A systems framework has been developed to understand the performance of regional natural resource management (NRM). The framework recognises that regional bodies move through three key life cycle stages: foundation, NRM plan development and NRM plan implementation. The performance of regional bodies has been defined in terms of management and program performance, with performance influenced by both internal and external factors and processes. Indicators of management capacity of the NRM body include skills and abilities in financial and human resource management, the quality of decision making processes and the number, type and expertise of staff in the regional body. Indicators of program capacity include the use and availability of NRM knowledge and technical skills, the use of expert advisory panels, and the employment of program specific staff, including program leaders, facilitators and coordinators. Indicators of the relationship with external processes include the use and quality of community networks, information exchange and the existence of a community engagement and communication strategy. A staged research methodology is proposed to further define and operationalise the performance indicators for regional NRM bodies.