The research project was conducted by three academics from US and UK institutions, who, together, have backgrounds in quantitative methods and field experiments, with research interests in the political economy of development and field research experience in Liberia and West Africa more broadly. They partnered with Parley to implement and evaluate a forest monitoring intervention in Bong County, Liberia.
The field experiment included four treatment arms and involved 120 communities with the purpose of assessing the efficacy of community forest management and improving communities’ transparency and accountability of forest activity. The first intervention arm involved a monitoring program in which community leaders recruited 4 – 6 community members to monitor and report activities occurring in their forests once a quarter for one year. The second treatment arm was a two-day negotiation training among community leaders to improve deals made with external actors, such as companies. The third treatment arm combined both interventions and the final arm served as the control group.
Preliminary findings suggest that the program “promotes more informed and inclusive governance of the community forest.” Households held more accurate information about forest use and participated in forest management, while community leaders scrutinized more over forest management. However, because these financially constrained communities face tradeoffs between conservation and consumption, behavioral shifts to prioritize conservation did not materialize from the intervention as evidenced by survey and satellite data showing no change in forest activity.
In the sections that follow, the brief outlines Parley’s decision to partner with the research team, their working relationship, and plans for dissemination of the findings upon completion of analysis. Information within this brief has been provided by interviews with Mr. Gregory Kitt, executive director of Parley, and Mr. Prince Williams, former staff member, along with one of the researchers, Dr. Alexandra Hartman.
Decisions to Partner with the Research Team
This was an organic collaboration between the research team and Parley. Hartman already had an established working relationship with Kitt, as they previously worked together at another institution in Liberia. The research team was already working on a project about deforestation in Liberia, using secondary historical sources that could not fully address the current situation in this context when the call for proposals for the EGAP Metaketa Initiative was sent out. They jumped at the opportunity to run an experimental intervention via this initiative and reached out to Kitt for partnership with Parley. Kitt was enthusiastic about this research opportunity and willingly obliged, as he values monitoring and evaluation projects that employ rigorous processes in part because they can more broadly inform policy. According to Kitt, these types of projects from local organizations often lack the capability to provide rigorous, high-quality processes and reports, even using questionable sampling to extract certain answers from beneficiaries; whereas, academic researchers can overcome these challenges and offer better quality and replicable analyses. This was a primary factor in Parley’s decision to partner with the research team.
The implementing partner was also highly involved in the initial stages of the project. Parley and the research team were in discussion before and after the project fully came to fruition. Conversations started early and Parley was looped into the goals of the research. Parley was also able to provide indispensable local knowledge that informed the research design. The forest is a common resource, yet, it is a much more complicated context where resources are excludable and what is recorded on paper does not necessarily translate to reality. Parley was able to track down administrative data for the research team and assist in mapping out where to implement the project and at what unit level of analysis. Kitt was very pleased that their organization was involved early on in the process, and that the research team kept an open line of communication with them. This level of collaboration is not always the case in these types of partnerships and both partners benefitted from the reciprocal cooperation.
Working with the Team
Overall, Parley’s experience working with the research team was very cordial, positive, and mutually beneficial. The research team made two trips to Liberia, with which Kitt was pleased because the visits happened at critical milestones of the project: the rollout of the intervention and the endline survey. This helped preserve the quality of the intervention from beginning to end. He also noted that the research team was engaged with the staff and expressed that the length of the visits was a generous time commitment from the research team. Both Kitt and Williams frequently emphasized the knowledge transfer of techniques, ideas, and skills that occurred while working with the research team. Both highlighted that they learned much from the researchers who were very willing to explain the research methods and how the randomization of communities worked. This was especially important to convey to the staff working in these communities to ensure correct implementation and uphold the integrity of the protocol. Kitt also noted that their organization was recently able to use the techniques vis-à-vis sampling and randomization learned from the research team to implement in their own monitoring and evaluation exercise. Similarly, Williams personally appreciated the skills he learned from the researchers to use in his own professional development, such as programming questionnaires and conducting data analysis.
Parley’s role in the implementation of the intervention was labor intensive, but Kitt believes the division of labor was appropriate. The research team conducted the randomization and designed the protocol, which involved developing the Android application, endline survey, and negotiation training module materials. Parley provided intel on which communities to work with, notified county-level authorities to obtain permission to work with communities, translated materials into Liberian English, trained community forest monitors, especially with how to use the application on the Android devices, conducted the negotiation training modules, and collected data and reported to the researchers.
As is the case with most research, there were some unforeseen challenges, primarily with the initial rollout of the intervention. Many of the community monitors lacked literacy skills using the Android devices, so Parley staff had to accompany monitors in the first one to two visits to the forests. This was a huge undertaking, more than either partner anticipated, but the labor intensity eventually declined once the monitors were able to overcome the literacy gap.
Dissemination of Findings
Parley has received a report on preliminary findings, but the final analysis is not yet complete. The research team is currently working with a firm to retrieve another round of satellite data on the forests that will be more costly yet better for analysis. The research team has been in contact about once or twice a month with Parley post-project, and they have made tentative plans for disseminating the results to local communities. One idea is to broadcast the results locally via a radio program since this is a common news source for locals. Depending on the final results, Parley also plans to share a proposal with partners and donors for another community forest management project. Kitt did not express any concern with the time gap between intervention completion and the dissemination of the results. Additionally, Williams mentioned that he still receives calls from community leaders who would like the project to continue, conveying that community buy-in and interest is ongoing.
This brief examines the collaboration between researchers and implementers who help to administer interventions on natural resource governance. One consideration is the unintended impact and costs of these types of intervention on particularly financially constrained communities. Williams highlighted the immense amount of logistics involved in this type of project, which can become somewhat burdensome to community members. Although some incentives for monitoring the forests were provided, Williams suggested that the researchers could have provided even more logistical support, including protective equipment and gear in order to provide safety measures while community members worked in the forest. That being said, Kitt stated that it was uniformly a positive experience and the partnership was quite satisfactory. The project was not disruptive to the organization’s work and the research team delivered the services they wanted. He further expressed that this has been one of the most positive experiences working with a donor or client they have had in years.