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Analyze the systems within which your nature-based solution take place to minimize risk and optimize benefits


Analyze the systems within which your nature-based solution take place to minimize risk and optimize benefits

Analyze the systems within which your nature-based solution take place to minimize risk and optimize benefits

Posted on November 17, 2020 by Sasha Lishansky

Authoring Organizations: Pacific Institute
Consulting Organizations: International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Universal: No
Applicable Tags: Nature-Based Solutions
Last Updated May 23, 2024


Nature-based solutions (NBS) take place within complex, dynamic, and self-organizing socio-ecological systems. These include biophysical, economic, political, and cultural systems. For example, a forest restoration project interacts with the forest ecology, hydrology, local communities, and regional businesses. The project also interacts with these systems across political or regulatory scales; the intervention may simultaneously interact with local and informal political structures, federal policy frameworks, and international agreements.

During the project-planning phase, analyze how these socio-ecological systems interact and change over time. This “systems analysis” can lead to informed assumptions about how the NBS intervention will impact and be impacted by these systems. This, in turn, can inform project design to maximize project benefits and reduce risks. Monitoring and evaluation over the course of the project can test and refine these assumptions, leading to adjustments in the intervention to improve outcomes.

This Lesson Learned is based on IUCN’s Standard for Nature-based Solutions, 2020.


Analyzing, incorporating, and responding to the systems within which the NBS takes place enables course correction, risk mitigation, and benefit optimization, making the project more successful and sustainable. It also increases the likelihood that the NBS can be integrated synergistically with complementary interventions across sectors, such as with grey infrastructure, financial instruments, and information technology.


  • Conduct a systems analysis at the start of the project using tools from the systems analysis toolbox, such as actor mapping and timeline mapping (see FSG’s System Thinking Toolbox). 
  • A helpful, three-scale framework to assess the different scales at which the NBS interacts with its environment considers: 1) the parts within the land/seascape; 2) the land/seascape itself; and 3) the wider environment around the land/seascape (see IUCN’s Standard for Nature-based Solutions, 2020).
  • State your assumptions regarding how current economic, social and ecological conditions are expected to change. Implement a monitoring and evaluation plan. If there are deviations from these assumptions or from key components of the NBS strategy, implement an adaptive management response (adjustments in an intervention based on new information).


Natural Infrastructure for Water Security in Peru (carried out by Forest Trends, CONDESAN, SPDA, EcoDecisión, and Imperial College London and funded by USAID and the Government of Canada) works to increase investment in natural infrastructure by allocating USD 30 million in water tariffs as payments for ecosystem services to protect upstream ecosystems. The project recognizes and responds to the socio-ecological systems within which it is embedded. For example, the project team gathers water and socio-economic data, including differentiated impacts on men and women, to support decision-making. Recognizing the challenges posed by a political system that lacks coordination on water, the project makes policy synergy across ministries and departments a primary goal. The project’s system approach enables it to seek synergies between natural and grey infrastructure. Finally, the project includes testing financial models before implementing them at scale. As data is collected on how the NBS interacts with its context, adjustments can be made to the project design to maximize benefits. 

Projects that have validated this Lesson

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This lesson learned reflects the beliefs and experiences of the author, not necessarily the Pacific Institute, CEO Water Mandate, or UN Global Compact.