Pillar 2 – Planning: Monitoring and Evaluation Plan

Quick tips:

  • An Ecological Monitoring and Evaluation Plan provides a scientifically robust and cost effective framework to guide the assessment of the ecological response to river rehabilitation.
  • This plan helps managers in their forward planning and budgeting, while also providing a framework to explain survey methodology, use of indicators and monitoring results.
  • An Ecological Monitoring and Evaluation Plan provides a program with a greater confidence of success, since resources can be focussed on a core number of robust evaluations.
  • It is recommended such plans include the minimum requirements identified within the guide.

River rehabilitation programs often neglect comprehensive project evaluation which is why the need for standardised and scientifically robust monitoring and evaluation of the science of demonstration reaches was recognised as a core element of the approach. The development of a framework for developing and implementing ecological monitoring and evaluation of aquatic rehabilitation in demonstration reaches (Boys et al. 2008) was seen as an important step to achieve this.

This guide provides a scientifically robust and cost effective framework to assess ecological responses to river rehabilitation. It explains the need for ecological monitoring, describes elements of a good monitoring program, and discusses the different types of monitoring available and how they should be applied.

The Monitoring and Evaluation framework outlined below can be adapted to local situations or particular management agency needs and, at a minimum, it is recommended the following elements are included:

  • Demonstration reach name
  • Lead agency and primary contact
  • Partners
  • Capacity to undertake the monitoring
  • Background to the demonstration reach (including threats and goals)
  • Links between goals of the demonstration reach, interventions, hypotheses to be tested, monitoring scales and indicators to be used
  • Conceptual models and Stommel diagram (see Boys et al. 2009)
  • Experimental and statistical design
  • Methods
  • Timelines and milestones
  • Budget requirements

The Plans should also include details for assessing both condition or reach scale monitoring (the cumulative impacts of interventions on the reach and intervention monitoring (the impacts of individual interventions) where possible.

It should also embrace the need for evaluation within a framework of adaptive rehabilitation.  Preparing the plan can facilitate greater coordination, so that resources can be focussed on a core number of robust evaluations, rather than multiple small scale and limited experiments. Clarifying minimum evaluation requirements also helps all partners to understand the need for adequate funding of these project components, as well as the implications of funding cuts.

Monitoring and Evaluation Plans help managers explain and guide what needs to happen to restore fish communities. This provides the Demonstrationg Reach project with a much greater confidence of success, something that can be promoted to funders, partners and the community. Such plans can also explain why particular indicators are used in monitoring, which is useful for communication and engagement activities.

The inclusion of timelines, milestones and budget details help in forward planning, reporting and development of funding bids. These plans need to demonstrate good return on investment and can include cost-benefit analyses to help guide investment.

Good monitoring and evaluation planning also maximise the chance of learning about ecological responses to rehabilitation, enabling broader applicability of particular interventions. Implementation of scientifically robust monitoring and evaluation approaches increases the ability to disseminate results through publication in well regarded scientific journals.

Monitoring and Evaluation Plans should be seen in conjunction with other associated plans such as Communication and Engagement Plans and Whole of Life Plans. For example, it is important to recognise that it can take a number of years to properly assess impacts of particular interventions. This must be communicated effectively so that the expectations of partners, funders and the community are managed effectively and they understand the potential complexity of environmental responses. There needs to be a focus on increasing the understanding of the principles of ecological rehabilitation, and ensuring year by year monitoring results are placed in a broader context. While for some interventions, such as provision of fish passage, results of interventions may be seen quite rapidly, while others such as riparian rehabilitation will likely be much longer.

Existing demonstration reaches developed a variety of Monitoring and Evaluation Plans. While they varied in the overall structure and level of detail, all broadly encompasses the components identified by Boys et al. (2009).

Habitat mapping along the Namoi demonstration reach. Photo: Steph McCaffrey
Electrofishing survey within the fishway at Wangaratta within Ovens River demonstration reach. Photo credit: Jarod Lyon

Communication and Engagement Monitoring and Evaluation Plan

River rehabilitation programs often neglect to comprehensively evaluate community engagement, and yet gaining community support and involvement is a key objective of most rehabilitation projects.  In recognition of this, some of the demonstration reaches did develop Communication and Engagement Plans.  These Plans generally include details of actions, timelines, performance indicators and evaluation. The approach to evaluation primarily focussed on reporting and quantifying outputs e.g. number of events and activities undertaken, attendances and participation etc. This type of information helped assess whether actions were successful in achieving particular objectives, what approaches were most effective, how they could have been improved, and what else needed to be undertaken.

Given that an ultimate long-term aim of demonstration reaches is that they become ‘owned’ by the local community, how well the community understands and embraces a particular reach is very important. Existing demonstration reaches did identify particular examples of where the community picked up demonstration reach activities (e.g. local schools incorporating the project into their curriculum including a school in Wangaratta removing Gambusia from local wetlands in Ovens River demonstration reach, schools in Dalby used the Dewfish demonstration reach as a case study to study features of their catchment).

Several existing demonstration reaches began to undertake more comprehensive analyses of community engagement. The Dewfish demonstration reach undertook a review of the social dimensions of engagement with the communities of practice and the economic benefits accrued. This review used a variety of methods in its assessment. It considered evidence of success for community engagement, awareness, commitment and empowerment, as well as environmental and economic impacts. It identified drivers of success and opportunities to build on the project’s success.

The Hollands Creek demonstration reach also began to monitor changes in community attitudes resulting from communication activities. A social survey was undertaken to explore public opinion on specific issues relating to the project and activities undertaken. The purpose of the questionnaire was to assist in the future design and planning of works and activities. The survey asked respondents their views on the importance of the creek, priority values, benefits of involvement in the project, awareness of threats and values of the creek and ideas of how conditions could be improved. The survey also asked about people’s awareness of the project, its works program and its ability to inform the community. Although the report analysing the survey responses was not externally published, the results provided valuable insights for future management of the Hollands Creek demonstration reach, and the process initiated (and highlighted the value of) bringing social surveys into the broader monitoring and evaluation programs for demonstration reaches.

It is recommended that demonstration reaches develop a comprehensive evaluation framework for communication and engagement programs. Such a framework should include consideration of partners, capacity to undertake monitoring, identification of performance indicators, experimental and statistical design, timelines, milestones and budget requirements. More information can be found in the Monitoring Pillar of the Demonstration Reach Guide.

Boys, C.A., Robinson, W., Butcher, A., Zampatti, B. and Lyon, J. 2009. Framework for developing and implementing ecological monitoring and evaluation of aquatic rehabilitation in demonstration reaches. MDBA Publication No. 43/08. Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Canberra.