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How do you measure the impact of a conservation capacity development project?

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

A conservation capacity development project uses training to increase the skills of conservationists. The impact of a conservation capacity development project can be simply measured in:

Direct results:

The gain in skills by conservationists

Indirect results:

The benefits to conservationists’ careers and impact through applying those skills.

To measure the impact of a specific conservation capacity development project, you first need to create a conservation strategy followed by a monitoring and evaluation plan (as part of an overall Project plan).

An overview of the Project plan structure and how it is created, used and managed over the course of a project is provided in the Project Management for Wildlife Conservation best practice.

Creating a conservation strategy

To work out how to measure the impact of a specific conservation capacity development project, the project team will need to create a conservation strategy that links their training activities to the desired impact they want to achieve. This is essential to avoid the common mistake of rushing to develop training in a particular subject, which may be really interesting to the subject-matter expert, but may or may not be a benefit to conservationists.

Ideally, the conservation strategy should start with documenting the desired behaviour of those that are being trained, and how that behaviour will benefit their conservation careers and work e.g. how the new behaviour helps reduce threats or improve the status of biodiversity, ecosystem services, and/or human well-being.

To help select the desired behaviour and identify its benefits it may be worth considering what training can achieve. At its best, training can help:

  • Scale up conservation, by creating more and more conservationists

  • Make conservation projects more cost-effective, by empowering conservationists to create better plans and implement them more efficiently.

  • Make conservation a more inclusive sector, by providing access to skills and opportunities to those from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds.

  • Help progress careers of those striving to save our natural world, by providing them with a means to develop themselves professionally so that they can demonstrate their ability to take on more responsibility.

  • Reduce staff loss, by providing them with a pathway to gain new skills, gain promotion, and diversify their work.

Selecting the desired behaviour also requires selecting the specific group that the training is designed for. This is essential to then build into the strategy an understanding of what they need (in addition to skills) for them to actually carry out that behaviour. For example, a conservationist may need to be employed by an organisation, and have the support of that organisation to apply their new skills to their conservation work.

The project team does not necessarily need to create all the conditions required by everyone in a particular group to apply their training. Instead that information could help the project team to either refine the target group (e.g. focusing on conservationists already in employment) or expand their strategy to show how the gain in skills would help those conservationists gain opportunities (e.g. gain employment) through which they could then apply those skills.

The conditions required to enable a behaviour can be documented in a strategy as influences as part of a planned change diagram. An example planned change diagram for a conservation capacity building project is shown in the below figure.

Full guidance on how to create any kind of conservation strategy can be found in this best practice: Project Planning for Wildlife Conservation. Ideally, any such strategy should be created with the involvement of stakeholders (see the Stakeholder Engagement for Wildlife Conservation best practice)

Creating a monitoring and evaluation plan

To create a monitoring and evaluation plan for a conservation capacity building project, the project team needs to first work out how they will monitor the gain in skills by those that they train. A good way of doing that is to evaluate their skills gain with an exam. At WildTeam we do this with every course apart from our Conservation leadership courses (which are more focused on changing behaviours directly rather than providing skills).

To then measure the indirect results of the training, the project team can design and send out an annual survey made up of questions to help evaluate how the training has affected the career and impact of the trainees.

Only a proportion of those trained will respond but, depending on the numbers, that may still provide a good insight into the type and scale of the benefits. An example of what kind of impact these kinds of surveys can produce can be found here.

Full guidance on how to create any kind of monitoring and evaluation plan can be found in this best practice: Monitoring and Evaluation for Wildlife Conservation.

Here is a link to more information in case you need expert support to develop your conservation strategy and/or monitoring and evaluation plan.

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