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Take the lead on nature-based solutions: start with a pilot, learn from your experience, and scale up the solution


Take the lead on nature-based solutions: start with a pilot, learn from your experience, and scale up the solution

Take the lead on nature-based solutions: start with a pilot, learn from your experience, and scale up the solution

Posted on November 17, 2020 by Sasha Lishansky

Authoring Organizations: Pacific Institute
Consulting Organizations: --
Universal: No
Applicable Tags: Nature-Based Solutions
Last Updated May 22, 2024


Organizations, companies, and governments have the ability to design and implement nature-based solutions (NBS) at different scales. They can start with small-scale projects within their boundaries to develop a robust understanding of the NBS, test their hypotheses, and refine their project design. From this foundation and based on the success of the small-scale pilots, these projects can then be expanded to a broader scale. Scaling up can involve multiple other project partners and offers the opportunity to pool resources and expertise to achieve multiple objectives and provide mutual benefits.


  • Piloting an NBS at a smaller scale allows organizations to test and refine their project design. This provides a solid foundation from which to scale NBS projects successfully. 
  • Because scaling up projects means scaling up impact, this progression allows organizations to have an even greater effect on their environment and communities. 
  • Collaborating with multiple project partners when scaling up NBS can lead to a synergistic pooling of resources while spreading risks and costs.


  • Find and support an internal champion to help propel NBS projects forward.
  • Partner with technical experts if there is a lack of in-house skills, capacity, or concrete tools for implementing the NBS.
  • Collect data during the pilot phase on key benefits and make adjustments to the project design to increase benefits and decrease trade-offs.  
  • Ecological and social contexts vary from one location to another, so projects should be adapted to the local context as they are scaled. An analysis of stakeholders and systems (see Lesson Learned 3) as well as stakeholder engagement (see Lesson Learned 1) should be conducted at each new location and the project design should be adjusted accordingly.
  • Benefits and tradeoffs will also change from one location to another — for example, the carbon sequestration benefits of soil restoration will differ depending on the geography. Make sure that your benefit accounting methodology reflects this variation. 
  • To attract new project partners to scale the project, expand your list of key benefits (see lesson Account for a wide range of benefits and potential trade-offs associated with nature-based solutions) and share your NBS success story (see lesson Share your nature-based solution (NBS) story to raise awareness and acceptability of NBS).


The Nature Conservancy has developed an innovative model for watershed stewardship called Water Funds in which downstream water users invest money collectively to pay for upstream watershed restoration activities such as forest restoration and improved farming practices. The very first Water Fund was established in Quito, Ecuador in 2000. Since then, 41 Water Funds have been established in 13 countries on 4 continents, with 35 Water Funds currently in development. While each Water Fund design varies depending on local conditions and context, The Nature Conservancy has developed a methodology and toolbox that is common across all Water Funds. This common framework supports more rapid and robust implementation, operation, and maintenance of the Water Funds. 

The scaling of Water Funds globally has been possible due to strategic partnerships across sectors, in which each partner brings critical resources and expertise to the table. For example the Latin American Water Funds Partnership includes the Inter-American Development Bank, FEMSA Foundation, The Global Environment Facility, The Nature Conservancy, the International Climate Initiative, and local implementing partners.

Projects that have validated this Lesson

None found.

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