Nothing is as humbling as announcing to a room full of people, “I’m a conservation planner and have asked you to attend this meeting because I have a new planning tool to help you identify and prioritize your actions”.  As I watch eyes start to either glaze or glare, I smile in what even I can acknowledge is a weak attempt to “facilitate collaboration and stakeholder buy-in”. Many within the field of conservation and natural resource management have been either in my shoes (hopefully optimistic that the tool you are touting is the holy grail of project organization leading to the pillar on high that is Adaptive Management) or in the audience, wondering how to get Wi-Fi access.

I do not mean to disparage conservation planning exercises or frameworks—in fact, there are many that I believe useful for framing problem contexts and decision making. But there are also tools that can leave one feeling a bit underwhelmed by their utility and overwhelmed by their complexity.  And after spending a lot of time and resources on learning and applying the tools some questions—how do we work together? Where does my work fit into the larger landscape? How do I measure the impact of my actions and at what scale?—remain unanswered.

The South Atlantic LCC has released Version 1.0 of the Conservation Blueprint to identify high priority terrestrial, aquatic, and marine areas and tie specific conservation actions to those areas.  Identifying and prioritizing areas and actions is not a novel concept. What is different about this tool is the South Atlantic’s approach to developing it and its acknowledgement that this tool… well it’s not perfect. In fact, the South Atlantic LCC is actively trying to collect feedback about the existing tool, while offering direct support via two dedicated staff, Hilary Morris and me, to assist its users. Blueprint users should expect their Cooperative’s tool, and the mapping platform which hosts it, to change to reflect their questions, feedback, and suggestions. The South Atlantic LCC community can also expect prompt and consistent help incorporating the Blueprint and Planning Atlas into their planning, proposal, and action processes.

The Conservation Blueprint and Planning Atlas should be both usable and useful. A tool that provides high quality information, but is difficult to access, is not useable. A tool that is easy to use, but does not provide quality information, is not useful. Version 1.0 of the Conservation Blueprint is imperfect, but also not final. It is based on expert input collected over a series of workshops conducted last fall.  Some of you reading this blog may remember that you were one of the approximately 350 people who attended these workshops and selected important conservation areas and associated actions.  Over the course of the next year, the South Atlantic LCC will refine the Blueprint and make changes based on the observations of users and release Version 2.0 in February 2015.

If you have read this far and have not thrown something overripe and compostable at your screen, then we’ve made progress.  This conservation planning exercise is not about how to impose a tool, but rather how to adapt it, which requires the feedback of the South Atlantic LCC community.  If you have any questions about how to use the Conservation Blueprint or would like to offer feedback about how you would like to use it in the future please contact your South Atlantic LCC user support staff.