The implementation crisis in conservation planning: Could "mental models" help?

Duan Biggs, Nick Abel, Andrew T. Knight, Anne Leitch, Art Langston, Natalie C. Ban

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

165 Citations (Scopus)


Core to the planning-implementation gap in conservation is the failure to achieve the necessary shared vision and collaboration among typically diverse stakeholder groups to translate conservation assessments and plans into sustained on-ground outcomes for conservation. We suggest that a process of describing and sharing mental models-the cognitive frameworks that people use to interpret and understand the world-provides promising and as yet underutilized techniques for conservation planners to improve implementation success. The processes and techniques associated with the mental models concept have been applied in a variety of fields including business and organization science, risk analysis, education, natural resource management, and climate change adaptation. Our review of mental models illustrates that their application can strengthen the success of conservation planning by: (1) contributing to clear and open communication between stakeholders; (2) aiding in overcoming obstacles to incorporating multiple sources of knowledge; (3) enabling shared ownership of a conservation plan; and (4) improving social assessments. Techniques to explicitly communicate mental models can contribute to each phase of a conservation planning process-assessment, planning, management, and review. Conservation planners have much to gain by eliciting and sharing mental models in conservation planning processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-183
Number of pages15
JournalConservation Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


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