Evaluating the effectiveness of management actions for threatened species recovery is critical for adaptive management. However, decision makers frequently lack the resources and time to develop data‐driven models for rigorous monitoring and evaluation. Expert knowledge can be useful in such situations, but can be challenging to translate into specific expectations about system responses. We describe a case study of the Saving Our Species program in New South Wales, Australia, showing how an integrated process drawing from structured decision making, conceptual modeling and structured expert elicitation can help species' managers formalize how a species is expected to respond to management over time and the assumptions about the mechanisms driving that response. The process described uses step‐by‐step guidelines to assist managers in defining the scope, documenting factors that influence outcomes and identifying indicators and target values for adaptive management plans. This case study demonstrates a robust, yet practical process for estimating species response to site management in situations where empirical monitoring data is absent or incomplete. In doing so it provides a useful tool that helps species' managers in data poor situations to take a more evidence‐informed approach to conservation.