Problem formulation: What are you trying to achieve?

The most important, and often overlooked, step in carrying out a conservation planning exercise is adequately defining the problem that you are trying to achieve. What is the question you are trying to answer? What are the important biodiversity and ecoystem services or cultural values that need to be considered and how much of them you would like to conserve? Are there any contraints involved? Who are they key stakeholders?


PROBLEM DEFINITION.

The problem definition is the conservation planning problem that you are trying to solve. Within a landscape or study region there are many different actors who have different objectives regarding the use opf the land that they are trying to achieve. In each context, there are also different  constraints that might prevent you for achieving your goals. These socio-political aspects must be considered to ensure that any conservation plans that are generated have the highest feasibility of success as possible. 

GOALS, TARGETS, AND CONSTRAINTS.

Defining your conservation goals and targets is the most important part of a conservation planning process. This needs to be a participatory and iterative process managed by those in charge of designing a conservation plan. Defining appropriate goals and targets that measure outcomes and impact on the ground are fundamental to measuring success in any conservation problem (Pressey et al. 2021). 

It can be useful to start by creating a goal statement, for example “My goal is to restore forest for biodiversity for the least cost”. In this case, you could represent biodiversity as the area where a number of species are known to occur. You could also define the cost as the key constraint, and you could measure it as area or cost of the land. Once one or multiple goal statements have been defined, they can be turned into quantitative targets that can be tracked over time. The goal "Restore forest for biodiversity for the least cost" could be turned into the objective of “Restore forest for at least 30% of the potential area of occurrence for all species within the study region, while minimising the least cost.” More importantly, putting a timeframe to the target set a point in time when the achievement could be verified: Restore forest for at least 30% of the potential area of occurrence for all species within the study region, while minimising the cost by 2030". The next section describes in more detail the process followed by the systematic conservation planning framework to define and solve conservation problems.