In today’s episode of Conservation Conversations, Lésa van Rooyen, Peace Parks communication coordinator, sits down with the team responsible for building an effective monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) system. Stefan van Zyl and Jason Gilbertson chat with Lésa about the importance of measuring the impact of conservation work. Despite fieldwork being the most well-known and publicised aspect of conservation, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes elbow grease that takes place helping to ensure that the desired results are being achieved. This is where MEL systems come in.

At Peace Parks Foundation, implementing change in protected areas lies at the heart of what the organisation does. So, having an effective project management system in place is a critical component to ensure success out in the field. Referred to by Stefan as the ‘North Star’ of any such plan, MEL helps inform companies and organisations whether they are achieving their goals, enables the identification of any mistakes and monitors progress on projects. The data collection allows the organisation to make any necessary changes and adapt its strategies going forward to ensure long-term success.

To start building the system, Jason and Stefan first had to understand precisely what Peace Parks’ vision was as well as the strategic goals of the organisation. Once this was clearly understood, the team then set out on building a roadmap of sorts that helped shape the strategic framework of the system. Using the information gathered, the MEL system needed to identify different project activities, determine the output of these activities and measure their impact going forward.

This might sound like an easy enough task, but when handling over 130 active projects across five different countries in southern Africa, there are a lot of moving parts, with each piece presenting its own set of challenges. Jason highlights that one of the most significant technical issues the team faced was connectivity. Although having good signal and reliable wi-fi is something that we might take for granted in the city, the same cannot be said for those working on the ground where access to the Internet is extremely limited. The team successfully overcame this challenge by building an app that works using GPS alone, allowing the members on the ground to capture and save data as and when they needed to, only for it to be uploaded to the system once they had a decent signal.

Through trial and error, hard work and having thorough knowledge of what needs to be achieved have led to the increased interest and popularity of the MEL system that Peace Parks Foundation has developed.

We are proud to be working with other like-minded organisations allowing for standardised metrics to be shared in a coordinated manner. The hope for the system is that it will one day track and monitor impact on a regional level. Ultimately, we are all players in the same game. If we, as a united conservation front, can provide as much information as possible on the real-life impacts that NGOs are achieving in conservation, that would be a win-win for all.

Peace Parks is very proud of the hard work our Projects, Systems and Compliance team has put in, and we cannot wait to see how this system will be integrated into other like-minded NGOs within the future.