‘Don't Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good’: Taking The First Steps Toward Developing a Basin Report Card

Nancy Sheehan ·
15 November 2017
Environmental Report Cards |     5 comments

By Nancy Sheehan

UMCES IAN launched a new online course, Healthy Rivers For All. Instructors for this course include Drs. Heath Kelsey, Simon Costanzo, and Bill Dennison. The class participants hail from three different continents (North America, Africa, and Australia), represent five different countries (Australia, Kenya, Mexico, United States, and Zambia), and work for many different types of organizations (from small NGOs and local affiliates of national NGOs, to academic institutions and government agencies). Participants share a commitment to developing successful basin report cards that they hope will contribute to healthier river and coastal basins.

The participants of the new Healthy Rivers for All class, taught using BlueJeans.
The participants of the new Healthy Rivers for All class, taught using BlueJeans.

Participant Affiliation Country Affiliation
Jodie Mehrtens Queensland Government Office of the Great Barrier Reef Australia
Irina Ize LANRESC-UNAM Mexico
Nancy Sheehan Rock River Coalition United States
Kennedy Onyango WWF-Kenya Kenya
Katya Altman University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health United States
Chanda Mwale WWF-Zambia Zambia
Alison Field-Juma OARS United States

Jodie Mehrtens, Queensland Government Office of the Great Barrier Reef (OGBR), took the reins as the facilitator for the second session of this distance learning course. Over the next hour, course participants discussed the six enabling conditions highlighted in the Practitioner’s Guide to Developing River Basin Report Cards. In brief, the Guide advises practitioners to scope out the social and political environment for six “enabling conditions” that contribute to successful report card processes and outcomes. If these enabling conditions do not already exists, the Guide encourages practitioners to:

  • create a demand for a basin report card;
  • garner support from government agencies;
  • build capacity within civil society;
  • promote progress and outcome with local media outlets;
  • secure adequate funding; and
  • create sustaining leadership.

Six enabling conditions contribute to successful report cards.
Six enabling conditions contribute to successful report cards.

Participants were asked to share some of the challenges they have faced in developing basin report cards. Participants agreed that identifying and maintaining adequate funding is a huge challenge. But, participants did not dwell on this “universal” challenge; rather they dived right into a lively discussion of the five other conditions identified as critical to a successful basin report card development process.

On the one hand, some participants noted that if they had known that these conditions needed to be in place before developing a report card, they may never have begun the process. These participants mentioned that this section of the Guide was rather intimidating and might dissuade practitioners from considering developing a report card. On the other hand, some participants found that the Guide provided a useful blueprint to follow as they embark on their work. These participants have detailed plans for holding multi-stakeholder dialogues, engaging governmental officials, and identifying local leaders.

We will discuss many of the ideas presented in the Practitioner,  Guide to Developing River Basin Report Cards over the course of our class.
We will discuss many of the ideas presented in the Practitioner’s Guide to Developing River Basin Report Cards over the course of our class.

Participants and course instructors agreed that it may be important to take action even in the absence of an ideal enabling environment. Course instructors noted that the Guide aims to encourage practitioners to foster these conditions as much as possible, but they hope that practitioners do not interpret these conditions and steps as prescriptive. Doing something even if it is not perfect, in terms of having all enabling conditions met, may sometimes be sufficient to create momentum. Participants agreed that perhaps the development of a report card can create the demand. Leaders may emerge. Funding may follow. All agreed that the bottom line is to keep the momentum going. Practitioners can continue to identify stakeholders and cultivate partnerships even after a report card is created. It is important to take that first step when others may not.

Course participants also agreed that community and stakeholder engagement is necessary for ensuring longer term impact. Course participants who have used the “SNAP” process thought this was an ideal way to initially build stakeholder engagement as well as to prioritize values and threats within a basin. These participants suggested that the “SNAP” process should be undertaken periodically to:

  • continue to engage stakeholders in the usefulness of basin report card development;
  • track any changes in the values assigned to different indicators;
  • revisit priorities;
  • bring in new stakeholders.

Furthermore, participants agreed that promoting efforts through media outlets is helpful to reach wider audiences. Often local press outlets many not have the time nor the budget to cover local events. Practitioners discussed the benefits of writing detailed press releases.

This week and next, participants are sharing brief

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  • Chanda 7 years ago

    Wonderful and informative blog, thanks Nancy!

  • Heath Kelsey 7 years ago

    Great discussion of where we started this course.
    I'm really happy with the representation we have in this course - I think it will add quite a bit of value to our discussions and overall outcomes of the course.

    The feedback on the second lecture and the enabling conditions section of the Practitioner's guide is really important, and we have already discussed changes to the guide with our WWF partners.

    I also really liked the idea of having periodic updates of teh SNAP exercise and the idea of developing a "toolbox" approach to different activities that can be used to engage stakeholders.

  • Heath Kelsey 7 years ago

    Im also astonished that everyone was smiling in the screen shot of the bluejeans class session!

  • Jodie 7 years ago

    Great post Nancy. Full of great advice. I've shared it with our National Report Card Network so our cheery faces can be appreciated Australia wide!

  • Katya Altman 7 years ago

    Nancy did a great job with capturing the essence of our last week’s discussion and introducing the class and the participants. It is nice to have all of the highlights from our conversation in one place, and thank you for including the links to the resources in the blog! I think this is helpful not only for the class participants but also for other people interested in learning more about the process of developing river basin health report cards. I look forward for our next discussion on choosing indicators.

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