“Ten years ago, we decided Rare would lead the way in measuring results,” says Brett Jenks, Rare’s CEO. “What we didn’t know is that it takes about that long to get it right.”
Paul Butler’s first Pride campaign with Rare, 25 years ago, included pre and post surveys to assess changes in knowledge and attitude. “When Paul was doing that, that was not the norm,” says Peter Vaughn, a research consultant who helps nonprofits design plans to assess impact. “Rare’s long track record of trying to assess impact is impressive.” Over the years, Rare’s methods have evolved along with the organization’s strategy.
When Rare first ran Pride campaigns, they were individual projects that operated with a common hypothesis — a theory of change — but each reported information differently. That makes it difficult to compare data across sites and roll them up to take a broader look at organizational impact. When Amielle DeWan, Rare’s director for conservation research and monitoring, joined Rare over two years ago, she found an impressive data set and a daunting task. “The data were everywhere and nowhere at the same time,” says DeWan. “The exciting challenge is to change the way we consistently measure information and use it to improve the way we do business.”
Rare Conservation Fellows design and implement surveys in their communities and collect most of the data. However, they are neither trained statisticians nor scientists with doctorates, so there is a certain amount of imperfection expected. DeWan and her team spend an increasing amount of their time training fellows in data collection and analysis best practices. For each building block on the theory of change, fellows set objectives and strategies to measure impact and bring about lasting change. This allows them to both measure results and reflect on the hypothesis to then make iterative changes throughout their project. This is known as adaptive management. “Adaptive management is really hard even for organizations like Rare that are on the cutting edge,” says Nick Salafsky, co-director of Foundations of Success, a nonprofit dedicated to improving conservation impact assessment. “Rare has been a leader in taking existing standards into its work.”
DeWan and her team have developed a template to standardize the information collected within each building block of the theory of change. This will facilitate a more scientific and rigorous analysis. Alan Hesse, program manager for Rare, helped pilot the new template with the Rare Conservation Fellows he mentors. “Formulas were changed, improved or eliminated,” says Hesse. “Things were made simpler. Other regional teams at Rare joined the review process. The resulting tool is a shining example of team work.”
The infrastructure Amielle and her team are building makes it possible to ask and answer some interesting and difficult questions. “Right now we have data to show we are making social change,” says DeWan. “Scientists are envious of the data set we have and the fact that we actually use it. Five years from now, I want to connect changes in behavior to conservation results. That would be truly revolutionary.”
Written by Jason Houston, photojournalist
On the last day of my visit to Nueva Cajamarca, Peru, I hiked for three and a half hours, uphill, in the mud and humidity, carrying all my camera gear, into the Alto Mayo forests to visit the small farming community of Escondida. There are no roads to get there, only the well-worn but narrow foot trail studded with horse and donkey prints.
I met with Don Filomon Delgado, a coffee farmer and local environmental secretary for the region. Don Filomon’s farm was the first I reached hiking up the valley. Cut from the forests on the hillside above the river, he farms about 60 hectares of mostly coffee. He has been on this land for over two decades and his farm is a perfect candidate for receiving environmental improvement funds established through Rare Conservation Fellow Rina Gamarra’s campaign. He is sympathetic to using more sustainable practices and understands the larger concerns around the health of the watershed. Yet, as is the reality in most of these cases, he simply does not have the resources to do much more — certainly not to do things like reforesting his land and converting from sun-grown to shade-grown coffee.
Most coffee in the region is sun-grown in open fields clear-cut from the surrounding forests.
Sun-grown coffee is also more susceptible to disease and infection. Many of Don Filomon’s plants were suffering from a beetle blight causing light spots on the leaves.
Farmers like Don Filomon Delgado work hard to survive off the land — and their survival relies on a healthy, productive environment. Don Filomon knows this, and with a little help from the water funds collected in Nueva Cajamarca down stream, will be able to implement a number of more sustainable practices.
Paul Butler, Rare’s senior vice president of global programs, has said that, “Training a fellow to do just one campaign is like training a brain surgeon to do one operation.” In the spirit of making the most of their training, many Rare Conservation Fellows continue to use the community organizating skills they learned with Rare in their daily work. Fellows will often continue with their Pride campaigns beyond the official two-year partnership with Rare, and some will even replicate their campaigns at additional sites that are also key to conserving biodiversity. One of the greatest uses of a Rare Conservation Fellow's training, however, is sharing their knowledge with other conservationist.
Rare Conservation Fellow Luis López completed his Pride campaign in early 2012 in Ecuador to protect critical watershed habitat and species. López now mentors municipal employees to run campaigns in three different areas, all in Ecuador: the Amazon River basin, a coastal community and a dry highland area. “We have tried to choose sites that are really diverse,” says López. “It will give us experience to replicate in even more sites. These three campaigns will be a model upon which we will learn.”
The abbreviated training will cover marketing components found in traditional Pride campaigns — such as the mascot, song, slogan, etc. — to mobilize community support. The program will also establish innovative reciprocal agreements between upstream and downstream villages to maintain water production and quality. “I have a lot of hope,” says López. “I have more confidence, since I already ran a campaign. I know the path.”
After their second week of training, the mentees have full campaign plans in place. They have identified their key audiences and messages, chosen their mascots, and marked their calendars with the dates for their campaign launches!