9 Nov 2017

Is your conservation having an impact? New toolkit PRISM will find out

Carrying out conservation work on the ground is vital, but evaluating the impact it's having is just as important. Yesterday, things got easier for conservationists everywhere with the launch of PRISM, an effective, easy-to-use and completely free evaluation toolkit - especially designed for small or medium-sized conservation projects.

A conservation focus group trials PRISM at Mbeliling IBA, Indonesia © Iain Dickson
A conservation focus group trials PRISM at Mbeliling IBA, Indonesia © Iain Dickson
By Jessica Law

It makes sense that conservationists want to prioritise their time, energy and funds for carrying out the conservation work itself – but finding out whether it’s having the desired effect is equally necessary. That's why PRISM, a new evaluation toolkit, has been launched to help conservationists improve the way they evaluate the outcomes and impacts of their projects. It’s designed to be easy to use and completely free, ensuring evaluation it enhances, rather than hinders, a project's work on the ground.

"Evaluation informs all aspects of conservation action"

Created through the combined efforts of BirdLife International and several other leading conservation organisations*, PRISM's main aim is to make it easier than ever before for projects to evaluate the impact they are having – something that will benefit the whole conservation community. Everyone likes to talk about successes, but even failures and setbacks are important to share and record, to prevent others from making the same mistakes. Iain Dickson, Impact Evaluation Officer BirdLife International, puts it best:

“Evaluation informs all aspects of conservation action. It allows us to demonstrate our achievements, improve current and future projects and to share experience with others to help them make decisions based on evidence. This toolkit aims to provide projects with the tools and information they need to effectively evaluate their work with the resources available to them.”

"Using PRISM allowed us to capture new and more detailed information"

The toolkit is designed especially for small or medium-sized projects working in complex environments, where it might be hard to separate project impacts and outcomes from other factors. It has already been trialled in the field with several projects, each in a different country and with a different evaluation challenge. And they’re already beginning to see the benefit of using PRISM. Our pilot in Indonesia reports:

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“Using the methods and guidance in PRISM allowed us to capture new and more detailed information on the outcomes of our project, allowing us to better understand the impact of the project on the wellbeing and livelihoods of the local community.” – Tiburtius Hani (Burung Indonesia)

Do you have a conservation project that you need to evaluate? Take a look at whether PRISM would be right for you:


What is PRISM?


PRISM is a toolkit that supports small/medium-sized conservation projects to evaluate the outcomes and impacts of their work.

While most projects collect data to measure delivery of actions and outputs (what the project has done); they do not always effectively evaluate the outcomes and impacts of these actions (the short, medium and long-term changes brought about by the project).

This toolkit provides practical approaches and methods to help practitioners look at the changes (positive and negative) resulting from the project, in a way that promotes learning and sharing of evidence, while still remaining within the capacity and resource limits of the project team.


Who is PRISM aimed at?


This toolkit has been designed primarily for use by practitioners carrying out small/medium-sized conservation projects and those who work to support these projects. Although there is no set definition for what constitutes a small/medium-sized project, projects are likely to have some or all of the characteristics listed below:


  • Budget between $5,000 - $100,000
  • Short timeframe (<3 years)
  • Small project team, often with limited capacity in relation to evaluation
  • Limited resources available for evaluation
  • Working in complex environments, where it can be difficult to separate project outcomes and impacts from other factors


What does the toolkit contain?


The toolkit provides a basic overview of the theory behind evaluation relevant to small/medium-sized conservation projects before guiding users through a simple, step by step process for evaluating project outcomes and impacts. 



There are five modules, covering different kinds of conservation action. A project may choose to evaluate impacts under one or more of these, as appropriate.


  • Awareness and Attitudes
  • Capacity Development
  • Livelihoods and Governance
  • Policy
  • Species and Habitat Management


Each module has practical, easy to use methods and supplementary guidance factsheets for collecting, analysing and interpreting evaluation data.


How can users access the toolkit?


The toolkit is available as a free download from www.conservationevaluation.org


How has PRISM been developed?


PRISM has been developed by a collaboration of international conservation organisations with additional input from practitioners, academics and donors from across the conservation sector. To date the toolkit has been piloted with projects in Kenya, Indonesia, Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.


What are the plans for future development?


The project team will continue to work to build evaluation capacity in relation to small/medium-sized conservation projects. The next phase of the project will focus on training and the development of supplementary materials to sit alongside the toolkit. 

*Partner organisations: BirdLife International, British Trust for Ornithology, Conservation Evidence, Fauna and Flora International, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Tropical Biology Association, UNEP-WCMC, University of Cambridge, WWF International

Financial support received from: Cambridge Conservation Initiative, ESRC-IAA, Jensen Foundation, Toyota