Open Consultation (August-October 2020)
During a broad consultation held between late August and early October 2020, the CLC invited comments on a discussion document that outlined the performance assurance program implementation plan and potential governance options, and encouraged feedback on practice elements from the Canadian Land Trust Standards and Practices (S&Ps) that could be the focus of the program.
The responses to the open consultation were fairly consistent and helped identify a list of practice elements to use in the next phase of the program’s development. In addition to comments received during the consultation, the current working list of practice elements reflects the strategic direction advice from the February 2020 national forum, comments from the Advisory Committee and a smaller working group, and generally aligns with the elements used in the land trust accreditation program in the US. Following the open consultation, the CLC held conference calls with the Advisory Committee and with a smaller working group to discuss the results of the consultation and next steps.
Ground truthing exercise (February-June 2021)
In keeping with CLC’s principles for the program, we consulted with 14 conservation organizations to help ensure the performance assurance program is accessible and realistic for the diversity of organizations within the community and to help identify gaps or modifications to improve the program.
The conservation organizations who participated in this exercise were from across Canada and ranged from large organizations to small, volunteer-based organizations. Participating organizations were given a workbook to provide feedback on the list of priority practice elements (as identified in the consultation in 2020) and the list of corresponding pieces of evidence to demonstrate effective implementation of the practice elements. The organizations who participated in the exercise spoke candidly on the benefits and challenges of a program and shared suggestions on how to make the program more accessible and better meet the needs of the community. The process focused on finalizing the nature of the evidence, understanding the type of support an organization would need, and confirming that practice elements from the S&Ps would accurately reflect the performance of an organization.
- Priority practice elements
During the forum, open consultation, and ground truthing process, the community was hesitant to use all the practice elements from the S&Ps to avoid participation in the performance assurance program from being too demanding or onerous. Using the priority list of practice elements resulting from the open consultation, the participants in the ground truthing exercise further refined the list of selected practice elements and helped reduce redundancies in the list.
- Nature of the evidence and demonstrating effective implementation
CLC created a preliminary list of documents or other information that an applicant could provide to demonstrate effective implementation of the indicator practice elements. This list was reviewed and refined by participants of the exercise. Participating organizations recommended different terms and provided comments to ensure the program requirements are clear, simple, and easy to understand. Further, some pieces of evidence were removed or alternative approaches were suggested. The input provided helps to ensure the program reflects the diversity within the conservation community in Canada.
- Level of effort
During the forum, open consultation, and ground truthing process, the community expressed concerns about the time needed to participate in the program. The prioritization of practice elements and the refined list of evidence reduces the workload and effort required by any applicant to the program. During the ground truthing process, many participating organizations indicated the level of effort to be reasonable, especially for those who have a digital system for the organization of their documents and files.
- Resources and support
To ensure all applicants are well-equipped, organizations recommended templates and guidance for certain types of evidence (for example, written policies), mentoring and peer-to-peer learning opportunities, the use of case studies on how materials would be assessed, as well as financial support for applicants. A self-assessment tool was also suggested to help an organization understand its progress in developing policies and procedures based on the S&Ps. Existing information is available to assist conservation organizations in developing policies and procedures, including by the Réseau de Milieux Naturels protégés, the Ontario Land Trust Alliance and the Land Trust Alliance of BC. It was also noted to ensure that enough time is provided for an organization to collect and revise documents for the program.
- Determining performance level
Ideas and suggestions about who should do the assessment to determine the performance level of an organization were productive although not definitive. Some organizations continued to prefer all reviews and assessments be done within the land trust community rather than through a third-party auditor or verification provider. Other organizations prefer the use of an internal approach for review and assessment to ensure the reviewers and assessors understand the complexities of private land conservation and the uniqueness of the private land conservation community. Further, use of external or third-party verifiers would have potential cost implications that organizations would like to avoid.
Still other organizations preferred a hybrid approach that used a third-party verifier (vetted and trained by CLC) for the indicator practice elements that relate to the organizational standards in the S&Ps, and land trust practitioners or experts for indicator practice elements related to the acquisition and stewardship standards. Alternatively, the organizational standards could be reviewed by a CLC committee comprised of individuals, including people from the land conservation community with the necessary expertise while ensuring independence and avoiding potential conflicts of interest.
- Conceptual model
Organizations did not have definitive thoughts on the conceptual model for the program of whether an organization should be assessed and reported overall or by each standard. Still, the conversations were informative and valuable to help CLC understand the nuances of how to report on performance and the potential impact on participants of the performance assurance program.
Some organizations who preferred a rating by standard highlighted that this model provided a means for continuous improvement (an organization would know where they had gaps and how they could improve). Alternatively, some organizations preferred an overall rating by organization which could also highlight areas of improvement through comments received directly by the organization (not published externally).
Organizations varied on their opinion of the terminology to use for the program. Prior to the Forum in February 2020, there was hesitation about the use of “accreditation” and at the Forum there was reluctance to rely on graduated system (such as the use of “Gold, Silver, or Bronze”).
During the discussions from the ground truthing process, organizations continued to express preferences for either a single or graded system. While no single option has been preferred overall, some organizations seemed comfortable using more descriptive terminology for when an organization is participating in the performance assurance program (for example, “participating organization” or “in progress”) and another term for when the organization has successfully completed the process (for example, “compliant” or “program requirements satisfied” etc.).