Evaluations of collaborative conservation programs have identified eight key principles for successful collaborative efforts (Keough and Blahna 2006):
1. Integrated and balanced goals: collaborative programs should attempt to address common ecological, economic, and social goals rather than focusing on only one of these areas.
2. Inclusive public involvement: all stakeholders with an interest in the collaborative program should have the opportunity to participate, regardless of if they are significantly or directly affected by the potential outcomes.
3. Consensus approach: when making decisions, collaborative program leaders should strive for consensus. Many programs define consensus as a lack of disagreement rather than 100% agreement by all parties. In other words, everyone should be able to live with the outcome even if it is not their preferred outcome.
4. Collaborative stewardship: all stakeholders should be invested in the decisions coming out of the collaborative program. This generally means stakeholders continue to participate in the collaborative over time.
5. Monitoring and adaptive management: Inclusion of monitoring and a mechanism to change directions if desired outcomes are not achieved.
6. Multidisciplinary approach: The integrated and balanced goals called for by principle one should be supported by a means to evaluate outcomes related to ecological, economic, and social goals. This will require involvement of people with a range of expertise.
7. Economic incentives: Collaboratives tend to be more successful when the participants benefit economically from the outcomes. For example, ranchers may benefit economically from decreased shrub encroachment and increased forage production when a collaborative conservation program that reintroduces fire to an ecosystem.
The Sonoran Institute, a non-profit organization focused on conservation and community development in the western US, two additional principles specific to collaborating on large landscape conservation:
1. Understand what is legally possible: existing laws place a limit on what it is possible to achieve. Similarly, existing policy preferences of decision makers can limit the scope of likely change, even if proposals are possible under current law. Failure to understand what is possible at the outset of a collaborative effort can lead to failure.
2. Identify the right scale: because there is no firm definition for large landscape, it is important to identify the geographic area of focus early on. Large landscape conservation should focus on a land area that is ecological, economically, and socially cohesive.
These principles are just guidelines – some collaborative conservation efforts will follow all of them while others may only follow a few. But, experience tells us that programs that follow more to these principles tend to be more successful than programs that do not.