Imagine you’re a forester spearheading a restoration project. Let’s say it covers multiple, separate sites in diverse biomes—a rainforest, arid pastures, and a mountain watershed. You need to involve local stakeholders, like nearby residents, some ranchers, local water resource managers, and national officials. Where do you even start?
Researchers at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) believe they have helped develop a solution, with the launch of a new diagnostic tool specifically for forest landscape restoration practitioners. Its aimed at those who are ready to adopt a widely lauded project monitoring style, but previously felt somewhat daunted by its scale.
Forest landscape restoration projects in the US, Brazil, and throughout Africa have discovered that collaborative monitoring, also called participatory monitoring, plays a central role in forest restoration. It doesn’t simply mean asking local people to collect data. It means getting people involved in planning from the beginning of the restoration project, then sharing and learning with other people involved in the effort at every level.
The Bonn Challenge, a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of the world’s deforested and degraded land by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030, also recognizes that a successful restoration plan uses collaborative monitoring.
Developed by CIFOR researchers Kristen Evans and Manuel Guariguata, the diagnostic tool helps practitioners know what conditions need to be in place for collaborative monitoring to succeed.
“If the Bonn Challenge leads, as expected, to a big expansion of investments in forest landscape restoration, then there should be plenty of people who will benefit from this diagnostic tool”
“It remains a challenge to get government officials, non-government organizations, and aid agencies to appreciate that it is important to engage with the people who will be most directly impacted by restoration activities,” said Jeffrey Sayer, a professor in Forestry and Conservation at the University of British Columbia and an expert on forest landscape restoration.
“If the Bonn Challenge leads, as expected, to a big expansion of investments in forest landscape restoration, then there should be plenty of people who will benefit from this diagnostic tool,” Sayer said.
The diagnostic tool has been vetted by global experts and is ready for piloting in the field. It incorporates collaborative monitoring from the get-go, a crucial step that is often only introduced mid-project or later.
It starts with monitoring
According to Evans, though professionals recognize monitoring as important, it’s not always an “up front and center” part of initial planning. “People want to get projects going and see results,” she said, adding that this eagerness leads practitioners to carry out activities without deciding how to monitor progress.
“But developing the monitoring plan actually provides a crucial check back on your planning – if you can’t figure out how to monitor progress towards your goals, maybe you need to work on your goals,” Evans added. “If you save your monitoring plan until after you start implementing activities, you lose that potential synergy between monitoring and your activities.”
“The tool could be adapted to gauge capacity needs at national or subnational levels when it comes to designing and implementing forest landscape restoration interventions”
The diagnostic tool also guides practitioners in crafting a plan that can track progress at multiple sites and at multiple scales—delivering on what local people need and what national stakeholders want to prioritize, while addressing what global stakeholders are looking for.
“Applying the diagnostic also tells you what key dimensions of the collaborative monitoring process need to be strengthened to implement forest landscape restoration. In other words, it serves as a mechanism for improvement,” Guariguata said.
“We have these global efforts, such as The Bonn Challenge, to monitor what’s going on with forest landscape restoration and related global commitments. They are top level and often rely on remote sensing data and general reporting,” Evans said. “Then on some sites where collaborative monitoring is going on, you can have some pretty rich data and lessons learned. But these two levels are really not talking.”
“As a result, you lose out on the potential for local implementers, regions, and countries to learn from each other,” Evans said.
Lessons from Brazil
Evans cites a restoration project in Brazil as an example of a collaborative monitoring plan that succeeded at involving local stakeholders at the local and national level, but struggled to monitor the project locally, nationally, and at the global level. The Atlantic Forest Restoration Pact is an ambitious project to restore 15 million hectares of mangrove, tropical, and subtropical broadleaf forest by 2050. About 260 nongovernment organizations, private companies, research institutions, and government groups support the project, making it an excellent opportunity for collaborative monitoring.
“They developed a monitoring protocol that listed a bunch of things that everybody needed to monitor,” Evans said. All in all, the protocol included 19 criteria, 41 indicators, and 74 metrics that the groups needed to measure regularly.
“It didn’t work because it was too much stuff,” Evans said. “There were just too many things to monitor. And the lesson learned out of that is that it’s better just to monitor a couple of things and do it well. Then if you want to scale your reporting up to national and international level, choose maybe five indicators that everybody uses.”
The project also failed to include and define trigger points in their monitoring plan. Trigger points are target values that need to be achieved at a certain point in time, that if not achieved would need additional action. For example, if a percentage of native plants are not in place by a certain time period, the project would need to plant more seedlings to meet their targets.
The CIFOR diagnostic tool can help restoration project leaders learn from the Brazil example by developing a monitoring plan that allows local groups in the field, national agencies supporting the project, and international organizations share updates so each level can support one another.
“The diagnostic tool is geared toward helping people scaffold up the monitoring,” Evans said. “It helps create monitoring systems where people can share information with each other and create these learning communities, whether it’s online or in local meetings.”
“The tool also defines the elements that need to happen at sub-national and national scale in order to link up and scale up the collaborative monitoring,” Evans said.
“It can also serve as an assessment framework,” Guariguata added. “For example, the tool could be adapted to gauge capacity needs at national or subnational levels when it comes to designing and implementing forest landscape restoration interventions.”
“I hope that people start to see that monitoring is central to any type of forest landscape restoration, and that collaborative monitoring is particularly essential to that,”
Roadmap to collaboration and restoration
Evans’ and Guariguata’s diagnostic tool consists of a core matrix of 42 success factors and suggestions for performing an assessment. The researchers derived the success factors from over 80 published resources on participatory and collaborative monitoring. These were then evaluated by a group of 20 global experts and ranked according to their usefulness, relevance, and importance.
The tool is intended for a professional or interdisciplinary team with experience in participatory methods, forest restoration, and monitoring natural resource management.
“I hope that people start to see that monitoring is central to any type of forest landscape restoration, and that collaborative monitoring is particularly essential to that,” Evans said. “The diagnostic tool will help make it easier for practitioners to involve local people and their ideas. We’re not just throwing another thing at already overburdened practitioners that they need to do.”
“We’ve talked to many forest landscape restoration practitioners and those who have started using collaborative monitoring can’t think of any other way to do it now,” Evans said. “But it takes a breakthrough to get there. We hope this tool will help.”
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