Best Practice in Performance Reporting in Natural Resource Management - DNRE 1997


A Report to the ANZECC Working Group on National Park and Protected Area Management
Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Victoria, 1997

About this document

In 1995, ANZECC commenced the National Benchmarking and Best Practice Program aimed at five key areas. The Department of Environment & Natural Resources, South Australia took the lead responsibility for determining the best practice framework for Capital Works management. A working group was formed with all States and Territories represented and a project brief developed and endorsed.

This project assessed the current status of outcome-based management of natural resources in Australian parks management agencies. The objectives of this project were:

  • To identify the processes used by State and Territory agencies to report on the management of natural resources in parks and protected areas
  • To identify ecological performance indicators utilised by agencies for natural resource management and evaluate their usefulness
  • To identify and evaluate how agencies utilise ecological performance indicators in reporting on their performance at both the park level and at the agency level
  • To use benchmarking to determine the best practice processes for reporting on performance (at the agency level) in the management of natural resources.

A literature review found that there was very little material on world's best practice in natural resource management in parks, but that there is now considerable interest in developing these tools within some agencies. However, the development of outcome-based programs for natural resource management in these agencies is at an early stage and much remains to be done.

Based on a review of Australian and international approaches, a best practice model for performance assessment in natural resource management in parks and reserves was developed based on the following criteria:

  1. a clear nexus between an agency's legislative requirements and its strategic objectives for natural resource management
  2. clearly stated management goals (desired outcomes) that are derived directly from the strategic objectives
  3. a plan of natural resource management programs and activities at both the agency and the park level for meeting the strategic objectives within a specified time-frame (both medium term and annual)
  4. performance indicators and targets against which the degree to which goals were achieved can be assessed, at both the agency and the park level
  5. natural resource monitoring programs that provide data for the assessment of performance indicators.

When assessed against this model, none of the agencies assessed, either in Australia or overseas, meet all the criteria for best practice in natural resource management in parks. A number of agencies (eg SA Department of Environment and Natural Resources, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Parks Victoria, US National Parks Service) have put into place the framework of a hierarchy of objectives, goals and activities for natural resource management, but have not made any significant progress in the actual measurement of performance and assessment against targets. Parks Canada, also a leader, has adopted a more "bottom-up" approach, and thus has made more progress in developing performance indicators and targets and in setting up monitoring systems. However, the Parks Canada approach is based on the narrow concept of "ecological integrity" and thus it only covers part of the spectrum of natural resource management.

Overall, little progress has been made in Australia or overseas in performance assessment in natural resource management at the individual park level, with a relatively low proportion of within-park programs that are outcome-based and with none of these identified as meriting best practice status.

Those working on this topic have frequently noted the difficulty of developing performance indicators for natural resource management. This may, however, be an overly negative view. Due to the early stage at which most agencies are at in developing a outcome-based culture, the logical hierarchies of goals and outcomes that are required to generate performance indicators have not been fully developed. In addition, much of the thinking about indicators has been based on what has been measured in the past or on what scientists would like to measure, rather than reflecting the needs of performance assessment. An analysis based soundly on a well-developed hierarchy of goals and outcomes and specifically aimed at meeting the needs of performance assessment is likely to be more successful.

It is important to note that simple indicators can be very informative and that being able to confidently answer a number of simple questions about performance in conservation management will be a huge step forward for most agencies. The large body of existing monitoring effort documented by the responses to the questionnaire in this study also suggests that there is considerable scope for refocussing monitoring resources and building on existing programs in a cost-effective manner.