New guidance has been developed to help conservationists evaluate the impacts of their interventions on human well-being. Published by the International Institute of Environment and Development, these guidelines draw on insights provided by a wide range of conservation practitioners, academics and funding bodies for navigating the methodological decisions to be made in developing an evaluation strategy for a wide variety of situations. The document draws on robust scientific approaches while taking into account practical issues.
Conservationists are increasingly recognizing the importance of evaluating their impacts, to ensure accountability and to learn what works and what doesn't. As part of this, they are increasingly interested in impacts on human well-being because of the moral imperative to at the very least do no harm and, pragmatically, a growing number of conservation strategies rely on improved livelihoods or other positive social outcomes. Although a number of social impact evaluation tools and methods have been designed, by both academics and conservationists, no single tool or method will work for every intervention. Therefore, instead of providing another evaluation method, these guidelines aim to provide an understanding of the different steps and issues that are involved in social impact evaluation. They aim to enable conservationists to make the right decisions, and signpost appropriate methods and tools along the way. In particular, the guidelines aim to help small NGOs consider why they wish to evaluate their social impacts, and what is feasible given their funding and capacity constraints.
Practitioners should be clear on the purpose and aims of evaluation, as different methods are required to answer different questions. For example, those wishing to demonstrate and measure how successful a project has been to funders may prefer to use study designs that make use of comparisons to an unaffected site. Those looking to learn from their experiences and understand how and why impacts occurred may prefer a more thorough investigation of the causal processes using a theory-based design. These differences should be considered at an early stage in the design of evaluation. Interventions vary, not only in the resources, budgets and technical skills available, but also in their intrinsic attributes. The length of a project, and timescales of impacts, geographical scale, the availability of controls and the social, political and cultural contexts should all influence design of evaluation.
Whether you are a working conservationist trying to design an evaluation strategy or a funding body requesting evidence of impact, these guidelines will help you to make sense of the complex landscape of evaluation design and understand the methodological options that are available. The guidelines are freely available and can be found at http://pubs.iied.org/14667IIED. Feedback is welcome.