Vicki, one of our Senior Consultants in WA, gives us a taster of her AES presentation.  

The 2016 Australasian Evaluation Society (AES to his or her friends) conference is only 2 weeks away and I’m up to version 4 of my presentation. I expect there’ll be another 4 revisions before I’m comfortable enough to unleash it on an unsuspecting public.

The evaluation I’ll be talking about was of a government funded program to improve the environmental, economic and social prospects for troubled regions in NSW. These regions had been struggling with the effects of drought and a depressed market for commodities for a number of years. The program started in 1997 when nearly $20 million was put towards a range of measures from training and skills development through to the control of woody weeds and rabbits (or as we liked to call it – woody weeds and wabbits).

That first program ran for five years and was then extended for another four years with an additional $12.5 million. The program had a number of objectives ultimately leading to ‘robust, equitable and prosperous communities’.

My colleagues had conducted an evaluation at the end of the first program and again at the end of the second round of funding. Those evaluations had shown the two programs had made a useful contribution to improving the prospects and welfare of a sizeable proportion of the landholders and their farm business enterprises. Now usually with programs like this that would be the end of it – program finished, evaluation done, all good … tick.

But no so for the Western Local Land Services, the organisation that commissioned this evaluation. In 2014, nearly ten years after the program had finished, we were asked to assess the extent of enduring practice change and achievement of program objectives across the NSW Western Division. We knew it would be a challenge to go back 10 years, and we were right.

After ten years many people had moved on from the area – not surprising because part of the funding was to assist landholders to sell up and move on. Some people had moved on involuntarily, that is, they had passed away. Others had moved on psychologically, in that they didn’t recall either receiving the funding or what it achieved. Some weren’t able to discern between the funding provided by this program and funding received from other sources so attribution became an issue.

Farming is a cyclical activity dependent upon the climate. Since the millennium drought that had sparked the program, there have been better years and these farmers had moved on and were enjoying the fruits of the better seasons.

In spite of all these challenges we were able to complete the evaluation which showed...…. well, if you come along to the conference on Monday at 11:30am (Mosman Bay Room) you can hear how it ended. Hopefully I’ll see you there.