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Improving the Evaluation of Conservation Programs

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The evaluation of conservation programs is rare but increasingly important in improving their effectiveness. Regular evaluations of conservation programs and the implementation of recommendations resulting from such assessments are infrequent because of resistance by participants and lack of funding. Evaluations may be internal or external, depending on the purpose of the review and how broadly it is focused. We strongly recommend external peer review of long-term complex conservation programs every 5 years, supported by more frequent (annual) internal reviews. Criteria for success must encompass both biological and social measures and include learning and the application of new knowledge to management. Evaluations must also go beyond monitoring to assess the value of the program. We emphasize the need to include the organization and function of a conservation program (the process) in any evaluation in addition to substantive criteria for success, which usually involve biological measures (numbers). A dysfunctional program organization and process can as effectively cripple a conservation effort as can a major biological catastrophe. We provide examples of different types of conservation program evaluations, including moderated workshops and case-study analysis, and provide advice on the logistics and organization of the review, emphasizing the importance of the evaluation process itself to a successful outcome. One important aspect of an evaluation is having an individual with leadership ability and considerable expertise to organize the format and oversee the review process itself. Second, it is essential at the outset to ensure agreement among the program participants and the review committee on the goals and objectives of the conservation program, what is to be evaluated, and the criteria for defining success. Finally, the best evaluations are inclusive and involve all participants and stakeholders.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoological Research, National Zoological Park, Washington, D.C. 20008, U.S.A., 2: Department of Conservation Biology, Denver Zoological Foundation, 2900 East 23rd Ave., Denver, CO 80218, U.S.A. 3: Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 205 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511, U.S.A. 4: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Fish and Wildlife, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844, U.S.A. 5: Wildlife Conservation Society, 2300 Southern Blvd., Bronx, NY 10460, U.S.A. 6: USDA Forest Service, 23 East Kawili St., Hilo, HI 96720, U.S.A. 7: Conservation Consultants, Inc., 3004 NW 93rd St., Seattle, WA 98117, U.S.A.

Publication date: April 1, 2000

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