TitleAccounting for Results: How Conservation Organizations Report Performance Information
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsRissman, AR, Smail, R
JournalEnvironmental Management
KeywordsEnvironmental governance, Evidence-based conservation, Land conservation, Monitoring and evaluation, Performance measurement, Policy outcomes

Environmental program performance information is in high demand, but little research suggests why conservation organizations differ in reporting performance information. We compared performance measurement and reporting by four private-land conservation organizations: Partners for Fish and Wildlife in the US Fish and Wildlife Service (national government), Forest Stewardship Council—US (national nonprofit organization), Land and Water Conservation Departments (local government), and land trusts (local nonprofit organization). We asked: (1) How did the pattern of performance reporting relationships vary across organizations? (2) Was political conflict among organizations’ principals associated with greater performance information? and (3) Did performance information provide evidence of program effectiveness? Based on our typology of performance information, we found that most organizations reported output measures such as land area or number of contracts, some reported outcome indicators such as adherence to performance standards, but few modeled or measured environmental effects. Local government Land and Water Conservation Departments reported the most types of performance information, while local land trusts reported the fewest. The case studies suggest that governance networks influence the pattern and type of performance reporting, that goal conflict among principles is associated with greater performance information, and that performance information provides unreliable causal evidence of program effectiveness. Challenging simple prescriptions to generate more data as evidence, this analysis suggests (1) complex institutional and political contexts for environmental program performance and (2) the need to supplement performance measures with in-depth evaluations that can provide causal inferences about program effectiveness.