Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Is the conservation sector obsessed with reports?

9 April, 2014 - 16:05 -- John Burton

Passionate Collaboration? Taking the Pulse of the UK Environmental Sector is the title of a report from the Environmental Funders Network (EFN). 

I responded to the survey upon which it was based, and I suspect that most of the other respondents had the same problems that I had.

Informed answers to the survey questions required data that wasn’t readily available, and hence required a degree of guesswork. It also meant that data would not be strictly comparable, and it also relied heavily on opinions of one person within an organisation. Consequently I am not likely to take the findings very seriously

So what is the point of such reports? This particular report is based on a survey, but it was not clear from the report who wanted the survey and what was it designed to achieve.

My reading of the report was that it was a survey for the sake of a survey. When I completed the original survey I thought that EFN wanted to find out how they could most effectively achieve their aims.

World Land Trust (WLT), is by definition an environmental funder (though not a member of EFN), but it is very hard to see anything in this report that would help us improve our funding activities. We aim to give around 85 per cent of our income to environmental programmes – our target is over £4.5million for 2014. There are lots of interesting facts, but very little we didn’t already know.

Meanwhile, findings from Ipsos Mori’s State of the Charities Sector poll for New Philanthropy Capital raises some relevant issues for WLT. Of those surveyed, 36 per cent of respondents said charities were not transparent enough about how they spent their money, and 29 per cent said charities spent too much money abroad. 

Clearly WLT’s supporters would not go along with these findings – which all goes to show that surveys and reports based on random samples are useless and irrelevant. Unless the right questions are addressed to the right people the results are almost inevitably meaningless.

I cannot help feeling that the conservation sector is in danger of joining the aid sector, in becoming obsessed with reports, with measuring outcomes, academic research and a host of other activities, that don’t actually achieve anything.

I look at the staggering number of reports filling the shelves of every conservation office I go to, and often wonder how much they all cost, and if we had spent all that money consumed by reports over the past half century, how much land for wildlife could have been saved.

Time is running out, land prices are spiralling, and soon it will be too late. When we founded WLT a mere 25 years ago, there were millions of acres of unexplored and unexploited land on the planet. It is now disappearing. In Paraguay alone, 1,000+ acres are lost every day. Scale that up - and start worrying. It is time to act.

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