A reef manager’s challenge is not only deciding which strategies to implement for a particular situation, but also evaluating or measuring the success of those strategies and adapting them if the desired outcome is not reached. Measuring Effectiveness and Adaptive Management are fundamental to successful planning and management. Measuring the effectiveness of conservation actions through monitoring and evaluation can provide the foundation for learning lessons, defining future strategies, and program development. For example, to achieve reef resilience, local managers must determine the extent to which their actions are working and be able to diagnose why some actions succeed while others do not. Measuring effectiveness will help identify the benefits of a program or strategy and the intended impacts, and clarify whether or not the strategies are achieving the intended impacts. Specifically, measuring outcomes can help:
- Identify effective practices — This helps determine which activities a manager should continue and build upon. Some practices might be modified and replicated for other programs or initiatives based on the results.
- Identify practices that need improvement — Some activities may need to change in order to improve the effectiveness of a management program.
- Provide value to existing and potential funders — Funders are acutely aware of the need to document the success of programs, and future funding opportunities will often depend on the manager’s ability to show the effectiveness of management programs and activities.
See the tabs below for more information on monitoring and evaluation to support conservation management decisions. An excellent resource for understanding monitoring and evaluation is The Nature Conservancy’s online self-paced course: Conservation Measures. This course provides information on how to make assessments of monitoring expenditures, develop sound objectives, determine indicators, and monitor design aspects.
Monitoring is a tool to tell managers how their work is going and if a strategy should be modified, abandoned, or replicated across multiple sites. It is recommended that monitoring be planned at the same time management actions are being planned or taken, and that the two components be implemented in tandem with conservation work. Therefore, monitoring provides information that can be analyzed and used for adapting conservation approaches.
Monitoring can be simple and affordable. For example, a manager can check to see if intermediate steps are accomplished in a longer-term management strategy (e.g., writing a protected area management plan). In other situations, managers need to make more substantial investments in monitoring to determine whether long-term conservation outcomes are being achieved (e.g., improving the viability of a species or ecosystem).
Basic rules for developing monitoring to guide conservation management decisions include:
- Decide on monitoring data sets ahead of time
- Keep it simple
- Get what is needed for the management action (and not more)
- Minimize variation
- Control error
- Learn and modify when needed
There are many technical terms used in the literature that describe monitoring and evaluation and this often results in confusion about the precise meanings. It is important that the members of the project team and partners have a clear and shared definition of terms used. Some key terms and definitions are proposed below.
- Outcome measurement — A way to assess the extent to which a program or project has achieved its intended results
- Evaluation — An assessment of a project or program in relation to its own previously stated goals and objectives
- Performance measurement — The assessment of the extent to which a project has achieved its intended results
- Goal — A broad statement of the ultimate aims of a program/project or strategy
- Objective — A formal statement detailing a desired outcome of a project such as reducing a critical threat. A good objective meets the criteria of being results oriented, measurable, time limited, specific, and practical.
- Outcome — The changes resulting from a particular action (e.g., changes in a resource, or lives of individuals or community stakeholders)
- Indicator — The specific, measurable information collected to track whether the desired outcome has been achieved
A successfully designed evaluation will help look at the outcomes as well as outputs of management action. For example:
|Ten hours of technical assistance provided to a community marine council on sustainable financing||Training is conducted for community council||Does the council raise more money?|
|Enforcement officers provided training on developing partnerships with fishers||Five trainings conducted||Officers create relationships with ten local fishers
Compliance with regulations is improved