Footprint evaluation webinar 1: Identifying points of nexus between human and natural systems

Contributing partner:

In part one of this three-part webinar series, Andy Rowe and Patricia Rogers discuss what was learnt during the Footprint Evaluation Initiative’s ‘thought experiments', as well as diving into what it means to evaluate ‘at the nexus’ of human and natural systems.

Identifying points of nexus between human and natural systems

You can download the slides for this webinar from the Resource link above or watch the recording of the presentation section of the webinar below. Rather than share the video of the discussion, we’ve included a summary of this below - with thanks to Patricia Rogers and Kaye Stevens for pulling this together.


Summary of comments, questions and discussion in Webinar 1:

We were delighted to welcome participants from across the Pacific, Asia, Africa and Europe, including Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Romania, Italy, Finland, and USA. Participants included people working in the fields of evaluation including development and impact evaluation as well as conservation, climate change, sustainability, and resilience.

Difference between Footprint Evaluation Initiative and Ecological Footprint

Question: Is Footprint Evaluation based on Ecological Footprint?

Response: We see the various footprint calculators (including ecological, water and carbon) as tools which might be part of what gets used to consider environmental sustainability. The Global Footprint Network focuses on the ecological footprint – what resources are consumed and what waste is produced.

What is nexus?

Comment: Within biological diversity conservation works, nexus is integral part of social-ecological systems… It’s a causal relationship in which human activities effect on natural system would in turn affect human/social system…

Response: That’s a quite reasonable expression of what we what we mean by Nexus. The precise definition or concept of Nexus is very much evolving and we’re having active discussions with a number of people. We’re particularly building on the work of Juha Uitto who is the director of the Independent Evaluation Office at the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Getting nexus included in the scope of an evaluation

Question / comment: Given that the scope of work in evaluations is guided by the terms of reference, which is developed by the evaluation client, what can be done if they are not interested to see human- natural system nexus approach in the evaluation? How can an evaluator convince an evaluation commissioner that including the nexus point is in or should be in scope?

One of the issues that came up in our chat is convincing the evaluation commissioner that including the nexus point is in or should be in scope.

Response: This is an important challenge. The footprint evaluation initiative is not only working with evaluators, but also with evaluation managers, working with them on developing those scopings in the terms of reference. Our second webinar is all about getting environmental sustainability on the agenda for an evaluation. We will look at how to link environmental sustainability to the evaluative criteria being used (including how the OECD-DAC criteria for development evaluation explicitly refer to environmental implications), and how you might develop key evaluation questions that address that.

The importance of considering procurement

Comment: I’ve been fighting to prove that procurement eval systems are not a niche but the spinal axis of it. It determines many effects in other systems.

Response: What you procure makes a big difference to environmental sustainability. Because you’re procuring products and services, and the production of those products can have serious harm on natural systems, or very minimal harm, or might even be doing no harm. Procurement is a mechanism for achieving the low hanging fruit of doing less harm, but it’s also a key mechanism for incentivizing and requiring changes in product design. This is something the International Resources Panel provides a lot of information and knowledge on. We need to change product design so that we can recycle metals and various things out of products when they go to recycling, to have less harm from landfills and in our oceans, all kinds of things like that. Procurement is key to bringing about that change. This is something the International Resources Panel provides a lot of information and knowledge on.

Include environmental sustainability in definitions of ‘success’ at the planning and design stage as well

Questions/comments: Can looking at the question of ‘Success’ help here? i.e. from the outset, setting outcomes/success that reduce enviro impacts or improve regeneration as part of the intervention ensure that nexus is kept in mind?

It is important that these concepts are built into the design of interventions. In this way the intervention can be designed in a holistic way that incorporates these concepts and this can be built into the monitoring and evaluation of the intervention. Getting in at the inception to me is important.

Response: Evaluative thinking that includes consideration of environmental sustainability is definitely needed at the early planning and design stages. This is not just about coming along at the end with the scorecard and saying well, you weren’t very good in terms of the environment. That’s not going to get us the change we need. This has to be built into evaluations at the front end, when choosing between options, setting what success looks like, setting our monitoring systems, and setting up ongoing reflections, all types of evaluation so that it’s front of mind for everyone.

Where we want to end up is that we’re systematically evaluating sustainability and natural resource effects in all evaluations. The standard what we use in our heads is - is this good enough? is this good? is this bad? All interventions should be achieving or be very close to not causing any harm to the natural system. And we’re looking for interventions that actually contribute to restoration of the natural systems and walking us back from those 2030 thresholds. So that standard, that vision is something you must have in order to be useful in contributing to evaluating sustainability. It’s not enough to just observe, you also have to have a value in mind of where we need to end up.

Other frameworks and initiatives that can be useful when thinking about environmental sustainability

  • Reference to the Sustainable Development Goals can provide a base framework for understanding the dimensions inherent in sustainability thinking.
  • Community resilience inherently involves environmental considerations - the recent floods in Australia demonstrate that, for example.
  • Circular economy and approaches like doughnut economics/planetary boundaries can provide a lot of opportunities and solutions to achieve social, enviro and economic outcomes at once.
  • An organization called C40 which is a group of nearly 100 cities that have banded together and are doing tremendous jobs to actually achieve “do no harm” levels and move towards restoration.

Other comments from participants

  • Beyond immediate resource consumption, programs could promote broader thinking to include environmental considerations. From what I see, too often planning for infrastructure or programs assumes business as usual or close to. What if we consider the social, economic and environmental challenges arising from climate change or the opportunities of protecting, restoring, connecting habitat (increase liveability, enhance context for student learning as well a promoting biodiversity, cooling suburbs…)?. So challenging assumptions, broadening thinking is important to shift practice
  • I mostly only evaluate environmental programs, i.e. programs that have explicit environmental outcomes. But flipping the nexus around, I’ve found that often we need to actively bring in the human side a bit more - whether it’s adding KEQs about equity or cultural considerations that may not be part of the program scope, but are important to include in an evaluation.

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