale.

  • Increasing the impact of conservation outcomes on the ground,
  • Exchanging technical expertise, knowledge, and information,
  • Building capacity among organisations or partners,
  • Reducing financial costs for an organisation.

In conservation and restoration many partnerships are actively built and sustained by individuals. Therefore, understanding, the skills and attributes of people that do this well is essential.

What behaviours make people effective collaborators in conservation?

To find out what does and does not work, we conducted interviews with experienced project managers leading the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme projects, and other, large-scale restoration or conservation projects that involve managing multiple partnerships. Three themes emerged:

Theme 1: Cultural Attributes

Cultural attributes are the behaviours and competencies that support the development of a collaborative culture within a project or workplace. Our research found that creating a shared vision based upon on common values and norms is important for collaborating. For example, while some individuals may share a common belief in saving the environment, others may not see the intrinsic value of conservation, or have conflicting visions of how conservation should be achieved. We found that collaborations need to create a common frame of reference, that is supported by a common set of values, norms, and behaviours.

Relational Attributes

This theme relates to the individual skills that enable the management of a partnership. Our research found that in order to build an effective partnership, people need to be relationship oriented. They need to actively engage with incoming partners, build rapport through interactions, and think about how each relationship needs to be developed. Trust requires integrity and competence, and people are trusted based on their knowledge and experience as well as their ability to successfully manage relationships.

Operational Attributes

This theme looked at how individuals drive the delivery of specific project outcomes. Research findings discovered that collaborative leaders think strategically and have a long-term approach to conservation. Their perspective on the long-term effects of project outcomes for the organisation and community, helps them to understand how their tasks affect the project and wider conservation efforts. They are proactive to both provide and ask for help, keeping “an ear to the ground” to understand and anticipate issues teams are facing to support them.

How can this research help me?

The toolkit is arranged in two parts for Building Partnerships for Landscape-Scale Conservation.  The Guidance for Identifying and Developing Collaborative Partnerships relates to the Collaborative Partnership Tool, and covers the identification, establishment and conclusion of a partnership. The Guidance for Assessing an Individual’s Collaborative Behaviours and Competencies works with the Individual Behavioural Assessment Tool to support assessment and development of the specific behaviours and competencies required by teams and individuals for a successful partnership. These can be freely downloaded here:

Hopefully the information, hints, tips and six-step process will help you to achieve success in your conservation partnerships, whichever stage you are at.

To learn more about the project and to view all outputs, please visit the project page. For further information, please contact Dr Natasha Constant (natasha.constant@rspb.org.uk) or Dr Joelene Hughes (joelene.hughes@rspb.org.uk).


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