The Sustainable Development Project (DAS) was developed under the Biodiversity Conservation Programme (PCB), implemented by the National Parks Administration (APN) in Argentina and financed by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). The general goal of PCB was to conserve particular areas with biodiversity of global importance. The specific objectives were to: (a) expand and diversify the protected areas, (b) create conditions for their sustainable management, and (c) support sustainable development projects run by local actors.
PCB was implemented in different National Parks (2002-2006). One of these was the San Guillermo National Park, in the district of Iglesia, province of San Juan, almost 1200 kilometres North-West from Buenos Aires. More than 25 small scale projects were developed benefiting almost 300 families (focusing on honey production, organic agriculture, handicraft and rural tourism, goat milk and cheese production, among others). The systematization process was developed during 2008.
The systematization process aimed at revisiting and producing knowledge to test the underlying assumptions and the project’s theory of change, and give a deeper understanding of the crucial factors and limitations that influence sustainable development interventions. It focused on (a) the involvement of different stakeholders in the whole process, (b) sustainability of community and institutional changes, and (c) lessons learned about drivers of, and barriers to, project implementation. It considered the following steps:
- Identification of the object of study. Since systematization is a process for producing knowledge, it was necessary to define the “object”, or determine what was going to be systematized. This step helped us to set the boundaries of the experience;
- Identification of the key actors. As a multi-stakeholder assessment, it was necessary to seek the opinion of a large number of actors, all of whom have different visions, perceptions and interpretations of the experience. Having identified all actors, it was necessary to decide who would be involved in the process. It was also necessary to identify a co-ordinator, someone who would be responsible for co-ordinating a plan of work and ensuring that the different activities took place;
- The initial situation and the context. The starting point (initial situation) had to identify: (a) the problem to be addressed by the project or intervention, and (b) the opportunity, or the change/s the project wanted to achieve (more work, poverty reduction, women integration in decision making process, adoption of a new technology to make agriculture more sustainable, etc);
- Intention and description of the experience. In every process it is necessary to analyze the main purpose of the experience. It was also necessary to analyse the project, the methodology and intervention’s approach. Then we need to reconstruct and analyse the experience to get a general picture of the project, the dynamics of its process and implementation and the changes that occurred;
- Final or current situation. The main aim of this step was to describe the results and impact of the experience. The results of the experience helped compare the initial situation with the final situation, or the situation ‘with’ and ‘without’ intervention. We tried to highlight both the achievements and the causes and conditions that contributed or limited them.
- Achievements and lessons learned. In this step we needed to identify the new knowledge that came out of the experience.
The final stage of the systematization process meant not just the action of drawing knowledge from the experience and communicating the lessons learned. This new knowledge needed to be institutionalized and integrated. In order to institutionalize lessons learned, or transform them into action points, it is important to analyze the lessons, eliminate whatever has already been taken into account or is no longer relevant, discuss the implications of the remaining recommendations, and write up a plan identifying the changes to introduce in this or other experiences.
- By creating an open forum for free expression, project staff created a new space for participation within the National Park System, a very conservative and traditional institution in Argentina;
- Systematization certainly contributed to improve the quality of all APN interventions, since it created and environment to reflect on DAS assumptions, actions and results;
- By testing the projects’ theory of change, the systematization process also contributed to understand the crucial factors that influence the nature of the problem and the project’s life;
- By encouraging stakeholders to reflect on their own practice, systematization contributed to strengthening all stakeholders’ capacities;
- In order to share lessons learned and recommendations with a wider audience working on sustainable development issues, apart from the final report, a picture exhibition, a special publication and a documentary film was produced
Having stakeholders with quite different positions or antagonist interpretations on the case, different opinions and priorities, particularly at the local level, can be a problem difficult to handle. Sometimes, the evaluation faced the risk of creating a sort of “boxing ring” just to let them fight for what local people believe is the truth. In these cases, the facilitator had to be a sort of moderator, someone “neutral” who creates a space for participation but focuses on a clear question or point. Sometimes it is unavoidable to select only one point or aspect of the experience for people to get involved. A way to do that is by using tools (group dialogue techniques) for highlighting different points and getting to a consensus (if possible).
- Systematization can be used to document single and short-time project or longer and more complex programmes or development interventions. It can be carried out by community-based groups or organisations, NGOs, networks or large institutions. The general framework for orientation can be adapted to various contexts and particular institutional interests.
- It is quite important to adequately manage people’s expectations from the very beginning. Here, it is important to adopt the principles of inclusion and transparency. Apart from that, in cases where people have an interest on the issue, they should feel the right, and should have the opportunity, to get involved and participate.
- At the time of identifying the key stakeholders, all sectors should be contacted (social, economic and environmental sectors; NGOs, the private sector, academia, government, local communities). This has to do with equal partnership and power-sharing principles. Yet a multi-stakeholder perspective should avoid becoming “stakeholderism”. It is important to identify and select only those stakeholders that are crucial for the assessment.
- Participation can be stimulated with the use of participatory tools or games. But the main lesson here is to consider that these are only tools. More important is to have the will and attitude to stimulate participation. There is not a set of tools just to apply in any case. It is necessary to adapt them while keeping the objective of the session or meeting. Before selecting or using a tool, it is necessary to clearly determine the objective to reach by using this tool.
- The material and financial resources, and the physical environment where the activity is going to be developed are also very important issues.