12 Monitoring and evaluation
As grassroots groups such as Landcare increase in size, number and popularity, and governments channel more funds into supporting their initiatives, there is an increasing need to improve monitoring and evaluation of projects and of group capacity.
Monitoring and evaluation is critical to help assess not only the conservation outcomes and successes of the project, but also to provide feedback to the community, assess how the community group has changed as a result of activities and identify future directions.
12.1 Adaptive management
All species management plans should follow an adaptive management model.
Adaptive management is a systematic process for continually improving management and practices by learning from the outcomes of previous actions. At its most focused, 'active' adaptive management is designed to experimentally compare management actions and evaluate outcomes for the most effective approach.
This operates in tandem with the precautionary principle, which states that where there are threats of serious or irreversible environmental damage to habitats or species, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing measures to prevent environmental degradation. It proposes that action must be taken using best available knowledge and data, and management actions assessed and adapted as more information comes to light or the outcomes of those actions are better known.
Back to top
12.2 What is monitoring and evaluation?
Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) refers to the process of obtaining information and using it to make an assessment that can improve future decisions and actions.
M&E can include assessment of such general project outcomes as:
- habitat change
- population trends
- breeding success
- threat abatement
- community awareness
- community involvement
- community group capacity.
M&E can occur at the project-specific level or as part of the broader assessment of plan implementation and outcomes.
In general terms, M&E asks:
- did we do what we set out to do?
- did it work?
- why or why not?
- what will we repeat or do differently next time?
In this section M&E is considered for human outcomes such as group capacity or community engagement as well as for conservation.
There are a number of products available to help guide community groups in M&E. Much of the information in this section is based on the publications, What we need is a community education project and Participatory evaluation for Landcare and catchment groups - a guide for facilitators (not online - see Appendix 13 (appendixthirteen06348.pdf 171 kb)).
Back to top
12.3 Why evaluate?
The two most important reasons to evaluate a project are:
- to improve the focus and procedures of a project as it progresses
- to provide feedback on project outcomes and successes to the community involved.
Other uses for M&E are to:
- help make decisions and recommendations about future directions
- provide information for planning a new project
- identify the strengths and weaknesses of a project
- enable judgments to be made about the worth of the project
- feed data back to support local, regional, state and federal programs and policies
- determine stakeholder and target group satisfaction
- determine whether the project has met its objectives
- meet demands for accountability to funding bodies
- develop the skills and understanding of people involved in a project
- promote a project to the wider community.
Back to top
12.4 Pre-planning your evaluation
Before developing an M&E process for a project or plan, you should consider:
- whether the project/plan has clear goals and objectives
- M&E as an integral part of a project design, including a cycle of planning, acting and reviewing
- processes for detection and correction of problems during project implementation, not only after project completion
- the distinction between outputs (level of activity) or outcomes (results of that activity) - outcomes are harder to record accurately as they are longer-term, but should be captured where possible
- where else the data can be useful, beyond the group's own records.
Monitoring should focus, where possible, on measurable (quantifiable) and not abstract outcomes. However, when dealing with social systems, assessing outcomes in this way can be difficult or meaningless. In these circumstances, it is often more valuable to assess people's perceptions and attitudes.
Back to top
12.5 Planning the evaluation
The way you evaluate will depend on the nature of your project or plan. For example, if you are evaluating a broad-based community awareness program, the M&E methods and activities may be quite different to a project to encourage habitat management for small, specific areas of private land.
In designing M&E for your project it is useful to have answers to the following basic questions:
- how will we know if we've achieved our goal and objectives?
- what information will help us determine the success of the project?
- when should this information be collected and assessed?
- what have been the strengths and weaknesses of our project been?
- how will we gather this information?
- who will be interested in the evaluation of our project?
- how could the project be improved?
Back to top
12.6 Developing the evaluation
Develop your M&E design through:
- establishing the purpose and scope of the evaluation Consider why you want to monitor and evaluate your project; the resources available, both financial and human; who to involve and in what way; how objective-based, open-ended and comprehensive evaluation should be (ie will it be based on specific and measurable or less quantifiable information); outside or specialist help that might be needed; and the timing and deadlines.
- clarifying the goals and objectives of the project Be clear on why the project is being undertaken; ensure that the project has goals and objectives that can be easily and meaningfully evaluated; and, if necessary, refine the goals and objectives or re-plan the project.
- identifying evaluation questions and indicators Write a list of key questions to guide the evaluation; decide what indicators to use to monitor the project and assess performance; decide what questions to ask of which stakeholders or group members; and consider other information which might be collected to complete the evaluation.
- planning evaluation activities Set up a system for continued monitoring of indicators and recording of project activities and decide what other evaluation activities are needed over the life of the project to gather and analyse the information so evaluation questions can be answered.
It is strongly recommended that project or plan developers take a look at one of the many guides to monitoring and evaluation of community projects (see Appendix 13 (appendixthirteen06348.pdf 171 kb)) to obtain specific guidance in methodology and design.
Back to top
12.7 Implementing the evaluation
Implementation involves the gathering of information or monitoring. There are three main types of information that can be gathered.
- resources being used by the project
- activities achieved and how successful they were (quantitative data)
- outcomes of those activities in regards to changed behaviour.
Analyse the information to identify issues and trends arising from the project. Use this data to improve ongoing project management and provide information for a complete project evaluation. Final project evaluation should be used to promote the current project successes and feed into improving future project planning and management.
Back to top
12.8 When to evaluate
Ideally there will be a process of monitoring and evaluation in place for the life of your project. This might involve regular monitoring, periodic reviews of progress, possibly a mid-term evaluation and a final evaluation.
At any time, changes in external circumstances or unexpected results might force a re-think about the project and require an evaluation. Unplanned evaluation can be valuable, but should not be considered a replacement for a structured approach.
Back to top
Page last updated: 28 February 2011