In the conservation context, social impact is any benefit to people resulting from conservation activities. This article provides guidance on how social impact can be incorporated into a conservation strategy, the benefits of planning social impact, and how to report on social impact for a conservation project.
How to plan social impact for a conservation project?
A conservation strategy can be documented in diagrams to capture what is driving the current situation (current situation diagram) and the planned change in that situation that the conservation project wants to achieve (planned change diagram or theory of change). You can get training on how to create these diagrams here.
Planned social impact can be documented in the planned change diagram as either influence results (e.g. “farmers feel respected by their peers”) or human well being results (e.g. the local community has more freshwater). These types of social impact can be generated either directly from the activities, driven by another influence or behaviour result, or generated by an ecosystem service result.
An example full planned change diagram that includes social impact for a project I am helping to design is shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Example planned change diagram including social impact.
What are the advantages of planning to achieve social impact from a conservation project?
It is easier and cheaper to just focus on achieving conservation impact, but planning to also achieve social impact into a conservation strategy can help:
1. Build stakeholder support: If there are any stakeholders that could affect or may be affected by a conservation project then they should be involved as much as possible in the planning of that conservation work. The stakeholders will then be able to help identify social impact that will be created by the work and that will be important for them. For example, a fisher group may identify the benefit of holding monthly meetings to discuss turtle bycatch, because it will give them an opportunity to socialise and strengthen relationships. The social impact identified by the stakeholders themselves can then help build their motivation to support and get involved with the project. Such support will greatly increase the chance of the project being successful in achieving both social and conservation impact, and sustaining that impact after the project has finished. You can get training on how to engage stakeholders here).
2. Raise more funds: By documenting the planned social impact you will create a more compelling case for support that could increase your chances of obtaining a grant. Documenting planned social impact may even help identify additional donors that provide funds to projects that can generate social impact, e.g. a donor that provides funds to educate children in developing countries.
Capture the full value generated by conservation funds and activities: As well as trying to achieve conservation impact as a primary objective, conservation projects also have the opportunity to learn from their experiences and share with others what works and what doesn’t. Such learning can help other conservation projects plan and implement more effective conservation solutions. However, answering what conservation impact is achieved by a particular activity provides a narrower insight than what conservation and social impact is achieved. Without such insight it is not possible to capture the full value of that activity. Without that full understanding of value it is not possible for donors or conservation practitioners to make an informed decision of which activities to use. For example, activity A may help reduce tiger poaching by 20% but create no social impact, while activity B may reduce tiger poaching by 10% but generate a considerable social benefit.
How can social impact be reported on?
Social impact can be reported on by documenting:
1. How much social impact was achieved: To measure social impact you first need to select which social impact result you want to monitor and assess. Then you need to select an indicator and monitoring method (e.g. interview survey) that will measure how much that result has changed over time. To evaluate how much of that change (impact) was due to the project, you will need to compare the change in that result to the change that would have occurred in the absence of the project.
2. How the social impact was achieved: The social impact achieved by a project may not have been achieved in the way the project team originally planned. For example, the project team may have planned for villagers to gain more income from working as tourist guides, but thy may have gained more income from providing homestead accommodation to tourists instead. The conservation project may also have generated unintended social impact e.g. an increase in mental health resulting from their work as forest guardians providing them with an important life purpose. Additional surveys may, therefore be required, to help understand how the social impact was actually generated and what unexpected social impact was created. All social impact can then be documented as actual influence results and actual human well being results in an actual change diagram. However, it is important to note that conservation activities also generate unexpected, unwanted results. These must also be documented and measured where possible together with any positive change achieved (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Example actual change diagram showing both positive and negative change.
You can download this free manual (Monitoring and Evaluation for Wildlife Conservation) to get guidance on how to measure and document the conservation and social impact of your project.
Here also is a link to a page where I have created a few other advice posts on such topics as conservation planning, monitoring and evaluation, and fundraising.