Cornell UniversityThe Nature Conservancy

Phase 4: Evaluation and Adaptation

Key events

CBDM Process DiagramThe evaluation and adaptation phase builds in valuable reflection time on the effects of management actions. When done well, evaluation is the key to fine-tuning and adapting your program as circumstances change. Far from an afterthought, evaluation packs the biggest punch when addressed in the community’s deer management plan and explicitly tied to the community's management objectives (set in the decision-making phase). To the extent possible, involve community members in both the assessment process and in resultant decisions to modify deer management—including decisions to discontinue actions that are not helping the community achieve its deer program goals.

Key information needs

© Matt Miller/TNC

Assessing program outcomes means tracking progress toward the management goals established in the earlier phases of CBDM. For each goal area, establish a set of simple indicators to assess before (baseline) and after action is taken. Before-and-after comparisons are a great way to determine whether deer management is having the desired effect. For example, communities that establish a goal of reducing deer-vehicle accidents would need information on the number (and perhaps location) of deer-vehicle collisions for several years before and after deer management actions are taken. In most cases, repeated assessments over time are helpful to evaluate progress toward goals. The time, effort, and resources necessary to assess change can vary greatly across indicators.

Common challenges

  • Indicator selection. Selecting a set of meaningful indicators is a challenge for many communities. Think about how best to evaluate progress toward desired outcomes. What sorts of indicators will you use, and what will they tell you about your community’s progress? For example, tracking the number of deer harvested is straightforward and can feel satisfying, but does not give much insight into whether deer-related impacts are lessening. At the other extreme, many communities assume it is important to quantify the local deer population with precision. However, accurate population counts are costly, can be difficult to obtain, and do not necessarily help determine whether desired outcomes are being achieved. It may be more important instead to track the number and nature of deer-related complaints to city hall (e-mails, phone-calls, etc.), a low-cost way to assess how well the program is perceived to be working. Keep it simple. It is better to have a small set of metrics you can collect consistently than an elaborate monitoring plan that cannot be sustained.
  • Resource limitations.  Deer management is an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Monitoring and assessment are integral to management because they make it possible to learn from actions and adapt programs over time. Securing funding to sustain assessment is a significant challenge for communities large and small. As the newness of a program fades, community leaders may find it challenging to maintain resources necessary for recurring management activities, like monitoring and assessment.
  • Staying committed. It can take a considerable amount of time to document the effects of a CBDM program. For example, it may take several years of data collection to assess the relationship between deer management actions and change in levels of plant damage or deer-vehicle collisions. Sustained commitment to monitoring efforts is needed to provide useful information to community leaders, who eventually need to decide whether to continue, discontinue, or modify the community's management program. Volunteers or municipal staff may become less committed to collecting monitoring data as time passes.
  • Community size. The size of your community, or the area targeted for deer management, should be considered when you select your indicators for monitoring. What you are capable of monitoring in a community of only 1 or 2 square miles, for instance, might differ greatly from what a larger community is capable of tracking and evaluating.

Recommended Resources

Make communication a priority for your community's deer management program. Consult these guides to learn how.

Are your deer management actions having the desired effect? Use these resources to develop a measures program.

Dig deeper into community-based deer management with these practitioners' guides. 

Find books, newspaper articles, blog posts and more about the relationships between communities and deer.

Read these first if you are new to community-based deer management.

Common Questions

There is no easy answer to this question. Time will vary based on a number of factors and needs specific to your community, including the amount of time and money you are willing to contribute, the support of local elected officials, the management method selected, and public support of the effort. CBDM is often not a one-off effort, but an ongoing commitment by a community. Some communities are able to come to a decision and take actions quickly (i.e., less than a year). In other communities it can take years to agree upon and implement deer management actions. Browsing our library of cases may be helpful to you in finding communities that may be similar to your own, in order to get a sense of the time commitment that may be needed. However, keep in mind that what worked in one community, no matter how similar it seems to your own, is not guaranteed to work in yours. 

There are many kinds of experts you might consult throughout your community’s CBDM process. Different experts have different kinds of expertise, including expertise implementing the types of management alternatives a community is considering, expertise on state wildlife management laws and policies, and expertise on process management and public involvement. Some wildlife experts may work for or have worked for a government agency or organization, have university credentials, or be a certified wildlife biologist. It may also be helpful to get a sense of what kinds of experiences the expert you are considering has had with respect to deer management. Your community may benefit from consulting more than one expert for different phases.

The best practices outlined on this site have provided you with some actions that can help create a context that fosters success (stakeholder involvement,  informative communication, education and learning). Also, keep in mind that "success" may be hard to define, and setting goals that you are able to monitor and evaluate is an important component for tracking progress. Decker et al (2004) also suggest the following components of a successful process:

  • A structured process for making community decisions that includes multiple, diverse perspectives
  • Shared understandings about desired goals and a desire for achieving generally acceptable solutions
  • An understanding that this will be an ongoing process. CBDM is not usually a one-off task and often requires a long time-horizon
  • A commitment to evaluation of the decision-making process and the subsequent management program is also critical so adjustments and modifications to a program can be made as needed

Browsing our library of cases may be helpful to you in finding communities that may be similar to your own, in order to get a sense of how those communities’ processes progressed. However, keep in mind that what worked in one community, no matter how similar it seems to your own, is not guaranteed to work in yours.