A key challenge in global conservation is optimising and measuring return on effort. For example, has the predator proof fence been built to standard? Generally speaking, have the funds been put to best use to help achieve meaningful impacts?
Both SOS and its sister programme, the Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme (ITHCP), use systems of checks and balances to address this issue, maximising the return on investment for donors and the quality of the work performed by grantees. Monitoring missions play a key role in that process. Dr. Sugoto Roy, ITHCP coordinator underlines their general value in describing why and how a tiger project monitoring mission takes place.
Aligning practice with the project logframe
Tiger habitat conservation projects happen at the landscape scale explains Sugoto. Thus by their nature they are large, complicated and require careful monitoring. This monitoring helps ensure quality and consistency in the work, providing an opportunity to visit projects and grantees, validating the information supplied in technical and financial reports. But it also helps ensure solutions implemented are done so equitably, given the variety of stakeholders. This includes local and national authorities, different community groups, forest users and a suite of landowners.
Through a mix of informal and formal meetings and discussions, a monitoring mission is a rich source of contextual information that helps build mutual understanding, shared vision and trust. It also offers the monitoring team valuable opportunities to understand how different project partners work together and whether they have “bought-into” the project in terms of supporting it. Such landscape scale projects are composed of complex partnerships constituted by smaller and larger NGOs working together with government departments.
Thirdly direct access to community leaders and members can yield new information and insights about their involvement. This is critical because all projects must ensure local communities have a say in how natural resources are managed, such as forest products like firewood and fruits. Finally, all tiger projects and in certain circumstances, some SOS projects have a component of construction activity– from research centres in Madagascar toguard posts and predator proof fences in tiger range countries. Monitoring missions also allow the team check that these are built according to guidelines and expenditures provided in reports.
Putting the planning into practice
Tiger projects are visited as early as possible in order to negotiate and recommend any changes or adaptations to ensure these can be implemented within the timeframe. The same happened with the SOS lemurs initiative. Additionally,donors often join allowing them to get an understanding of what is being done on the ground and the context in which the projects operate. This is an important element in building trust. Where possible the monitoring team visits clusters of projects together in order to optimise travel time and expenses. Visiting multiple projects at the same time also offers a better understanding of the greater landscape at large.
Planning for these trips is logistically complex. Out of technical reports and recommendations from any earlier visits, a list of issues and potential problems requiring clarification is drawn up and circulated before the visit. Meanwhile the team prepare a detailed itinerary to ensure key stakeholders are aware and available to meet and that sites are accessible during the given season. Details including travel visas, vaccinations, car hire, accommodation, cash and local customs must be factored into timelines too. Planning happens on an annual basis with actual preparations taking several months to execute.
Virtuous circle of feedback
Toward the end of the mission a debriefing session with the projects’ leaders and their partners allow for a candid discussion including recommendations for fine-tuning project activities. Later back in the office, the monitoring team reports on the mission to the programme donors, making note of any further follow up steps to be taken. After initial monitoring missions, there is a series of more frequent informal visits by IUCN staff to ensure that specific recommendations and activities reported on are on track.
In conclusion, Sugoto summarises, no project ever runs perfectly. However, through monitoring and “ground-truthing”, together with regular discussion and communication we can ensure that they achieve outcomes that are so crucial to local and global conservation efforts.