Community-led conservation hubs: Determinants of success and measuring hubs’ impact (Part 3 of 3)

The first and second posts in this 3-part overview summarises community-led conservation in Aotearoa and the evolution of the community conservation hubs movement. Insights into the type of work they do in the conservation sector along with how they support and build capacity for their member/affiliate groups are also provided. Hubs are undoubtedly successful – some have morphed from smaller community groups and organisations established decades ago, while others have grown to rapidly fill gaps in their region/subregion. But success is more than scale – this post teases out some of critical factors that underpin the high performers. Also put forward are considerations for measuring hubs impact – an area of ongoing discussion among hubs and their supporters.

A large part of hubs’ value-add to community conservation lies in their political independence, closeness to the communities they work directly with and their ability to quickly shape responses to pressing local/regional socio-environmental concerns and opportunities. These are just 3 factors that distinguish them from their government agency partners. Compare this to agency land managers such as the Department of Conservation and Regional Councils – vital project partners for hubs and individual community groups. Both agencies are disadvantaged by having competing functions – at once enabling (e.g., by providing funding) but also enforcing rules and regulations.

Here’s a map showing the location of hubs that received DOC pilot hubs funding e.g., for new staff/projects; strengthen comms and networking; provide admin and tech support for member/affilate groups. Note TET was not funded, but provided valuable insights to the DOC-Funded research these 3 blogs are based on.

What makes a hub successful?

Generally speaking, hubs considered success stories have grown significantly in size, complexity and in the range of services provided from when they were first established. However, it’s not just their ability to attract funding – it’s also their professionalism, ambitiousness, strong networks and their organisational resilience. These combined allow hubs to be trusted partners as well as adaptive and responsive organisations. Scanning through the research to date on hubs, the following highlights some of the characteristics of successful hubs:

The hub is built on solid foundations.

  • A board with diverse skill sets (e.g., business, finance, marketing) with governance training provided when/where needed. Trustees may be reimbursed for their time and expertise.
  • Gaps scoped prior to establishment to better understand community, conservation and environmental needs and aspirations.
  • Fit-for-purpose plans, policies, and processes (e.g., financial delegations, H&S and volunteer management policies, and risk register).
  • An organizational structure that delivers on objectives and planned actions.

There is a strong, values-driven organizational culture.

  • Building skills and cultural capacity for hub staff and volunteers (e.g., Te Tiriti and te reo Maōri training)
  • Fostering a productive, forward-facing and empathetic team culture.

…we're in touch [with all staff] weekly… what's happening that week, and who's doing what and where the synergies and the overlaps are, so that we're as efficient and as impactful as we possibly can be and our resources are best used." (Hub Manager)

The hub is strategically positioned and highly trusted.

  • Being the community conservation “go-to” organization for community groups, landowners, agencies and other conservation stakeholders, being independent, well connected and regarded as the restoration community voice.
  • Relationships are developed within larger organisation at a range of levels (e.g., from senior management to operational staff).
  • Enough time is dedicated to growing and fostering establish strong relationships and to be a trusted partner on multi-stakeholder initiatives.

"We know who's who, we respect each other's positions, and we work collaboratively together in genuine partnership… to be effective… and relevant." (Hub Manager)

The hub is agile, responsive, creative and resilient.

  • Able to develop new initiatives as opportunities arise (e.g., Jobs for Nature)
  • Able to weather funding let-downs as well as changes e.g., in the political environment.
  • Can refocus and restructure when needed to meet community conservation needs and aspirations.

Measuring hubs’ value-add and impact

Tasman Environmental Trust: A summary of some of the added value to community conservation provided by the hub.

Project outputs can provide useful measures to help shape management responses e.g., # and type of pests trapped, trees planted, event attendees and volunteer hours. This type of monitoring can work on an individual group level but attempting to do this at subregional or regional scale is problematic – here’s a post on best practice for community monitoring and another on the development of a monitoring guide for community groups.

Quantifying what restoration efforts means in terms of outcomes, added value and impact for participants, partners and biodiversity is vastly more challenging. For hubs, understanding how much support they provide to their member/affiliate groups, along with the perceived value of, and type of support is straightforward (see findings in the 2021 Peters & Denyer study). It’s no surprise that newly established groups/projects benefit the most from hub support, while more established initiatives and those not in a growth phase (e.g., haven’t received major funding to upscale their operations) typically have well-oiled systems already in place. But it’s comments like those below that show the value of relationships, networks and collaboration:

"...knowing that you are part of a larger organisation is extremely valuable. Being part of [name of hub] enables us to contemplate far larger projects because we are not alone, they have the resources which a small community groups has difficulty obtaining” (Survey respondent).

“Most importantly, being a part of a member-led collective, established by the very organisations it is now striving to support, and working together towards an inclusive regional vision and strategy” (Survey respondent).

Ultimately, to truly measure impact, studies need to be detailed and will include many qualitative elements. For example, although the number and type of partner provides an overview of hubs connectedness to the conservation and other sectors, the quality of those relationships and the outcomes of those relationships are arguably more meaningful measures.

Further reading

Doole, M. (2020). Better together? A review of community conservation hubs in New Zealand. Report for Predator Free NZ Trust. 23p

McFarlane et al. (2021). Collective Approaches to Ecosystem Regeneration in Aotearoa New Zealand. Cawthron Report No. 3725. 96p

Peters, M. A. (2019). Understanding the Context of Conservation Community Hubs. Report for the Department of Conservation. 44p

Peters, M. A., and Denyer, K. (2021). Special Fund Allocation to Community Conservation Hubs: Establishing a baseline to understand the impact of funding on hubs’ member/affiliate groups. Report for the Department of Conservation. 26p

Peters, M. A. (2022). Special Fund Allocation to Community Conservation Hubs: Second Report. Report for the Department of Conservation. 22p

Whakatipu Wildlife Trust, a small hub with a predator free focus.

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