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  Planning a national Amphibian Conservation Needs Assessment

One of the key components of the Conservation Needs Assessment process is to organize for assessments for all amphibian species in a country, as the first step in the development of a national amphibian conservation action plan.

Between 2007 and the end of 2014, Amphibian Ark staff facilitated 26 national or regional workshops to assess the conservation needs of 3,375 (46%) of the world’s amphibian species. These workshops brought together key stakeholders in amphibian conservation, primarily the leading amphibian field biologists and researchers, but also representatives from the ex situ amphibian conservation community and government wildlife agencies as well as university students. National IUCN Amphibian Specialist Group (ASG) Chairs are usually responsible for arranging the workshop and determining the most appropriate amphibian experts to become assessors and to make the assessments.

Because funding for physical workshops has become scarce, it was decided to build an online application to replicate the assessment process. In late 2014 development began on a new, online assessment program, and all past assessments have been migrated into the online database.

From 2015 onwards, national conservation needs assessments can now be undertaken either during a physical workshop or by using the online program. Assessments from previous workshops can also be reviewed and updated using the online process. The online program will be used during any future workshop-based assessments, so all new and updated assessments from this point on will be available online.

Advantages and disadvantages of both the workshop and the online method of assessment are discussed below, along with suggestions for planning national assessments.

Workshop-based assessments
Workshop-based assessments bring together the leading amphibian experts for the country’s amphibians, along with other relevant stakeholders, for a multi-day workshop. The length of the workshop depends on the number of species to be assessed, but on average, 40-60 species can be assessed each day during a workshop. The workshop ends with the discussion of recommendations and of the next steps needed for implementing those conservation actions.

Advantages
  • All expertise in one place: Leading experts are all in the same place at the same time, meaning consensus on differing expertise/knowledge can usually be reached easily.
  • Efficient: An assessment which includes all species in the country can be undertaken in a relatively short period of time.
  • Stakeholders more involved: Relevant stakeholders are included in the assessments, and are therefore familiar with the process. Therefore, they have a much better understanding of how the recommended conservation actions were developed. Stakeholders who will be responsible for implementing recommended conservation actions have better “buy-in”, since they were involved in the decision-making process.
  • Room for discussion: Good opportunity to review the assessments and recommendations as a group and to discuss the next steps required to implement the conservation actions.

Disadvantages

  • Costs: Funding is required to cover the costs of participants’ travel, workshop facilities, food, accommodation and an experienced assessment facilitator. Although costs can vary considerably, the average assessment workshop costs between US$12,000 - US$20,000.
  • Funding takes time: It can take between six months to two years to secure the funding required to hold a workshop.
  • Limit to number of experts present: generally participation is limited to around 15-20 participants (including stakeholders other than the assessors), meaning that some experts might not be included during the workshop.
  • Hard to pick a date: Scheduling a suitable time to bring all experts and key stakeholders together can be difficult, especially if some of those experts spend considerable time in the field.

Online assessments
Using the online process, assessors generally work in isolation from each other, and without an experienced facilitator. The combined assessments from multiple individual assessors are consolidated into a single set of assessments for each country.

Advantages

  • Can be undertaken at any time:- assessors are not restricted to a few specific days at a workshop.
  • Fits in schedule: Assessors can complete assessments in their own time, without being taken away from their daily work routine.
  • More inclusive: - a larger number of assessors can contribute to a national assessment.
  • Low costs: Minimal cost when compared to workshop-based assessments.

Disadvantages

  • Less focus: Assessors might not be totally focussed on the task, and therefore, assessing all species can take considerable time.
  • No experienced facilitator: Absence of an experienced facilitator to address questions or fully explain aspects of the assessment process.
  • Dependent on availability internet: Access to the internet required to add, update or review assessments.
  • Harder to reach consensus: Contradictory responses might skew the overall assessment and recommendation when multiple, differing assessments are consolidated.
  • Bias to certain species: Some species in a country might not be assessed - assessors may tend to favour the most threatened species, leaving the most common species unassessed. This results not only in an incomplete national assessment, but species that might be recommended for actions such as ex situ research into husbandry of more threatened species (i.e. analog species), might not be included in the recommended conservation actions.
  • Stakeholders less involved: Key stakeholders, other than the assessors (e.g. government wildlife agencies, ex situ conservation community etc.) are not included in the assessment process and might have less “buy-in” when it comes to implementing the recommended conservation actions.
  • Less group discussion: Less opportunity to review the completed assessments and recommendations as a group and to determine the next steps required to implement the conservation actions.

Planning for a workshop-based assessment
Planning for a workshop-based assessment usually includes the following broad actions. It requires the host to dedicate considerable planning time, and good communication between the host (usually the ASG Chair(s)), the Amphibian Ark facilitator, and the participants is required.

  • Prepare a draft workshop budget, based on the number of participants, and the number of species to be assessed, and including transport costs, accommodation, food, workshop venue and an experienced facilitator.
  • Work with AArk staff to apply for funding from a range of potential funding bodies.
  • Work with AArk staff to prepare assessment workbooks, including a complete national species list, along with any national Red List assessment data that might exist. Send pre-working reading material to all participants.
  • Hold the workshop.
  • Aim to assess all species during the workshop, with several hours afterwards for review and planning on next steps.

Planning for an online assessment
An online assessment requires considerable planning and monitoring by the host (usually the ASG Chair(s)). It involves the following activities:

  • Determine the list of assessors required to collectively include expertise in all species in the country.
  • Work with AArk staff to ensure that the online database includes a complete national species list, and that any national Red List data have been added to the database.
  • Ensure that all assessors have registered in the online program as assessors.
  • Actively encourage assessors to complete their assessments according to a pre-determined timeframe.
  • Encourage assessors to review species in that country which have been added by other assessors, and to contact those assessors if they have concerns with their data.
  • Consider a physical or web-based meeting (such as Skype) once or twice during the assessment timeframe to help with any questions, keep the momentum going, and to ensure that no one is falling behind. AArk staff are happy to join these Skype calls if we can be of help - we have English and Spanish-speaking facilitators who can help.
  • ASG Chair(s) or other national facilitator reviews and approves all assessments.
  • Review species that have not yet been assessed, and encourage assessors to add data for those species.

For any further information about amphibian Conservation Needs Assessments, or for assistance with planning assessments, please contact Amphibian Ark staff at ConservationNeeds@AmphibianArk.org.

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