Driftless Forest Network – Comprehensive Evaluation Report

For those interested in reaching unengaged landowners, you’ll want to check out the final evaluation report for the Driftless Forest Network. The report is a compilation of the multiple evaluation findings over the course of four years. The executive summary is inserted below and the full document is available at this link.

Citation: Núñez, J., T. Knoot, A. Koshollek, M. Rickenbach, & K. Thostenson. 2016. Evaluation of the Driftless Forest Network: Expanding sustainable forest management through learning and adapting. Driftless Forest Network Project Report, dated 12/1/2016 . 90 pp.

Executive Summary (p. 3)

Since the Driftless Forest Network (DFN) was created in 2011, evaluation has played a core role in the partnership’s work to increase landowner engagement in southwest Wisconsin. In this report, we’ve assembled a collection of evaluation techniques and reports used by the DFN Evaluation Team from 2011 through 2015. As the partnership and its strategies to reach landowners have adapted in response to lessons learned from these evaluations, the Evaluation Team has in turn adapted new techniques to continue to measure the efficiency and impact of the DFN’s work.

The DFN’s evaluation approach is based in the theories and methods of Developmental Evaluation (Patton, 2011). Rapid data collection allows the partnership to respond to feedback as it emerges during outreach campaigns and other projects throughout the year. This emphasis on adaptation is also how the DFN has shaped itself into a learning lab, where constant experimentation in how we can effectively engage landowners (and build the partnership).

Keeping with the spirit of the learning lab, each section in this report shares the Evaluation Team’s key findings and lessons learned. These insights have been used in real time to adapt the DFN’s landowner outreach campaigns, partnership improvements, and longer-term strategies.

A few highlights of DFN’s lessons learned:

  • Know your audience: Through surveys, focus groups, and purchased marketing data, we have a better understanding of the landowners who respond to our campaigns and why. This knowledge informs new approaches, messages, and offers.
  • A comprehensive database to track landowner reach is crucial for learning: The landowner database allows us to understand the tie between message, offer, and landowner action. Future outreach approaches are then adapted accordingly to sustain these relationships over time.
  • A personal connection strongly motivates landowner stewardship: Landowners who were visited by a peer landowner or a forester were more motivated to complete new activities in their woods and participate in programs in the future, compared with landowners who received a handbook.
  • Evaluation can capture unexpected insights: Given the emergent nature of the DFN’s work, many outcomes of the partnership cannot be predicted. Thus, in addition to tracking expected outcomes, we use reflective practice, ripple effect mapping, and other qualitative methods on a regular basis to solicit and document unexpected outcomes and lessons learned.
  • Partners both increase the capacity of and benefit from the DFN: Partner organizations are building their networks and changing their practices because of what they learn from the DFN.

Through annual surveys, interviews and focus groups, we’ve learned DFN partners greatly value regular evaluation, social science data, and the resulting lessons learned that have contributed to the DFN’s success in reaching unengaged woodland owners. In the words of a DFN partner –
The willingness to try new approaches and the focus on learning. There is no other single effort that I am aware of focused on private lands in Wisconsin that is in a better position to inform the future of forestry.

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