Acting on Ecosystem Service Opportunities


Step 7: Planning for implementation

Finally, the instrument is ready to be rolled out. This step involves formulating an action plan, preparing and signing necessary formal agreements, and handing over to the implementing partners. Its expected outputs are:

An action plan for implementation is developed, including a system for monitoring progress and impacts

Responsibility for implementation is taken over by the agreed lead institution, agency or group

Any formal agreements or contracts required to proceed with implementation are signed

Reports on and evaluation of the step-by-step process will have been made.

From now on, the key actors in the instrument should gradually take over the management and organisation of the implementation process and then keep the instrument up and running. We refer to these actors as ‘implementing partners’. Step 7 is ideally already being led or at least co-coordinated by the implementing partners. By the end of the step the implementing partners must assume full responsibility. Your team and the institutions or agencies you represent will then adopt a facilitating role to support implementation. Moving from a leading to a facilitating role may involve a loss of control, since political processes have their own pace, but it ultimately increases the chance of sustained and self-governed implementation and change.

The smoothness of handing over responsibilities to implementing partners will depend on how well they have been engaged in the overall process. By involving them as direct participants from the outset you should have secured their close cooperation, support and buy-in. Conversely, without such engagement, it is unlikely that the instrument will be acceptable, viable or sustainable in practice.

Task 7 A. Developing an action plan

By the end of Task 7A you and the implementing partners will have developed an action plan for implementing the selected instrument. This should i) detail the tasks to accomplish and the mile-stones to reach; ii) identify the actors responsible for undertaking them and the timeline for delivery; and iii) specify the means by which progress will be monitored.

What this task is about

The basic design and architecture of the instrument was put together in Task 6A, and the more detailed modalities and procedures were specified in Task 6B. Now you need to turn all this into a concrete plan of action, to show how it will be implemented in practice. This can be a means of sharing information with key stakeholders about activities to be undertaken and their expected outcomes. It will also demonstrate to potential funders and donors that a clear and logical plan for implementation has been thought through and formalised. Most action plans will contain some or all of the following information:

  • The goal(s) of the instrument and the intended outcome(s)*
  • Actions to establish and operate the instrument*
  • Timing of activities*
  • Who is responsible for carrying out activities+
  • Targets, indicators and milestones of achievement+
  • Costed budget+
  • Monitoring plan

*Essential details / +Helpful information

At a minimum, the action plan should lay out the goal and intended outcomes, and the activities and time frame required to achieve them. However, most action plans also set milestones and targets and specify what needs to be done and by whom. This enables checking that everything is on track and going as planned once implementation commences. It is also usual practice to attach a budget to the action plan, and to indicate sources of funding. This ensures that the action plan is not just a wish list.

As shown in the examples below, action plans are often integrated into broader conservation or development policy, planning or management processes. This offers an additional – and usually very necessary − source of support (and often budget) for the development of economic instruments, and ties them into the achievement of wider conservation and development outcomes.

The example in Box 3 illustrates how basic action plan elements were presented in a sustainable financing strategy and action plan for three Marine Protected Areas in the Andaman Sea region of Thailand. The example in Box 4 shows how details on targets, milestones, and responsibilities were incorporated into a five-year strategy and action plan.

As we have seen, the action plan should go beyond merely listing what is necessary to establish and operate a particular instrument – it should also give an idea of the expected outcome. Usually it will also specify measurable targets and the indicators and milestones to be achieved within a given time frame. It will then help in monitoring whether everything is going as planned. Monitoring measures progress, informs decisions that will increase the likelihood of achieving intended outcomes, and enhances accountability, learning and communication. Having proper monitoring in place from the beginning can significantly enhance the credibility of the economic instrument, and strengthen stakeholder confidence and buy-in.

Monitoring may take place at a very basic level, to track general progress in line with the work plan and budget. This may be a requirement of the investor, donor, agreement, contract or regulation under which the instrument is being funded or implemented. Some types of economic instruments go further, and demand adherence to particular standards or regulations: e.g. verified carbon offset schemes and accredited certification schemes; conditional or mandatory payments for ecosystem services; execution of land management concessions or running of protected area facilities and services; or delivery of production or trade contracts. In such cases, independent third-party monitoring and verification of progress and/or compliance may be required.

Box 3: Developing a sustainable financing strategy and action plan for Andaman Marine Protected Areas, Thailand (Nabangchang et al. 2012)   Please click to learn more 

Box 4: Setting targets and indicators for implementing local incentives for conservation in Lower Amu Darya Biosphere Reserve, Uzbekistan (Emerton 2010b)   Please click to learn more 

Something that is often especially important to monitor – but more difficult to do so than activities, outputs, milestones and budget spending – is the extent to which the instrument has been taken up and accepted by the main participants and is achieving the impacts or outcomes for which it was designed. There is often a need to demonstrate (to the funder, investor, or to political decision makers) that the instrument that you are implementing has been successful and effective from a conservation or development viewpoint. In a similar vein, many economic instruments are built on unproven hypotheses or unsubstantiated assumptions: for example, if we change land use here it will improve hydrological services there; or PES can reduce poverty at the same time as reducing forest degradation. Only when the instrument has been piloted can these theories be verified. The example in Box 5 describes the indicators and methods that were used to monitor these kinds of impacts and chains of causality for a pilot PES scheme in Vietnam.

Box 5: Monitoring Payment for Forest Environmental Services in Lam Dong Province, Vietnam (Winrock International 2011). Please click to learn more 

How to go about Task 7 A

While there are many different methods by which an action plan can be developed, it is always desirable – and usually absolutely essential – to ensure that representatives of major stakeholder groups participate in it. Without their active input and support it may prove very difficult to put the plan into practice. At a minimum, they should be familiar with its contents and agree with them. Ideally, it is these actors who should lead the development of the action plan and take ownership of it, while you take on a supporting advisory role.

It can be useful to follow the structure of the action plan in Box 3.

Task 7 B.  Drafting an agreement and handing over to implementing partners

At the end of Task 7B, implementing partners will have reached a binding agreement (e.g. a contract) and taken over the implementation and operation of the economic instrument.

What this task is about

Step 6 elaborated and documented the detailed design and key procedures for the economic instrument and secured a commitment to proceed from key actors: essentially an agreement to become implementing partners. In Step 7A you worked together with those implementing partners to develop a detailed action plan for implementation, and you identified workable monitoring systems and procedures. These arrangements now need to be formalised.

      Even an agreement that is not legally binding may require a written format!       Please click to learn moreIn Thadee, the following document served to formalize the agreement between landholders and the PES Fund. 

Some instruments may not involve negotiating an agreement in a narrow sense, for instance in deciding prizes and awards, granting an environmental subsidy, eco-tourism activities or marketing nature-based products. Even so, the participants will usually need to agree on strategic or practical issues (e.g. to ensure financing or technical support) and perhaps on what to do if plans are changed or promises not kept. Some formal arrangement will often be necessary, such as registering as a legal entity or signing a contract with a financial intermediary.

Other types of instruments obviously require some kind of formal, binding agreement between the different parties involved: for example, most PES schemes require a legally binding agreement or contract. Eco-labelling or certification requires that particular production standards are maintained, and credit financing involves agreements between recipient and lender. In most instances, a formal written document is required which states clearly and unambiguously the purpose and details of the instrument, lays out rights and responsibilities, and safeguards the interests of all parties. This can be an umbrella agreement such as a letter of intention, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), or a co-management plan; or it can be a specific contract with individual actors for conservation rewards, certification scheme, product sales contract, revenue-sharing arrangement, etc. In some cases, an umbrella agreement will be a first step, followed by a series of more specific contracts.

      An economic instrument often requires several formal acts and/or contractual arrangements!     Please click to learn moreIn Thadee, the establishment of a hydro PES scheme involved two formal administrative acts:•  the official endorsement of the Klong-Thadee sub-river basin committee by the provincial representation of the environmental ministry•  the registration of the Association of Nakhon Si Thammarat Environmental Conservation as juristic person in the provincial registry, signed by the governor, including official permission to use the name of the province in the title of the association and a list of the specific activities and the members of the executive committee.Then, contractual arrangements were specified for making payments to communities and land holders in return for ecological activities.

Often the format and terms of this agreement will already be fixed, and will extend beyond the control of either the participants or the instrument itself. Microcredit and loan agreements, for example, will con-form to the requirements of the lending institution; certification and eco-labelling standards will usually be based on predetermined criteria; and joint management contracts, concessions and leases will usually be standardised for all protected areas. In these cases, your main role is to facilitate information-sharing, to provide advice and if necessary to assist the local participant to understand and fulfil the requirements of the agreement they are entering into.

In the case of an entirely new agreement or contract for the implementation of an instrument, a written agreement can be drafted based on the design document, the feasibility study and the impact assessments. At this stage you should check that the provisions and mechanisms of this agreement are fully consistent with (and enforceable by) both customary practice and modern law. A draft agreement can be discussed by the implementing partners and amended and further specified as necessary. Template 7B contains a checklist of contract components to assist this. Legal advice may be required to ensure that the rights of all signatories are respected and there are no legal errors or inconsistencies.

      Strong institutions and effective community self-organisation are vital!      Please click to learn moreIn Pang-Ma-O, the ability of the community to organise and manage itself was a critical condition for successful collaboration with the agricultural bank. Bank representatives openly stated that the logistical and administrative challenges in the Tree Bank scheme (e.g. tagging and registering trees, setting up a committee, appointing leaders) were partly intended to test the community’s ability to self-organise effectively. Since this went well, they were willing to discuss additional support and collaboration.

Three aspects of an agreement are particularly important to emphasise:

  • Cost and benefit sharing arrangements relate to who is entitled to gain from revenues, income or other proceeds generated by the instrument, and who should incur the costs of implementing it. These must be clearly specified, based on the work you carried out in Task 5B. This includes agreeing who will bear which costs (or receive which benefits) and in what proportion, at what time, and in what form they will be allocated. In some cases, a more formal supplementary agreement may be necessary or even required by law: e.g. on bio-prospecting and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources. In some cases cost and benefit sharing arrangements can be incorporated into the agreement. In other cases, especially where arrangements are complex or involve significant new income and expenses, a separate contract or agreement may be necessary.
  • Management and mitigation arrangements relate to who is responsible for dealing with possible negative environmental, social and livelihood impacts of the instrument, and what safeguards or actions they are expected to perform. The design details elaborated in Task 6B and the action and monitoring plan in Task 7A will have ascertained whether these provisions are necessary and, if so, what they should involve. The agreement will need to i) include any social, environmental or other management or mitigation plan, ii) specify who is responsible for implementing it, and iii) detail the means by which compliance will be monitored and enforced and the penalties for non-compliance. In many cases a separate contract or agreement will have to be developed with the specific actor(s) responsible for management, mitigation or safeguards.
  • Related to the second point, contractual arrangements should specify what happens in the case of unforeseen difficulties or unintended negative effects, including options to adapt or terminate the instrument. For instance, direct payments within a PES scheme are usually made to landholders for activities that are expected to improve biodiversity (e.g. community patrolling to prevent poaching). If the activities are not carried out properly and the desired effects do not happen, then payments need to be stopped or the terms for paying them altered.

How to go about Task 7 B

Ideally, the implementing partners will have already taken the lead, so the job of your team is finished and you can hand over the implementation process with the completed action plan. Very often, however, you will still be actively involved in formalising the commitment between implementing partners and other actors involved.

Negotiating and eventually signing agreements can be a complicated and lengthy process.  The path to achieving this includes Task 6B, where you should have achieved buy-in from key actors. In fact, it goes back even further, to the consultations and discussions or even lobbying activities during Step 5 when you prepared a workable and feasible proposal. From that point until a contract is finally signed can take months or years. Even more than before, the process during the negotiation phases needs leaders and strong characters. Success will depend on you making a viable and appropriate proposal, but also on the ownership and engagement of implementing partners. As in all political processes, good timing and windows of opportunity can play a major role (e.g. political elections, disasters or events that highlight the need for change). When you started Task 6B, negotiations should have been far enough advanced to focus on fixing the details bringing them together within a formal document, and then signing it. Template 7B provides a checklist of contract components that can help to define an agreement and make sure that you have not forgotten any crucial aspects. Of course, a lawyer should review all agreements before signing.

  Template 7B: Checklist of contract components (adapted from UNEP 2008)     Download Checklist

Task 7 C. Reporting on and evaluating the process and the instrument

At the end of Task 7C, you will have reported on the experiences and lessons learned from the process. At a later stage you will review the implementation process and the effectiveness of the economic instrument that you set in place.

What this task is about

At the end of Task 7C, you will have reported on the experiences and lessons learned from the process. At a later stage you will review the implementation process and the effectiveness of the economic instrument that you set in place.

The task of reporting on and evaluating the process is strictly speaking not part of – or necessary to – implementing an economic instrument. And yet a report is very often required by the funders of a project or the initiative that commissioned it. In addition, reviewing the different stages and activities of the process can be very usefully combined with identifying experiences and lessons, which in turn can be used to make recommendations for improving the process or instrument design. Formulating such lessons and recommendations is sometimes part of report requirements, but is in any case a very important activity that helps your team and others to benefit from what has been learned and apply it in the future.

Longer-term review and evaluation of the effectiveness and sustainability of economic instruments is often neglected, since implementation projects terminate at this point or run out of funding. This is unfortunate, since many lessons can only be learned by looking at longer-term functioning and in particular the longer-term impacts of a measure or instrument. As described in Task 7A, longer-term review and evaluation of social and environmental impacts should be built into the monitoring procedures. So you will have to decide whether you and your team, project or organisation should be involved in these tasks at all – and if so, to what extent and in what way: by contributing to these monitoring procedures or by going beyond. Going beyond could mean, for instance, comparing effectiveness across instruments or projects, or systematically analysing success factors to derive lessons and recommendations for future design and implementation. As mentioned in Task 7A regarding monitoring, indicators for measuring success are crucial. They should directly measure outcomes affecting livelihoods (e.g. the number of families with significant additional income), conservation activities (e.g. a certain number of trees planted per year), and environmental outcomes (e.g. improvement of water flow or quality). This also enables assumptions to be verified about relationships between activities and conservation success (e.g. whether agro-forestry reduces sedimentation in the river).

How to go about Task 7 C

The tables and checklists in the templates are a good basis for reporting the stages, milestones and out-comes of the step-by-step process. At the end of the project or even during it (annual or midterm) they can be easily adapted to meet reporting requirements. In order to derive lessons and recommendations, take time to sit together with your team and review what was done within each step by asking questions such as:

What has been achieved here?

What went smoothly, and why?

What were the challenges? How did we overcome them?

Possible channels for disseminating lessons and recommendations include academic journals, policy briefs, or different forms of media.

Revisiting the implementation after 1 year and then after 3–5 years allows assessment of the longer-term impacts of the economic instrument on biodiversity and livelihoods, and whether the instrument is working sustainably. For ex post evaluation of effective functioning, in particular for comparative analyses across different sites or schemes, it can be a good idea to collaborate with researchers who may be interested in such analyses from an academic perspective.

Selected references and further guidance for Step 7

Guidance on preparing an action plan

Chapter 8 of TNC`s Conservation Action Planning Handbook (2007) provides guidance pertaining to the staffing, time-line and costs of implementing conservation actions (Task 7A).

Guidance on monitoring

The Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation (CMP 2015) helps teams to be systematic in planning, implementing, and monitoring their conservation initiatives (Task 7A).

The World Bank (1998) has prepared ‘Guidelines for Monitoring and Evaluation for Biodiversity Projects’.




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