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Results Chains: a Tool for Conservation Action Design, Management, and Evaluation

Richard Margoluis, Foundations of Success
Caroline Stem, Foundations of Success
Vinaya Swaminathan, Foundations of Success
Marcia Brown, Foundations of Success
Arlyne Johnson, Foundations of Success
Guillermo Placci, Foundations of Success
Nick Salafsky, Foundations of Success
Ilke Tilders, Foundations of Success


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Every day, the challenges to achieving conservation grow. Threats to species, habitats, and ecosystems multiply and intensify. The conservation community has invested decades of resources and hard work to reduce or eliminate these threats. However, it struggles to demonstrate that its efforts are having an impact. In recent years, conservation project managers, teams, and organizations have found themselves under increasing pressure to demonstrate measurable impacts that can be attributed to their actions. To do so, they need to answer three important questions: (1) Are we achieving our desired impact?; (2) Have we selected the best interventions to achieve our desired impact?; and (3) Are we executing our interventions in the best possible manner?

We describe results chains, an important tool for helping teams clearly specify their theory of change behind the actions they are implementing. Results chains help teams make their assumptions behind an action explicit and positions the team to develop relevant objectives and indicators to monitor and evaluate whether their actions are having the intended impact. We describe this tool and how it is designed to tackle the three main questions above. We also discuss the purposes for which results chains have been used and the implications of their use. By using results chains, the conservation community can learn, adapt, and improve at a faster pace and, consequently, better address the ongoing threats to species, habitats, and ecosystems.

Key words

adaptive management; assumption; effectiveness; evaluation; impact; measure; monitoring; outcome; planning; results chains; theory of change

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087