New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2018) 42(2): 116- 124

Shared visions: can community conservation projects’ outcomes inform on their likely contributions to national biodiversity goals?

Research Article
Chris Jones 1*
Nick Kirk 1
  1. Landcare Research, PO Box 69040, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

In New Zealand, as in other developed nations, community-led conservation groups work to maintain and restore ecosystems and conserve indigenous biodiversity. These groups receive support in the form of materials, technical advice and funding from central and local government and non-governmental organisations, who are required increasingly to demonstrate delivery of benefits or conservation returns on investments. However, there is little empirical evidence for the objective evaluation of the effectiveness of community-based programmes in achieving national conservation outcomes. In the absence of such evidence, we investigated whether information on community groups’ desired outcomes, gleaned from a sample of applications to a major national fund, could indicate their likely contributions to the outcomes in the national New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy. We assessed groups’ outcomes in terms of their alignment with those in the strategy and against SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) project evaluation criteria. Of 89 individual project proposals, 53% contained one or more identifiable outcomes that were aligned to the national strategy; the remainder contained no clear, identifiable outcome statement. Project outcomes, where present, tended to focus on increasing awareness of and participation in conservation, and making positive changes to terrestrial and freshwater habitats and to indigenous species. In our sample, none of the aligned project outcomes met all five SMART criteria, only seven were measurable and only three were time-bound. The absence of clear outcome statements in many, and of measurable outcomes in most, community group applications means that funders would struggle to conclude anything about conservation returns on investments from the information provided. Without clear and measurable outcomes, empirical evaluation of projects’ effectiveness is impossible. We suggest that funding providers can facilitate project evaluation by presenting requirements and advice for specifying project outcomes in applications. Furthermore, they should provide technical and financial support for identifying what to monitor and how to do so.