The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative


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Darwin Projects in Kyrgyzstan 2

By Simon Mercer

In my last blog post I was brimming with anticipation as I prepared to head out to Kyrgyzstan to undertake a Closed Project Evaluation (CPE) of two Darwin projects. I promised to report back on my experience and on the key lessons highlighted through the evaluation, so here goes…

The first project I visited, Equitable Access to Pasture Use for Beekeepers in Kyrgyz Republic, was a two year project that finished in 2014, led by Bees for Development in conjunction with two local partners – Rural Development Fund (RDF), and the Northern Republican Association of the Beekeepers of the Kyrgyz Republic. The project aimed to help beekeepers create viable and sustainable livelihoods by improving access and use rights to contested pastures, leading to poverty alleviation, conflict mitigation, and contributing to biodiversity maintenance.

Credit - Rural Development Fund

Migratory Beekeepers (Credit – Rural Development Fund)

So what do we actually do on these evaluations?

Well for this project the evaluation kicked off in Bishkek, the capital, with meetings with the key local partner, RDF. Interviews were then held with all relevant government and national level stakeholders, before heading out to the Chon-Kemin valley to meet local project beneficiaries. A wide range of local stakeholders were then consulted, from government officials to representatives of key local institutions. Focus groups with pasture users and grant beneficiaries were also held to help gauge project impacts. Participatory ranking exercises formed a key part of these discussions and helped to uncover the relative importance of project outcomes in the eyes of its main beneficiaries.

For the second project I reviewed the work also started in Bishkek. This was a two year Post Project, ‘Participatory Management and Sustainable Use of Walnut-fruit Forests in Kyrgyzstan,’ designed to consolidate and advance the legacy of an earlier Darwin project. The project was led by Fauna and Flora International, in partnership with NGO Bioresurs, the Juniper Forest Development Foundation (JFDF), and FFI Kyrgyzstan. It aimed to take forward practical collaborative actions identified in the precursor project, to deliver conservation, promote sustainable use, diversify and develop sustainable livelihoods, and contribute to poverty reduction.

Credit - Jenny Birch

Walnut Forest (Credit – Jenny Birch)

Having spoken to key stakeholders based in Bishkek I took a short flight over the mountains to Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second city and home to the largest statue of Lenin I have ever seen! From there we travelled to Kyzyl-Unkur and then on to Kara Alma, to conduct semi-structured interviews with project beneficiaries who had used seed funding to establish small businesses. The interviews drew on a series of open ended questions designed to ensure that beneficiaries felt at ease and were able to express their thoughts about the project in their own words. A really diverse range of initiatives had been funded across the two project sites, ranging from fence making, to bakeries, to beekeeping.

Overall both projects were found to have had positive impacts on biodiversity and poverty reduction.

A particular highlight of the Bees project was its sustainability. The project established a small grants fund to ensure that local beneficiaries were able to pass on the benefits from this intervention. For example, original participants committed to pass on bee families and hives, to the value of 70% of their original loan, to new beneficiaries who signed up to be part of the fund. In doing so this new institution intends to ensure that the biodiversity and poverty benefits of the project will continue to be rolled out in the Chon-Kemin valley.

In the second project, micro grants were also provided to beneficiaries at the two project sites with interesting results. Since the completion of the Darwin project, the 11 jamaats (community-based organisations founded to implement the project’s livelihoods initiatives) visited had gone from strength to strength. All were still operating successfully with a wide range of biodiversity benefits highlighted by those I met, including reduced demand for wood sourced from the surrounding forests, and the creation of a number of fast growing woodlots. Poverty benefits, particularly relating to increased income, were also identified; some beneficiaries had even gone on to employ additional staff and begun to diversify their income streams.

A number of important lessons of relevance to both projects were identified through this CPE. The evaluation highlighted, for example, the importance of projects ensuring that they have a strong monitoring and evaluation framework in place from the outset. Where this is the case projects are not only better able to monitor and improve performance, they are more easily able to gather the data they need to be able to demonstrate their successes.

The assistance and engagement provided by the project partners in Kyrgyzstan during this evaluation trip was very much appreciated and was central to the success of this fieldwork. CPEs are designed to capture lessons learnt through project implementation that are of relevance to, and can be shared with, the wider Darwin community. More detailed results of this evaluation will be published in the coming months on the Darwin Initiative website. In the meantime keep a look out for a learning note that will be produced capturing the key lessons learnt from this evaluation.

Credit - L Birchenough-FFI

Credit – L Birchenough-FFI


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What I’ve learnt about the relationship between poverty and biodiversity, part 2…..

Part 1 in this series highlighted the importance of ecosystem differences. In part 2 I discuss some of my recent thoughts on the use of income as an indicator of poverty alleviation…

On 21st October we held an experts meeting in conjunction with Flora and Fauna International and International Institute for Environment and Development about what constitutes good evidence in the context of conservation and poverty alleviation projects. Part of the discussions focussed on how evidence fits within broader project monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Since I’ve been working on the Darwin Initiative we’ve had lots of discussions about strengthening project M&E, so the workshop provided lots of food for thought.

A recent Darwin Initiative briefing paper highlights that indicators are an essential component of any effective M&E system; they provide information to monitor performance, measure achievement and demonstrate accountability. For the Darwin Initiative, indicators are part of the framework for collecting evidence to show how projects have contributed towards poverty and biodiversity.

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Kenya 20-011 Shortages of water means people travelling far distances to fetch water Credit J Bett

Kenya 20-011 Aweer community women representatives prioritizing livelihood options. Credit Nickson Orwa

Kenya 20-011 Aweer community women representatives prioritizing  livelihood options. Credit Nickson Orwa

On the poverty side of things, projects tend to select income as an indicator of poverty alleviation. The thematic review has revealed 2 issues that are worth considering:

  • Increasing household income is difficult to achieve within 3 years (average timeframe of a Darwin Initiative project). It can also be difficult (or expensive) to measure. Also, income may increase but the household is still living in poverty. Linked to this, income does not capture wider wellbeing benefits which are often more tangible in 3 years. For example a recent evaluation in Kenya revealed that one of the benefits the beneficiaries of a project thought were most important was empowerment in particular recognising people’s access rights and supporting people to manage resources. This demonstrates that income is not always an appropriate or relevant indicator for projects to use.
  • Increasing household income may increase environmental degradation and/or have unintended social consequences. Case studies have shown that raising incomes can increase pressure on natural resources, for example if people use income to buy and graze more livestock. At the same time, household income may not benefit all members of the household, if for example it is spent on alcohol or gambling. In such circumstances additional consumption indicators may be needed to monitor how household income is being spent. Participatory methods can provide a useful way to understand how household distribution of income and monitor changes over time.

So when designing projects and selecting indicators, here’s a couple of questions that may be worth thinking about:

Diagram for learning blog_031115

Do you are have any experiences trying to measure income, wellbeing or assets that you can share?

What do you think are good indicators?

Do you have any examples of good indicators?

We’d be keen to hear from you, so let us know what you think.


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What I’ve learnt about the relationship between poverty and biodiversity….

Part of my job working on the thematic review has been looking at what we can learn from the Darwin Initiative about the relationships between poverty and biodiversity. This has involved reviewing a lot of project documents and reports, talking to project leaders and collecting evidence through focus group discussions in Kenya. At the moment, we are still making sense of all of the data and writing up the final outputs of this thematic review. Whilst this is all being finalised, there are some lessons that I wanted to share. I don’t think they are necessarily ground-breaking, but can be easily forgotten when trying to design projects that address the dual objectives of biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. My plan is to write about one lesson at a time, so this is the first instalment.

Sudan 21-019 Sharks&Rays8

Sudanese fisherman Credit Equipe Cousteau

When conducting research we often look for trends or lessons that can be scaled up or generalised across different contexts. Such pursuit can generate valuable insights into the poverty and biodiversity, but at the same time the quest for generalizable trends and lessons must not cloud the lessons we can learn from identifying differences.

…..Differences are important

One of the key success factors in the Kenya projects that we visited as part of the recent evaluation was the speed at which fish stocks were recovering once community-managed closed fishing areas had been implemented. In around 6 months, local fishing communities were noticing differences in both the number of fish, the size of fish, and the diversity of fish species. This observation was also supported by ecological surveys carried out by projects, with support from members of the local communities trained to conduct low-cost ecological surveys.

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Fishing in Rodrigues Credit Uni of Newcastle

Uganda 19-013 the edge of Bwindi Impenetable National Park surrounded by farming land of the local communities. Credit Mariel Harrison

Edge of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Protected area, Uganda Credit M Harrison

Yet, one of the reoccurring challenges raised by organisations involved in forest projects is that it takes a long time to see or measure changes in biodiversity, even if restricted forest access has been introduced. Forest projects also describe how the time and technical expertise needed to measure changes is often beyond the scope of a 3 year project.

Contrasting these two examples shows how ecosystem characteristics and dynamics influence the rate at which an ecosystem can recover and therefore what kinds of changes a project can expect to see.

Identifying these differences is not to say that we can’t learn lessons. In fact, I think that there’s a high potential for learning. One option could be to better target events, workshops, newsletters, and learning notes on particular ecosystems and then facilitate a dialogue to identify any reoccurring lessons across ecosystems.

It may seem obvious to point out that the characteristics of marine and forest ecosystems are distinctly different. But this can be overlooked when designing projects and setting ambitious targets when the competition for funding is high. However, projects should be realistic about the types of change they can expect to see and carefully select ecosystem-appropriate indicators in order to capture such change.

This is the first in a series of blogs about lesson-learning, so follow the blog to be notified about the next instalment.

In the meantime send me your thoughts and experiences too – jami-dixon@ltsi.co.uk

PNG-15-041-community-Credit  J. Sawyer (2)

Community dancing in Papua New Guinea Credit J Sawyer


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Darwin Projects in Kyrgyzstan

By Simon Mercer

As Jami and Lesley highlighted in previous blogs, the work we do here at the Darwin Initiative is about much more than merely administering UK government funding to conservation and development projects. A key part of our role is to ensure that these projects are carrying out activities as planned, and achieving their intended goals. Are they doing what they said they would, and have they achieved what they claim to have achieved? It’s also about learning. Are there any lessons from these projects that are relevant to other Darwin-funded projects?

Closed project evaluations (CPEs) are an important part of this monitoring and evaluation work. As their name suggests these evaluations take place once projects have been completed, and projects are reviewed against their original proposal and logframe, project reports and products. CPEs follow the DAC criteria for evaluating development assistance and focus on project effectiveness, impact and sustainability. They provide an opportunity for us to examine projects in more details and assess the extent to which they have achieved their intended outcome and contributed to their stated impact. This year they have also given us a chance to gather some extra primary data for the poverty thematic review.

Kyrgystan 19-015 Beekeepers

Later this month I will heading out to Kyrgyzstan to undertake a CPE of two Darwin funded projects.The first project I will be evaluating is Equitable Access to Pasture Use for Beekeepers in Kyrgyz Republic. In Kyrgyzstan beekeeping is an ecologically and potentially economically important activity, however in recent years the number of beekeepers has been falling rapidly. This Darwin project sought to arrest this decline by addressing conflicts with herders, through improved tenure arrangements for beekeepers, enhanced community dialogue and awareness raising activities.

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The second project is a Darwin Post Project that builds upon the earlier work undertaken through project 17-001 to reduce rates of forest loss and degradation in the fruit and nut forests of Kyrgyzstan. The Post Project, led by FFI, focused on the sustainable use of forest resources and enhancing the livelihoods of forest dependent people especially women and poorer households. In doing so it worked to implement the participatory forest management plans drawn up under the earlier project.

At the moment I am reading up on both of the projects, reviewing past reports and background documentation, and liaising with project staff to define the evaluation schedule. I can’t wait to get out into the field, and to have an opportunity to assess first-hand the important work undertaken by these projects. Keep your eyes peeled for future blogs as I’ll be reporting back on the findings of this evaluation, as well as key lessons learnt, once I’m back.


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Mixing it up: methods for field-based M&E

Kenya 20-017 Kilifi Credit L King

I was in recently in Kenya with Lesley, another member of the Darwin team at LTS, conducting field based monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Although I have been to Kenya before, and travelled throughout East Africa, it was my first time to be at the Kenyan coast. The idea was that as well as supporting Lesley and finding out more about M&E in the Darwin Initiative, we could also use some of the findings for the poverty thematic review that we’re working on.

I was in Kenya for 8 days in total, and mainly focused on a mid-term review of one project. As Lesley’s previous blog post mentioned, the main purpose of these mid-term reviews is:

  • the verification of results
  • obtaining an independent perspective on the projects
  • troubleshooting and supporting projects to reorient themselves

In her blog, Lesley talked generally about what we do and why, so following on from that, I thought that it might be interesting to focus on the methodology that we used during the fieldwork. We often think that it’s the findings of M&E that are important, but I think that there’s lots of interesting lessons that we can learn from having open methodological discussions.

A methodology is basically a system of methods that are used in a particular way or area of study. I particularly enjoy developing methodologies, as I think that they help you think practically about how you are going to conduct a piece of research, however big or small it is. For this particular field-based evaluation we decided to use a range of methods to capture different aspects of the project and to suit the different people we were targeting. For consistency, we used the same approach across the different geographical areas the project was operating in.

 This methodology, informed by the broader evaluation questions, guided the fieldwork:

  • Identifying indicators of coral reef health

I was in Kenya specifically to look at the poverty aspects of a marine project. Little did I know that as well as talking to various people the project had been working with, including local communities, local fisheries officials, this would also involve some snorkelling. As someone who isn’t a particular fan of sea creatures (including fish), I was a little bit apprehensive about the snorkelling part. Luckily, I was with Lesley (a marine expert) and representatives of the community (local experts) who made me feel extremely comfortable, whilst at the same time educating me on indicators of marine ecosystem health. Luckily the majority of the time was spent talking to people, so I felt much more in my comfort zone.

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  • Semi-structured interviews with key informants

Semi-structured interviews are an established tool in conducting evaluations. We used specific evaluation questions to develop a set of questions to act as an interview guide. Questions were left open to encourage participants to elaborate on their responses and explore why respondents were giving particular answers. Such an approach also enabled us to probe on particular issues, whilst at the same time allowing participants to lead the conversations.

We started out with semi-structured interviews with project staff to give us a better idea of how the project worked in practice. A couple of days into the evaluation we also talked to a range of local fisheries officials to understand their level of engagement with the project and their perceptions of how they felt the project was contributing.

Kenya 20-017 Bureni focus group 5 Credit L King

  • Semi-structured focus groups with community members

We followed a similar semi-structured process for focus group discussions with community members. Initially, we held meetings with a couple of community groups to verify information about the project, such as when it started, what the main activities were, and also try to understand how both beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries viewed the project. We also used these discussions to identify what the main benefits and challenges had been so far. In some communities we split the community members into smaller groups to encourage participation.

Kenya 17-016 Wasini BMU 4 Credit L King

  • Participatory ranking

Participatory ranking is a commonly used methodology to better understand the range of views. It is a ‘mixed methods’ approach that generates a rich picture of the participant’s views that can be quantified and compared within and between groups, and act as points of discussion for the collection of qualitative information.

Building on what we’d found out in the community meetings, we developed a participatory ranking exercise. Each individual was given three ‘votes’ to identify which, for them, were the greatest benefits the project had brought them. When participants had completed the ranking exercise, we recorded the voting and then asked a series of questions to help us understand why people had voted for certain things.

Kenya 20-017 theory of change Credit L King

  • Theory of change mapping

We concluded the trip with a final meeting with the project team to share what we’d observed in field and also obtain their input into building a theory of change for the project. The idea of building a theory of change was daunting at first, but after a while the staff got to grips with the process and were able to talk animatedly about how they envisaged the project, how this linked to their activities and identify the associated assumptions.

We selected this particular range of methods because we felt they best suited the questions we were asking and the people we were targeting. This methodology provided us with a systematic way of conducting M&E in this context. Of course this is just one approach, and there are a whole range of methods and other participatory tools that we could have used. Was this the best approach? Well that’s open to debate, so let us know what you think.

Want to know more about our findings? Then follow the blog for updates and keep your eyes peeled on twitter as I will be discussing them in future blogs. @Darwin_Defra


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Gender equality and biodiversity

Gender and biodiversity have strong connections, especially when it comes to biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. Gender equity is shaped by social, cultural and natural environments and these realms are all relevant when considering biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction.

Depending on cultural values, and local laws, men and women can have very diverse contributions to biodiversity conservation. Men and women play different roles in communities and therefore often have different sets of knowledge and understanding. They use this knowledge in different ways and have differing levels of access to natural resources.  For example women often have few, or no, land ownership rights. This can impinge upon their access to natural resources on which they depend to feed their families. Yet, through their continued interaction with local biodiversity, women are aware of the delicate intricacies of ecosystems and are often the first to notice if there are any negative changes to local biodiversity.

Uganda-19-019-Dingolo, a Mutwa elder, shows the group a medicinal herb from the forest-Credit FFI_P Wairagala

Uganda-19-019-Dingolo, a Mutwa elder, shows the group a medicinal herb from the forest-Credit FFI_P Wairagala

Since the introduction of the International Development (Gender) Act in May 2014 including gender considerations has become compulsory for all Darwin projects.

Incorporating a gender perspective in project design is important as it widens the aspects of poverty alleviation that can be addressed by the project. Doing so helps to shed light on broader understandings of poverty alleviation including human wellbeing, an important indicator of poverty alleviation but one that is often disregarded in favour of economic indicators, which can be more simply measured.  However, improving gender equity has direct impact on human wellbeing and can heighten the impact of a project considerably.

As women are predominantly involved in the informal sector- much of this being taking care of families- they are well placed to know what really improves wellbeing and how to best demonstrate this.  Therefore, women can often be the best agents of sustainable development practices. A good example of this comes from the women of the Boni-Dodori area of Kenya (Project 20-011 ‘Community-based conservation and livelihoods development within Kenya’s Boni-Dodori forest ecosystem’). This project demonstrated that women are more likely to adapt to new technologies and initiatives such as village savings and loan schemes as they are more aware of their practical use and benefits they can provide.

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Kenya 20-011 Shortages of water means people (predominantly women) travelling long distances to fetch water Credit J Bett.

Darwin project 19-017 ‘Building capacity for participatory ecosystem-based marine conservation in Central America’ also highlights the vital role of women to wellbeing and food security at the household level. In this project women were found to have a clear role focused on fishing, and the processing and selling of fish. Yet, as is commonly the case, they have often been overlooked in local participatory governance and management structures for marine resources.

Including women in decision making can lead to more informed project design, which leads to improved management of natural resources that promote biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation. An example of this is Project 19-005: ‘Underpinning the design and management of Cambodia’s first Marine Protected Area’. Here including women in decision making revealed previously unreported roles of women, such as gleaning for molluscs to meet household food security requirements. Knowledge of this is now being used to inform zoning regulations and design livelihood enhancement support, which will help ensure the positive impact of the project on the local community and biodiversity.

By giving women a voice and including them in decision making- whether that be at a project level or higher- will improve a project’s design and its wider impact by making sure it is working appropriately in the local context. It will also help to maximise the benefits for both the local community and the environment. For more information on how Darwin projects are addressing gender issues, check out the latest edition of the Darwin newsletter.

Woman engaging in participatory impact assessment, evaluating change as a result of the project activities. Credit L Birchenough-FFI

Woman engaging in participatory impact assessment, evaluating change as a result of the project activities.

Credit L Birchenough-FFI


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Field based monitoring and evaluation – what we do and why?

I was in Kenya last week undertaking some field evaluation work for the Darwin Initiative. This blog post is intended to shed some light on what we do during these field trips, what the value is (and to whom) and how we use the material we produce.

The Darwin Initiative has an overarching M&E framework which includes all the standard things such as a Theory of Change and Programme Logframe. In essence what this boils down to is a set of objectives, indicators and assumptions for the programme. Our job, as the M&E contractor is to measure the collective progress of Darwin funded projects against these objectives and test assumptions.

This sounds straightforward until you consider the diversity of projects funded under the Darwin Initiative – both in subject matter and in geography. Each project is collecting and presenting evidence in a myriad of different forms and somehow we need to make sense of it all. Here I’ll talk through what the fieldwork element of our work focuses on.

It serves a number of purposes depending on whether the projects evaluated are ongoing or closed. For ongoing projects the purpose for field evaluation includes:

  • the verification of results
  • obtaining an independent perspective on the projects
  • troubleshooting and supporting projects to reorient themselves

For closed projects fieldwork is more centred around the full Darwin programme than the individual project. The purpose of these activities includes:

  • analysis of evidence to meet a specific programme objective i.e. gender or traditional knowledge etc.
  • an attempt to understand what the legacy is of Darwin funding i.e. what happened next
  • an attempt to understand the collective impact of multiple projects

Myanmar_ecotourism_field_training_2014_PBates

We tend to restrict fieldwork to 2 distinct periods – halfway through a project (a Mid Term Review) and after a project has finished (a Closed Project Evaluation).

Most of the time we have 5-7 days with each project depending on logistics. For all projects visited we are driven by what the project has defined as being their measures of success i.e. the project Application Form. This includes the logframe, workplans, methods, team composition etc. We additionally have a Terms of Reference that defines what questions we are looking to answer through the fieldwork. This week my terms of reference centres around 3 questions:

  • What biodiversity benefits has the project achieved?
  • What has the contribution of the project been to poverty alleviation? Poverty should be considered in the context of the MDG’s.
  • What factors have governed the project organisation’s capacity to collect appropriate evidence?

 

Collecting evidence during fieldwork in Uganda, 2013. Photo credit: M Wieland

Collecting evidence during fieldwork in Uganda, 2013. Photo credit: M Wieland

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The methods we use are partially dictated by the types of evidence available from the projects. In most cases however we will also use semi-structured key informant interviews with the project implementers, key stakeholders and beneficiaries of the projects.

We may also undertake focus group sessions that may use methods such as participatory ranking, participatory pairwise ranking, and Most Significant Change.

For most ongoing projects we generally conduct a Theory of Change session at some point during the evaluation. This is a useful tool for an evaluator to better understand what the project team consider success to look like, what assumptions this success hinges on, what measures might be available to better understand this success and who the various actors are that influence this success. As well as being useful for the evaluator, this is often a useful exercise for the project team to undergo as it allows them to reflect on their progress and what tasks they must undertake in order to best achieve success. I will talk more about Theory of Change and its uses in a subsequent blog post.

The final outputs of this field evaluation is of course a report. This report is shared with Defra and DFID for approval before being published on the Darwin Initiative website. You can see some examples here.

We also develop a shorter learning note which is intended to draw out lessons for the wider Darwin community, which you can also see here.

This is rarely the end point of these reviews since they often result in recommendations for both the projects and the programme. We may therefore use this material to refine our systems and processes within the Darwin Initiative to better ensure impact such as the refining the application forms. Additionally we use this material to help improve understanding within the wider Darwin Initiative community, through a variety of forums including this blog!

I hope this blog post is helpful in understanding what the purpose of these field evaluation visits are. We have at least 2 Mid Term Reviews to conduct later this year and a Closed Project Evaluation in September, hopefully in Kyrgyzstan, so watch this space!