The rights of nature: An emerging transformation opportunity for evaluation

This article invites evaluators to engage with the concept of the Rights of Nature: “recognizing ecosystems and natural communities not as property that can be owned but as entities that have an independent right to exist and flourish that can be enforced under legal or social norms.”

Key concepts

The article describes the concept of the rights of nature as being about “legal rights, ethics, principles, spirituality, and seeing the world as interconnected—but it is also about the pragmatism needed for working successfully within complexity for long-term resilience”. The rights of nature can be formally embedded in law or an informal collective political act deliberately attempting to change power relations to “encourage human - nature relationships founded on mutual dependence, cooperation, and synergy”.

The authors make the case that evaluations that engage with the rights of nature can support transformative action and the evolution of evaluation practice needed for the Anthropocene.

Five evaluation practices suitable for working with the rights of nature are discussed:

  • Establishing the frame with nature’s rights in the picture
  • Seeing the system of human-nature interactions in evaluations
  • Holding space for different narratives about impacts and change within the system
  • Evidence-building with a plurality of values and knowledge that includes the Rights of Nature
  • Supporting planning with complexity through deliberative processes

The article reflects on implications for the practice of evaluation: “Reviewing the transformation potential of the Rights of Nature has brought us to the conclusion that it is both a values-oriented philosophy and an issue of legal reform and compliance. This is a key reason for believing that the evaluation profession can and should consider this burgeoning issue explicitly as a rights issue on a par with human rights…”

Why would you rcommend it to other people?

The concept of the rights of nature may be a new and useful frame for evaluators seeking to integrate environmental sustainability in their work.


Louise Gallagher and Zenda Ofir

2021 Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation / La Revue canadienne d’évaluation de programme 36.2 (Fall / Automne), 141–161 doi: 10.3138/cjpe.71575