top of page

Why do we urgently need a friendly conservation methodology?

Conservation issues are complex and multi-layered, in many cases small grassroots organizations that are the closest to the problem do not have the tools to design a plan of action that could lead to the desired conservation outcomes - with the available resources - and within a reasonable time frame.

What could a D4C workshop look like?

You can watch this 1 min. video showing the highlights of a 2-day workshop run in Nov. 2022 during Auckland Climate Festival. The Design Challenge was to "envision a NZ-wide seed library. 

Find us on Facebook

How is the D4C process structured?

Design for Conservation is a systemic approach to innovation that draws from design methodologies to find solutions to challenges that arise from the interaction between people and the natural environment.


It understands that humans are just one species of a complex ecosystem that needs equilibrium to thrive. 

D4C is an iterative process comprised of 5 core activities that can overlap and change order.


The best start is to do them in the following order: (re)connect, understand, propose and validate, plan for impact, and deploy. Repeat as necessary: learn, evolve, adapt, just like a natural system.

The strength and challenge of D4C is the (re)connection step, since it is central to all other activities.


Showing up as we really are, using empathy, staying vulnerable and passionate about our project ensures that we embody the connection to an ecosystem that needs to be healthy for all of its parts to thrive. This state of mind (or mindset) will allow us to use make the best of our personal skills in a collaborative process. 

What does Agile-to-Deep mean?

D4C provides an Agile-to-Deep spiral pathway where users can choose how deep they can go based on their availability of resources and time, so users can plan some short-term goals and longer-term goals that are flexible and that are based on feedback loops.


This means that a team can start small, with an agile Design Thinking approach to solving a problem. After each problem-solving cycle the team will start gaining more and more insight of the issue and its complexities, so they will feel confident in allocating more funding, calling-in specific experts and learning from feedback.


At this point the team might choose to iterate with the option on going deeper into a specific aspect, using the original model that the agile tool was based on. These cycles of iterations will cover different aspects of the problematic if such depth was needed.

Agile to deep

Who is D4C intended for?

Any group of people that is looking to solve a conservation/sustainability problem. No matter if the problem is wider or more specific, or if there are big time constraints, or if the group is better or less funded.  ​

How is D4C related to indigenous communities and place?

The D4C methodology was born as an effort to decolonize "white" conservation practices ("white" meaning mainstream western, northern, patriarchal, and colonial approaches). The different stages and tools of the process aim to highlight the importance of decolonial and pluriversal approaches to solving grand challenges.


Tangata Tiriti: In New Zealand, the team acknowledges that conservation has been successfully carried out by Maōri and Pacific communities for centuries, and does not intend to undermine nor to replace traditional practices. On the contrary, we intend to provide bridges between western approaches and indigenous practices, enabling collaboration between different stakeholders, understanding that they might come from diverse backgrounds, races, cultures and systems of knowledge (so that we can tackle complex problems collaboratively and interdisciplinarily). This is a complex, challenging, and triggering process, and through the process we are learning SO MUCH. Lots of courageous conversations have been had, and there are many to come. We are excited and positive towards a future where everyone can own their positionality and relate from a place of genuine partnership.

Do I need a D4C specialist to facilitate the process?

The D4C processed can be learned and facilitated by anyone. As in any learning process, and while results can be immediately seen, it takes time to master this process and its methods. 

Anyone can think like a Designer, but we must not forget a Designer are specialists in the Design Thinking field. Designers are trained professionals in the process of listening hard, identifying valuable insights, committing to promising ideas, prototyping, testing and deploying them effectively. 

While designers are optimal facilitators, they are not specialists in all the environmental and social fields that need to come together to find solutions to these complex, wicked problems we are dealing with. Similarly, experts do not need to come from academic fields, usually the people more connected to their land (such as indigenous communities) can provide key knowledge and experience needed for innovative solutions to arise. 

The Design team of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and the Resolve Conservation team in the United States are the current specialist facilitators of the Design for Conservation methodology. While the tools generated through this project will soon be published here as open-access, free of charge for anyone to download, we are currently putting together a series of resources to train specialist facilitators in guiding the D4C process. 

How is D4C different from Human Centred Design?

If you are familiar with Design Thinking methodologies, you might wonder what makes D4C different. That's a very good question!


D4C was born with the intention to bridge the gaps that Human-Centred Design encounters for urgent, wicked, environmentally related problems. It proposes a committed, passionate and immersive approach for the deep, radical, systemic innovation that this planet needs. (instead of reaching timid, market-oriented, green-painted solutions, you will actually be deeply involved in changing the world).


D4C also provides a summary of specific tools that are currently dispersed in different methodologies. Many of these tools require resources (money, technical know-how, equipment, time...) and while the use of these tools may yield great results, these remain inaccessible to the many. This is where the Agile-to-Deep approach becomes relevant, teams can test simplified versions of these tools, measure results, understand if they are what they needed, and if so, invest in the deeper version of the tool. Or, if a team already got the results they expected with the Agile version, they can move forward and prototype a solution.

What do Agile tools look like?

Design Thinking tools usually involve a set of collaborative actions, a step-by-step facilitation guide and a series of Canvases where teams collect all the gained insights in a highly visual diagram. 

These tools are agile because they require little time but strong focus, a shared purpose and measurable outcomes. Outcomes can take many shapes, such as a new process, a new way of doing things, a new business, a new service, a new set of products, new ways of people relating to each other or to the land, a communication campaign, an event, etc. 

Agile tools are error-friendly, this means that mistakes are just early learning instances that prevent teams from making expensive bad decisions. Their iterative nature enables to rapidly prototype and test ideas and run pilot projects before implementing the change, learning while doing, adjusting and evolving the project in relation to context needs. 

Our goal is to curate and adapt
technical Conservation, Sustainability and Social Innovation tools
into Design Thinking Tools, providing:, providing:


to establish a comprehensive project plan, set goals and evaluate progress collaboratively.


to quickly prototype and test ideas, learn from mistakes and iterate the process, evolving and adapting to different contexts.


to address environmental challenges in a creative, non-linear way, taking into consideration multiple stakeholder points of view: human and nonhuman.


to develop empathic, powerful, highly visual communication resources that facilitate interdisciplinary work and increase public acceptance and engagement.

What are Mental Models or Mindsets?

The concept of mental models was originally coined by psychologist Craik (1943) to explain a set of mental attitudes or dispositions that predetermine how we understand the world. Not only do they shape what we think and how we know, but they shape the connections and opportunities that we see. Gaining a better understanding of how mental models internally represent complex, dynamic systems and how these representations change over time will allow us to develop mechanisms to enhance effective management and use of natural resources. Download our academic publication to learn more. 

Take a look at the Design for Conservation Mindsets.

Why does the D4C Methodology include Mindsets?

Conditions holding human systems in place are structured within three levels of change, from structural to transformational, this is why the importance of working at the mindsets level is fundamental for ensuring lasting, sustainable change.

We need to establish new paradigms of being, relating to each other and doing that operate from foundational levels (mindsets or mental models), through a relational level (interdisciplinarity), and into a practices level (actions, projects). The D4C methodology operates vertically across all three levels and through its toolkit.

Foundations for transformative change

What are Wicked Problems?

The complex, socio-environmental problems that humanity is currently facing have been cataloged as ‘wicked problems’ (Rittel and Webber, 1973). This term denotes problems for which it is impossible to define optimal solutions because of both uncertainties about future environmental conditions and intractable differences in social values (Shindler & Cramer, 1999). 

But what makes a problem wicked? We propose six descriptive categories to define a wicked problem .

Wicked problems

Where is Design for Conservation located?

Design for Conservation is a Project led by Dr. Gabriela Baron and funded by the University of Auckland in New Zealand. However, we have partnered with different local and international institutions over the years.

Have any more questions?

No problem. Email us completing the form below.

Wicked problems
Agile to deep
Tangata Tiriti
bottom of page