Embracing failure in conservation

Everyone likes to talk about success, but for improving the practice of conservation, understanding how and why interventions fail is often more useful than understanding why they succeed.

The aim of this project is to enable CCI partners and their collaborators to better assess, communicate and apply learning from failure. Promoting failure as a crucial step along the road to success.

To do this the project will identify cases of failure from participating organisations, assess the reasons why conservation efforts fail, and bring partners together to discuss how learning from failure can best inform conservation work.

Project Aims

Overall Aim: Conservation practitioners are better able to assess, communicate and apply learning from failure.

To do this the project will:

  • Identify cases of failure from participating organisations
  • Use the cases identified to develop a taxonomy of the reasons conservation efforts fail and to carry out an initial assessment of their relative importance
  • To establish a platform for conservation organisations to present, study and learn from failure, centred around a dedicated “FailCon” event on the topic of embracing failure in conservation.  

Key Activities

  • Project partners each identify a selection of projects, programmes or actions that are considered to have “failed” to some degree and prepare case studies on these using an agreed template for presentation and discussion by the project team
  • Based on the identified case studies, the project team will develop a taxonomy of reasons for failure and assess their relative importance
  • The project will hold a 1-day plenary event, where CCI organisations and collaborators discuss case studies of interventions that have “failed” in one way or another. Providing a risk-free forum to discuss failure and how learning can drive innovation

Conservation Impact

Facilitate more effective implementation of conservation actions, based on an improved understanding of the reasons behind failure and the incorporation of lessons learnt into the design, implementation and communication of conservation action.


  • Published classification of the reasons that conservation projects fail, their relative importance and recommended solutions for avoiding them in future
  • CCI partners present examples of failures from within their organisations and participate in the assessment and FailCon event
  • FailCon event is widely attended and leads to ongoing sharing of failure and lessons learnt between CCI partners and external organisations (including donors)
  • Synthesis report discussing the potential opportunities for sharing information on failures and lessons learnt between organisations

CCI partners Involved

British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is an independent scientific research trust specialising in impartial evidence-based knowledge and advice about populations, movements and ecology of birds and...
IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is the world's oldest and largest global environmental network. It helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment...
The Department of Zoology carries out wide-ranging work in ecology and conservation including conservation science, aquatic ecology, pathogen evolution and evolutionary ecology. Research of the...
The UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) is the specialist biodiversity assessment arm of the United Nations Environment Programme, the world’s foremost intergovernmental...
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) protects threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, based on sound science and that take account of human needs....
TRAFFIC is a global wildlife trade monitoring network that works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature. TRAFFIC is a global network, research-...
BirdLife International is a strategic global partnership of conservation organisations in over 100 countries, working to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, and to promote...
Tropical Biology Association is dedicated to building the capacity and expertise of people and institutions to conserve and manage biodiversity in tropical regions. Its network spans 40 countries.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment. It is the largest wildlife conservation organisation in...