Validating the use of expert opinion in management effectiveness assessments of protected areas in Australia

Carly Cook (2010). Validating the use of expert opinion in management effectiveness assessments of protected areas in Australia PhD Thesis, School of Integrative Systems, The University of Queensland.

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Author Carly Cook
Thesis Title Validating the use of expert opinion in management effectiveness assessments of protected areas in Australia
School, Centre or Institute School of Integrative Systems
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2010-05
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Marc Hockings
Bill Carter
Grant Wardell-Johnson
Hugh Possingham
Total pages 263
Total colour pages 7
Total black and white pages 256
Subjects 05 Environmental Sciences
Abstract/Summary Abstract Ensuring the success of conservation through protected areas relies on understanding whether management actions are successful or whether they need to be changed. Such management effectiveness evaluations are becoming increasingly common globally and are being used to adapt management actions and guide strategic planning and resource allocation within protected areas. Due to a lack of data about protected area management, generally evaluations are based on the knowledge of protected area managers. While this expert knowledge is a potentially plentiful and cost-effective option, it is important to consider the precision and accuracy of these data to understand the confidence that should be placed in this information before they are used to make significant changes to protected area management. However, this is the first study to examine the precision and accuracy of management effectiveness evaluations based on expert knowledge. To examine the confidence that can be placed in expert management effectiveness evaluation, this study focused on the State of the Parks evaluation tools, used by the Australian protected area management agencies Parks Victoria and the New South Wales Department of Conservation and Climate Change. Both the accuracy and precision of assessments are considered using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods. By establishing an independent reference point through on-ground data collection or a systematic review of existing data, the accuracy of park manager’s assessments were evaluated. An analysis of the data sources available to park managers to support their assessments revealed that the majority of park managers did not use quantitative data. The accuracy of assessments was therefore measured for a sample of reserves where quantitative data were reportedly used and where practitioners had only experience to inform their assessments. The precision, or the consistency, of State of the Parks assessments was also examined. Two likely sources of inconsistency within State of the Parks data were considered: those arising from the use of language and those resulting from personal differences between managers. The magnitude of these errors was evaluated through a questionnaire and a series of interviews with park managers. These errors were then modelled to assess the factors that influence the error within assessments. This study demonstrates that over half of park managers accurately assess the conditions within their reserves with reference only on their personal management experience. This analysis also revealed that many park managers who report research and monitoring data as the basis of their assessments do not genuinely have data, thus artificially inflating the already low levels of quantitative data reported. A systematic review of the data available to support State of the Parks assessments revealed that even when data were genuinely available to managers these data were insufficient to support the assessment and so required interpretation of the basis of personal experience. This provides strong evidence that even quantitative assessments of management effectiveness are actually experience-based. Yet, experience is sufficient for accurate assessments in many cases. While many park managers can accurately asses the effectiveness of their management, inaccuracies appear to arise from inconsistency in how park managers interact with the State of the Parks assessment tool. Park managers were found to be inconsistent in how they interpreted the language used in assessments when terms were not clearly defined, introducing error into the data set. Likewise, where the answers to assessments could be framed in various ways, park managers varied in the scope, scale and timeframe considered for assessments. While these framing errors were common, they did not account for a significant error in the dataset, but are likely to vary between evaluation datasets collected in different years. Considering the combined effects of these errors in State of the Parks data (the total error), the most reliable assessments were made by park rangers with moderate amounts of experience and the managers of nature reserves if they had a tertiary level education. The results of this study should be viewed as a positive outcome for management effectiveness assessments based on expert knowledge. Over half of park managers made accurate assessments of their reserves and many of the inconsistencies recorded may be easily resolved through more careful elicitation of assessments. For example, the undefined terms used within the assessments currently cause park managers confusion, but using explicit management standards to eliminate personal interpretations should eliminate much of this bias. Likewise, where park managers frame with assessments of management differently, more explicit guidelines could ensure they understand what they should evaluate. These simple changes would result in higher levels of precision and more robust evaluation data sets, increasing the confidence with which they can be used to guide management. The findings of this research should encourage other management agencies to analyse the validity of their evaluation data sets and provide guidance for those wishing to develop similar assessment tools.
Keyword Management effectiveness
Environmental management
Conservation practice
Conservation management
Expert opinion
Park managers
Protected Areas
Additional Notes 246-252

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Created: Thu, 18 Nov 2010, 12:42:11 EST by Carla Cook on behalf of Library - Information Access Service