Thursday, May 06, 2010

Measuring Conservation Effectiveness

At a two-day event at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation on changing an entire movement. The people attending all believe that we have to focus much more on conservation outcomes: are there more tigers? are there more gorillas?

Nick Salafsky used the death of George Washington as an example of what happens when you don't use evidence in making decisions. Apparently, when George got sick, one of the early treatments was to bleed him. When that didn't work, they bled him again. And again. And again. By the time they'd removed more than six pints of blood in one day, he died. It wasn't until later that we found that with rare exceptions, bleeding people doesn't work!

Measuring outcomes is difficult, measuring activities is easy. But, if we only measure activities, we could find ourselves being "successful" while the species we're trying to protect goes extinct or the biome we're trying to protect loses viability and diversity. The focus is shifting from managing activities to results-based management.

One of the best quotes was the search for "contribution, not attribution." It's difficult in looking at real world environments and finding direct and sole causation from a given intervention. At the same time, we should be able to gather enough data to find out whether certain practices contribute to better outcomes.

It was exciting for me to participate in this meeting, which was roughly balanced between funders and conservation groups. It was a chance to both hear how much our Miradi tool is getting used, as well as things we needed to do to make Miradi much better for a range of needs. I particularly heard about the need of Miradi to do more for advocacy groups, foundations and smaller groups (who need a simpler solution).

This is a very action-oriented community. The final half of the meeting was around organizing working groups to tackle different aspects of making this change throughout the field. I'm coming away with ideas and actions to work on with Jeremy Yoches, our Miradi product manager (who also noted a wealth of ideas and actions!).

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