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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Tracking Darwin project progress – lobsters and logframes

For anyone who is involved with a Darwin project, the below probably won’t come as much of a surprise but for everyone else – have you ever wondered how we track how Darwin projects are getting on? It may be more exciting than you think!

Twice annually, we ask Darwin Initiative projects to submit reports (believe me, it gets more exciting…), updating us on their progress towards their expected outcomes and sharing any lessons or challenges. At any one time, there are over one hundred active projects (145 right now), quite a lot for any one person to get their head around! We rely on a team of experts with experience from all over the World and across a huge array of conservation and development themes – necessary to match the diversity of the Darwin portfolio.

As each project has its own context, barriers, and often innovative methods, writing a paper report that captures everything it needs to is a challenge in itself. And the reviewers have a job on their hands, too, using the report and evidence provided to independently verify and track project progress against the project’s logical framework, or logframe (see our information note on logical frameworks here). These reviews are then shared with the project, and can include recommendations to help the project team achieve their overall aims.

But, here’s where it really gets interesting. In addition to the dozens of independent, desk-based reviews carried out annually, it is valuable for both the programme as a whole, and for individual projects, to carry out a field-based review of a few projects at their mid-way point (i.e. at 18 months of a three-year project). Projects are chosen for mid-term reviews using a number of criteria and visited by an independent reviewer for a week-long field trip. These trips provide opportunities for progress, challenges and lessons to be discussed not just with the project team, but with project partners, stakeholders, and beneficiaries. This helps the reviewer gain a much better perspective of how the project is truly progressing.

This year, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in such a review, and visited the beautiful country of Belize in November. One of the projects visited, “Maximizing Benefits of Marine Reserves and Fisheries Management in Belize”, is led by Wildlife Conservation Society and partnered with the Belize Fisheries Department, Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy and the University of Miami. The project is part of a broader programme that is revolutionizing the sustainable fisheries management in Belize through “Managed Access” licensing and zoning of fisheries in Belize, and increasing the area under “no-take” zones, with a focus on lobster and conch fisheries.

The review team spent the week with the project team, discussing their key successes and barriers  as well as watching them in action carrying out boat-based surveys at Glover’s Reef Atoll (find out more about WCS’s broader research programme at Glover’s here: http://www.wcsgloversreef.org/).

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View from the watchtower at Glover’s Reef Research Station, Credit: Victoria Pinion

We also had the opportunity to meet with project partners, and a range of project stakeholders. For example, we were even invited into the home of Mr and Mrs Thomson, both fishers, who spoke to us about how the recent changes under the project, and broader programme, were affecting their livelihoods – and what they thought were the continued challenges to sustainable fisheries in Belize.

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Mr. and Mrs. Thomson, both members of the Warafu Fishers Association in Dangriga, show off their boat license, Credit: Victoria Pinion

Big changes don’t come easily or quickly, and this project really demonstrates how proper engagement with stakeholder communities is crucial to success of rights based access schemes, and perhaps all conservation initiatives. We were particularly struck by one of the innovative tools the project uses to engage with the community, which has already been recognized by winning the Millbank Social Marketing Award for Innovation in the Environmental Field. “Punta Fuego” is a radio drama and call in show, and hugely popular across the country. It has just finished its second season, and has already changed the attitudes of those who listen to it to respect the no-take fishing zones being proposed under the project. The project team spoke to one fisher, who after listening to the first season said: “I will be honest, I used to fish in the [no-take] zones from time to time. Now I think about what I hear in the show and I don’t think I will be doing that again.” Listen to Episode 1 of Punta Fuego on YouTube: https://youtu.be/7f4qIqq4hGU

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Vonetta Dawson (maybe Punta Fuego’s biggest fan!) shows off her “legal size” haul of red snapper ahead of the Garifuna Settlement Day celebrations on November 19th, Credit: Victoria Pinion

Visiting this project on the ground enabled us to generate wider lessons that could be shared with other projects, which is more challenging to do with just the desk-based reviews. Additionally,  it provides an opportunity to feedback recommendations to the project about how they could make some small changes to improve upon what is already a fantastic project.

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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:

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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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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.