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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Ecotourism and biodiversity conservation – experience from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda

by Lesley King

According to the UN, tourism has become ‘one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world’ (UNWTO 2016). Indeed if you look at the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers for many of the countries Darwin projects work in, tourism is seen as an important area of investment to support development.  International tourism represents 7% of the world’s exports in goods and services and represents a key source of future jobs and investment in things like infrastructure for developing states.

However, tourism and biodiversity conservation have a chequered history with ecotourism ventures widely touted as the silver bullet for funding conservation – predominately by the marketers of such ventures. What is often misunderstood by the general public is the impact this tourism can have on biodiversity – both directly through increased human footfall in areas of high biodiversity, but also indirectly through policies and incentives that often end up pushing local poor, often the guardians and curators of such biodiversity, into greater poverty.

It was this issue of equity and how it incentivises biodiversity conservation that came up when I visited Uganda in 2015 on an evaluation of Darwin projects.

The Darwin Initiative has funded a number of projects focusing on Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the south-west of Uganda. It is an important park for Mountain Gorilla with roughly half the world’s population residing in the park. It is also an important source of revenue for Uganda with tourists visiting to track habituated gorillas paying over $500 per permit.

The impact of this tourism on the local communities living just outside the fence of the park is complex. When the park was gazetted in 1991, the Batwa, indigenous forest peoples residing in the forest, were removed and resettled outside the park with no compensation. The Batwa were especially disadvantaged as the forest was the basis of their livelihood and practices that defined their ethnic identity.

Uganda 19-013 Batwa children on edge of Bwindi National Park Credit L King

Batwa children on the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Credit: Lesley King

In addition to the Batwa, the majority of the local population around Bwindi are poor subsistence farmers growing crops on terraces on very steep hillsides.  Whilst a proportion of the fee tourists pay to enter Bwindi is shared through a benefit-sharing scheme, there is often bad feeling towards the park; local people feel that they pay a high cost as a result of human-wildlife conflicts. They see rich tourists arriving and spending large amounts of money to access the gorillas but little of that benefit is felt by them.

During my visit in 2015 I evaluated 2 Darwin-funded projects working on different aspects of these issues.

The first, “Integrating Batwa cultural values into national parks management in Uganda”, was a project led by FFI. It supported Batwa people to increase their engagement with the park management authorities and to negotiate access into the park to engage with their spiritual values – an essential for life as a Batwa. In addition, the project supported Batwa to develop livelihood initiatives including organic farming (as traditionally forest peoples, they have limited skills in agriculture), handicrafts to sell to tourists, and the flagship Batwa Forest Experience project.

Uganda 19-019 Batwa Forest Experience guides in their new uniforms Credit L King

Batwa Forest Experience guides in their new uniforms, Credit: Lesley King

The Batwa Forest Experience is a new venture that was negotiated by the Darwin Project. It is a cultural experience directed at tourists that have already completed their gorilla tracking and looking for something else to do in the area. Tourists will be led by a Batwa guide and interpreter through the forests within the National Park and the life of the Batwa will be explained through stories, singing and dancing. Some of the tourism businesses the reviewers spoke to saw this venture as having real potential for increasing tourism revenue in this area. The biggest challenge for tourist providers is, once tourists have completed the gorilla tracking, there is little to keep them in the area. The Batwa Forest Experience was seen as a new niche product that would entice visitors.

The second project I visited, “Research to Policy – building capacity for conservation through poverty alleviation”, was led by IIED and looked to boost the capacity of Ugandan NGOs and research groups to undertake research-into-use. They used Bwindi as a case study and, in addition to boosting capacity to undertake research and advocacy work, made positive inputs to how the park was managed to the benefit of poor local communities.

One of the issues the project looked at was the issue of equity in the park’s benefit-sharing scheme. A proportion of the fee tourists pay to enter the park is shared out with local people living around the outskirts of the park. By supporting the Ugandan partners to develop their advocacy skills, the project resulted in an important agreement for the Ugandan Wildlife Authority to increase the benefits paid out to local people, in the form of the gorilla levy. Due to the work of the project, the share of revenue from tourists paid to local people was doubled (by potentially more than $100,000 per year) which is hoped to support local poor and reduce conflict between the people and the park authorities and reduce illegal incursions into the park.

The CBD chose the International Day for Biological Diversity to highlight its chosen theme for 2017 – biodiversity and sustainable tourism. In the coming months in Darwin we will be pulling out more examples of how our Darwin projects work to support sustainable tourism. The theme for the next Darwin Newsletter will be sustainable tourism – find out how to submit an article here – or if you are working on issues mentioned above and would like to write a guest blog post for us please contact darwin-newsletter@ltsi.co.uk.


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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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Photographs and development – ethics of using images #Devpix

 

Using images to promote our work

The Darwin Initiative commonly uses photos provided by our projects to help promote the programme and its objectives. I am a keen photographer and have regularly contributed photos from my travels to Darwin publications. In fact I was very happy to get the front cover of the recent publication on SDGs and Darwin – I took this image while in the field in Kenya evaluating 2 Darwin projects.

Kenya 20-017 Mkwiro BMU 10 Credit L King.JPG

Girl carrying water in Mkwiro, Kenya 2015. Credit L King

Some of our projects are prolific in sharing photos and as a result have featured heavily in Darwin publications. It seems that as a general rule, if you share good images with the Darwin Initiative your project gets better coverage.

Great photos tell a story

Working in Monitoring and Evaluation I’ve found photographs to be a really powerful tool when portraying the results of projects. Pictures really can tell a thousand words. However pictures can also manipulate the story being told.

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Reaching a wide audience – talking on TV in Myanmar, 2012. Photo Credit: P Bates

When we ask for images from our projects we also ask that they send in a description of the photo and credits for who took the photo. In the past this was largely shots of biodiversity or project staff at work.

However, as Darwin increasingly engages in issues of poverty the types of images we receive has expanded into classic development photographs. With this move into development photography, Darwin (and by extension our Darwin projects) have an obligation to ensure the stories we tell with our images and publications are dealing ethically with the people featured.

 

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Beija man and his children – Dungonab MPA. Credit T Chekchak

Ethics of photos

Helpfully ODI hosted a Twitter chat some months ago to explore how development organisations can improve the way they use photography. It has the hashtag #Devpix if you are interested and the discussion has been helpfully curated here on Storify

This sparked a healthy debate about the pros and cons of development photos and the messages we are telling the world. From the images of helpless babies of the Liveaid era to the increasingly used ‘good news’ images of latter years showing the positive effect development work has had on people.

Comoros-17-011-Comoros Participatory analysis-Credit Kitty Brayne

Women engaging in participatory analysis in Comoros, Credit K Brayne

Helpfully the debate also resulted in participants suggesting what should be the do’s and don’ts of development photography. This included various organisations offering up their ethics statements on image use. Do’s and don’ts included:

  • Choose images and related messages based on values of respect, equality, solidarity and justice
  • Truthfully represent any image or depicted situation both in its immediate and wider context so as to improve public understanding of the realities and complexities of development
  • Avoid images and messages that potentially stereotype, sensationalise, or discriminate against people, situations or places
  • Get permission to use people’s images (or their parent/guardian)
  • Establish whether they wish to be named or identified and always act accordingly
  • Conform to the highest standards in relation to human rights and the protection of vulnerable people
  • Record their name and story as well as their image
  • Record people’s consent in the photos metadata
  • Be clear and transparent about your role and your sphere of influence in the world
  • Show tangible results. This will help avert ‘compassion fatigue’
  • Give context – explain as thoroughly as possible the underlying causes of the problems
  • Inspire people – make both your target group and audience co-owners of the solution
  • Give credit where credit is due. Success usually comes from a team effort and is rarely ascribed to one organisation
  • Communicate with dignity i.e. do not exploit the suffering of people for your own gain

Every Darwin project is expected to have developed an ethics statement – how many have also included how they use images and photos of their projects ethically? Do any of the do’s and don’ts listed above feature? Are there any that are specific to biodiversity conservation projects that are missing and should be added?

We’d love to hear about your experiences of using photographs in your Darwin projects and your thoughts on the ethics of photography in conservation and development.


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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.

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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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One palm too far? Indonesia’s palm oil expansion and biodiversity

This is a guest blog from Hannah Betts, an analyst at LTS and a reviewer for the Darwin M&E work. Hannah has key experience in Indonesia looking at REDD+ and governance. 

Indonesia credit H Betts

Indonesia is one of those countries where you are never quite sure where to start in terms of poverty and biodiversity. It is just huge, and there is so much going on! This was further highlighted following a recent thought provoking piece on illegal logging and the related trade from Chatham House. This has once again turned my mind to the rapid expansion of commodities, specifically palm oil in Indonesia, and what this means for REDD+ and biodiversity?

REDD (Reducing emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) was established to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering financial incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and invest in low-carbon development pathways. REDD+ goes beyond forest conservation to also include conservation, increasing carbon stocks in forests, and sustainable management of forests, including the role of biodiversity. Within its remit, REDD+ does have the potential to simultaneously contribute to climate change mitigation and poverty alleviation, whilst also conserving biodiversity and sustaining vital ecosystem services. Click here to read more about REDD / REDD+.

Both biodiversity and REDD+ are complex in their own right. Not everyone is aware of just how much REDD+ involves biodiversity, or why biodiversity should be monitored for REDD+, or the indicators that we should be monitoring! While above ground biodiversity is often considered, it must also be remembered that there is a vast array of rich biodiversity within forest soils, placing it at the heart of REDD+ activities. With biodiversity formulating one of the key components of REDD+ REDD+ could have both positive and negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services. There is potential for organisations concerned with biodiversity and biodiversity conservation to contribute knowledge and expertise in this area, as well as harness the potential funding opportunities.

As a country, Indonesia is covered in masses of biodiverse forests. It is striving towards a 7% economic growth rate, whilst at the same time trying to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 26%- a large proportion of which is to come from reducing levels of deforestation and forest degradation. With more than 28 million Indonesians currently living below the poverty line it begs the question can forest conservation be prioritised over growth?

Indonesia-7-135-logging-Credit J.Rieley

Indonesia is also pledging to boost production of several key agricultural commodities, including doubling its palm oil production, further increasing its status as one of the leading exporters of oil palm in the world. As was pointed out in ODI’s key commodities driving forest loss paper earlier in the year, the country subsidises the production of oil palm in order to generate growth and stimulate the economy. Indeed, having travelled through Kalimantan, it is striking to see just how much palm oil plantations are changing the landscape.

But experience in other countries shows that replacing primary forest with homogenous crops reduces levels of biodiversity. Will the demand for palm oil outstrip our desire and ability to protect forests and biodiversity?

As in places like Indonesia, the world’s insatiable desire for palm oil is dramatically changing the landscape, and it is crazy to think that palm oil is hidden in an array of products you wouldn’t necessarily think of, from shampoo to Nutella. Leading to the question does it really need to be there? Sustainable palm oil, promoted through efforts such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), is an option, but ultimately this requires market uptake and a change in consumer habits. This seems like a long way off, so I’ve been wondering if there’s any way for REDD+ to be incorporated into the solution?

Having conducted research on the Governance of REDD+ in Indonesia I saw first-hand that Indonesia is trying to utilise REDD+ and make it work in its own way. REDD+ is still a fluid and changing multi-actor system, and it has some really promising projects on the ground, such as the Forest Program – Support for the Ministry of Indonesia[1]. There are also Darwin projects which have and will assist Indonesia in its quest to protect and preserve forests and biodiversity, such as the Berbak to the Future project and the Establishment and Management of Nantu National Park. At the moment it is too early to tell if these projects will have a positive lasting impact on the ground.

Indonesia is a very promising REDD+ case study, but it just isn’t quite the final product yet. As a recent WRI blog points out, the extension of the moratorium[2] on new forest concession licences shows Indonesia’s government to be moving in the right direction with reducing its deforestation levels, and the government is reigniting its REDD+ Agenda, another positive step for forests, biodiversity and people!

Indonesia-7-135-channel1-Credit J.Rieley

So, given that palm oil is a considerable carbon stock after all, is there potential to incorporate palm oil into REDD+? Or do the potentially negative consequences for forests and biodiversity prevent palm oil being considered for REDD+?! These are some of the crucial questions we should be asking in order to promote the synergies between development and biodiversity in Indonesia, as well as globally. It’s a big task, so the jury is still out on whether REDD+ can actually achieve it.

I’d be interested to hear if the Darwin Initiative community have any opinions or evidence on this. Are you hopeful about the potential for REDD+ to reduce forest degradation, address poverty and biodiversity, and contribute to GHG mitigation?

[1] Forest Program – Support for the Ministry of Indonesia is funded by BMZ Germany through KfW. The program is focusing on REDD+ through SFM improvement, forest protection, and improve livelihood of local communities.

[2] In May 2011, the government of Indonesia released Presidential Instruction No. 10/2011 on the postponement of issuance of new licences and improving governance of primary natural forest and peatland. The Presidential Instruction, which effectively imposes a 2-year moratorium on new forest concession licences, generated widespread public discourse and important policy implications. It is this moratorium that has been extended beyond its original 2 year period.


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Illegal vs legal wildlife trade: UK Government launches Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund

KEN07 - lion - Darwin 13-019

The last 2 weeks has seen a lot of coverage of Cecil the Lion’s demise in Zimbabwe. Conservation and hunting have had an uneasy relationship for decades though perhaps what some of the recent uproar may tell us is that the general public were largely unaware of this relationship. . We’re not going to rehash the argument for and against here but here is a good article from Professor David Macdonald, ex-Chair of the Darwin Expert Committee whose tag was on Cecil the Lion.

David has led numerous Darwin projects over the years including this project in Zimbabwe which was looking at offtake levels of Leopards to support the development of a National Leopard Management Strategy. For more details of David’s projects see the Darwin website.

Tanzania-11-007-cheetahs-Credit S.Durant (3)

One issue that was regularly being confused by commentators in the last 2 weeks was the confusion between legal and illegal wildlife trade. Not all wildlife trade is illegal – wild plants and animals from tens of thousands of species are caught and harvested from the wild then sold legitimately as pets, food, ornaments, leather, medicines etc. Legal trade is determined by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, with parties responsible for controlling all imports, exports and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention. This can range from the pretty fish in your aquarium to the leather on your shoes.

Illegal wildlife trade, often discussed as poaching, operates entirely outside of these legal channels. Classic examples are the poaching of elephant tusks for the ivory trade, or the trade in tiger bones for traditional medicine. The bad news is that unlike big game hunting, illegal wildlife trade is pervasive in our society – sometimes even in plain sight as highlighted by recent articles highlighting the volume of ivory that is traded by Ebay.

Kenya-13-019-Bull elephant Darwin-Credit N Leader-Williams

As well as the devastating consequences for biodiversity and the environment, illegal wildlife trade is a serious criminal industry worth billions of pounds, which damages local communities and undermines sustainable development. There is evidence that illegal wildlife trafficking is funding organised crime including terrorism. In 2014, the UN and Interpol released a report that suggested that illegal wildlife trade worth up to $213 billion dollars a year is funding organised crime.

Also in 2014 the UK Government hosted the London Conference which brought together global leaders to discuss and agree ways to help eradicate illegal wildlife trade and better protect key species from the threat of extinction. Progress on these commitments was reviewed at a follow-up Conference in Kasane, Botswana in March 2015.

32 countries plus the EU and 9 international organisations met, and agreed the Kasane Statement. The Statement contains 15 new commitments to action on demand reduction, the legal framework for tackling money laundering linked to the illegal wildlife trade, tougher law enforcement, and involving communities in protecting their wildlife resources.

Recognising the impact illegal wildlife trade has, the UK Government launched the Illegal Wildlife Trade (IWT) Challenge Fund in 2014. This has funded 19 projects around the world, with total funding in the region of £5 million.

Cambodia-EIDPO030-Credit IIED (3)

Given the importance of the subject the UK government has once again announced it will be providing up to £5 million in funding to projects looking to tackle illegal wildlife trade through the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. The Fund is open to applications until 12th October.

For more information on what the fund can support see the details here. Some of the funded projects can be viewed here as well.


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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