Insights from participatory outcome evaluation with social forest groups in Myanmar

©Binod Chapagain

Insights from participatory outcome evaluation with social forest groups in Myanmar

Community-based forest management in Myanmar started during the 1990s. After a decline in forests, the government realized the importance of villagers’ participation and issued a series of policy reforms: with community forest (CF) management, local people started protecting the forests and planning the use of resources sustainably, obtaining various livelihoods benefits.

In evaluating the outcomes of the CF management, two major challenges emerged:

  • The divergence between the government's forest department, which would focus on the changes in forests and biodiversity, and the local people, which expect to understand the livelihoods benefits that CF management provides them.
  • The lack of tools for people-centered monitoring and evaluation.

Here is how we addressed these challenges.   

Developing the concept of citizens M&E in forestry  

In early 2018, an intriguing story emerged when we met a senior forestry department official in Myanmar: he said that when he requested to send information about the outcomes of CF groups from the Ayerrawaddy Delta, his field officials could not provide a concrete response as neither the CF groups nor the department officials had any documented information.

When we visited the CF groups in the area [1], we found that the local leaders had many good stories to share, but they did not have tools to evaluate them systematically and manage the information efficiently. We started to develop the concept of citizen's participation in monitoring and evaluation building on feedback from both the government representatives and CF leaders supplemented by an assessment of existing outcome documentation practices at the CF and forest department levels and a review of information management at the forest department.

Understanding the local people's expectation of measuring different types of outcomes, such as natural, economic, human, physical, and social changes, and addressing the forest department requirement of reporting the changes in forest resources, and biodiversity (natural capital) was a complex process. We blended the elements from the CF Assessment Framework [2] and the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework[3] with Participatory Rural Appraisal and developed a 'Citizen's monitoring toolbox' with various tools. We selected the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework as it helps people to understand the outcomes together with policies, institutions, and processes, also in vulnerability context (Figure 1).  The tools were piloted, adjusted, and synthesized with leaders, members, and forest department representatives from five CF groups each in Myanmar and in Cambodia,

Figure 1: Sustainable Livelihoods Framework [4]

Figure 1

The tools and outcome documentation

This process helped develop an open-access toolbox as a product [5], which includes a few participatory tools such as social mapping, resources mapping, well-being ranking, individual income accounts keeping and self-assessment and reporting, with guidelines for local people to use them. As this is an outcome -focused toolbox, it takes a summative outcome harvesting approach and does not necessarily require a set of indicators. However, the toolbox provides a guiding checklist of questions for each tool to help prepare maps and collect information.

The toolbox simplifies the five capitals of the sustainable livelihoods framework to help local people to understand them in their own context. For example:

  1. Natural capital – such as changes in timber (timber, furniture for house construction or selling), non-timber forest products including bamboo, mushroom, or other products.  
  2. Human capital – including the number of people with increased leadership or technical or other capacities and enhanced knowledge, and the number of children that received schooling opportunities because of CF's financial support.
  3. Social capital – association with women groups, forest groups, networking with other groups, building relationships with individuals, social groups, and organizations, both vertically and horizontally.
  4. Physical capital – basic infrastructure supported by CF groups e.g., construction and improvement of village roads, trails, schools, temples, or some other infrastructure.
  5. Financial capital – individual income raised by women and men by selling products from CBF areas, their savings, access to credit, number of families coming out of economic poverty and, where applicable number of families falling into poverty and the reasons behind it.

Applying the toolbox

With the help of the toolbox, the local people updated the livelihoods outcome data from the ten pilot CFs. Many groups blended social and resources maps together when they were living around or in the CF area. We got many stories of change. For example, when coastal forest was degraded, a typhoon badly affected the local village on Ayerrawaddy Delta in 2000. However, with the protection of mangrove forests in the coastal CF, they had less floods, but increased fish and other sea foods in their forest-canals. With the increased number of trees and other plants, some birds and animals like crocodiles returned, improving the biodiversity, but also putting at risk the life of local people. These stories were derived after they visualized the changes in their areas.

Figure 2: Example of maps prepared by CF members giving baseline, outcomes and vision

Figure 2

What did we learn

  1. The Citizen's monitoring tools helped local people to document their resources, wellbeing, and other baselines, as well as the information of the changed conditions. The process also provided the CF group members a consistent access to data, which can now be preserved beyond oral histories and individual memory. This complemented the data gathering efforts of forest departments.   
  2. This process engaged and sought inputs from different CF members. Once the data was updated, it was presented to the CF members, thus ensuring the accountability of CF management committee to group members and to government authorities and placing the citizens in charge of information. The groups have used big vinyl flipcharts – resilient to rainwater and tough handling – to keep records and display the record in public places. These all have contributed to increase the transparency, accountability, and responsibility of CF groups.
  3. The information management and sharing of plans, progress, budget, and other resources helped to generate additional learning at the CF level through sharing of local people’s experiential knowledge with stakeholders.
  4. Locally based monitoring and evaluation is cheaper relative to expert-driven evaluations and sustainable, although it requires initial intensive efforts for developing local capacity.
  5. However, the citizen's monitoring was halted in the COVID-19 pandemic context as this involves collective activities of CF members. Therefore, the sustainability needs to be observed further, as it holds brilliant potential.

Finally, we wish to sincerely thank the Center for People and Forests (RECOFTC) Bangkok for this participatory action research opportunity.

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[1] Aung Kyaw Naing from Myanmar and Tol Sokchea from Cambodia were key team members involved in training, in testing the participatory tools and in the development of the citizen's monitoring in forestry toolbox.  

[2] http://www.fao.org/sustainable-forest-management/toolbox/modules/commun…

[3] http://www.glopp.ch/B7/en/multimedia/B7_1_pdf2.pdf

[4] Department for International Development, UK

[5] The toolbox is available in English, Burmese and Khmer https://archive.recoftc.org/training-manuals-and-guides/citizens-monito…