Posted by Siwan Lovett | June 4, 2015
Monitoring and evaluation is an integral component of our Rivers of Carbon initiative. It is often claimed that ‘you cannot manage it if you cannot measure it’, and it is certainly difficult to be confident that management is effective if there is no supporting evidence. As well as helping to show whether management is achieving its objectives, M&E also provides a basis for adaptive management and continued improvement, and can assist in identifying priorities when we have to choose where to put our resources.
Rivers of Carbon is evaluating both outputs and outcomes. Our output evaluation is checking that we follow our agreed milestones, and focuses for example, on number of landholders involved, trees planted, fencing completed, time taken and funds expended to reach different stages of our projects. This type of evaluation is relatively straightforward and really is the minimum required for good project management. We feel, however, that this type of evaluation tells us very little about whether our projects achieve their wider purpose and objectives, that is, the outcomes sought.
To evaluate outcomes we measure change over time, for example, have we achieved less bank erosion, improved water quality or connected two previously separate stands of remnant riparian vegetation. For our Rivers of Carbon projects we have chosen to use the Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition (RARC) method developed by Jansen etal in 2005. This method is scientifically robust and people can be trained to undertake assessments in half a day. Every Rivers of Carbon site has a RARC Assessment completed prior to any works being undertaken to provide a baseline against which to assess change. In addition, we will often add in a bank profile, species list and other observational measures to build a complete picture of the site. Importantly, we also include what the landholder would like to see happen at the site. We feel this is very important, as we want to be clear about the expectations of all parties involved.
We have recently produced a RARC specifically for our Rivers of Carbon projects in the southern tablelands. The RARC’s are designed for use by people with an understanding of riparian ecosystem functioning and we do offer training to groups of 5 people or more at $25 per head, get in touch with us if you are interested. Alongside the new RARC we have added three RARCs we developed through previous programs for specific regions of Australia (Tropics, Tasmania and South Australia).
Studying past sites to inform current work:
Lori Gould, our on-ground project manager, recently completed her Masters thesis by undertaking an evaluation of the Boorowa River Recovery project that was a precursor to Rivers of Carbon. Her thesis is a great read, and clearly shows that a combined output and outcome evaluation yields an enriching insight into the impacts riparian restoration can have on-ground and for the landholder and local communities. Rivers of Carbon is built on the success of Boorowa River Recovery and Lori’s thesis has provided us with a solid basis upon which to continue our work in the region.
In addition to Lori’s work, Honours Student Will Higgison recently completed his project by reviewing the Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition assessments undertaken in the Bidgee Banks project. Will’s study has shown that lasting changes have been achieved and also validates the use of the Rapid Appraisal of Riparian Condition as a measuring tool.
These reports are here for you to explore, as we feel sharing this knowledge is vitally important for all of us working in riparian restoration to demonstrate our return on investment. We are also using qualitative evaluation techniques to gather information from people involved in our projects about how they have experienced our projects and whether we have met their expectations. This work will largely be undertaken in 2016-2017 when many of our Rivers of Carbon projects are due for completion.