(Photo credit: Kate Tucker.)

Looking Back on 10 years of Biodiversity Monitoring for Alberta

Happy birthday to us! Last year, the ABMI celebrated 10 years of operations. While others might have had a cake, we’re a nerdier bunch: to celebrate, we launched a complete review of our first 10 years. We wanted to take a step back, have frank conversations with our stakeholders, and learn from their perspective how well we’ve delivered on our goals of tracking changes in Alberta’s wildlife and habitats from border to border, and providing ongoing, relevant, scientifically credible information on Alberta’s living resources.

Today, we invite you to review the 10-year Review—what we did, what we heard from our stakeholders, and what we’re doing to incorporate that feedback into our future operations. To make it easy, we’ve created a brand new website just for the 10-year Review. You’ll see that the review process included two distinct components: a Stakeholder Needs Assessment, to evaluate the ABMI’s success in meeting the needs of its key partners and stakeholders; and a Science Review, to evaluate the ABMI’s scientific framework and success in delivering on its initial scientific objectives. In this post, we’re going to look at the Stakeholder Needs Assessment component—we’ll cover the Science Review in a future post.

First, lets flash-back to the late 1990s: Alberta was experiencing growing social and political pressure to track the cumulative effects of industrial activities on biodiversity, but had no comprehensive monitoring program to support such an effort. The idea for the ABMI was born as a response to this need, and the program grew from the collaboration of scientists, government, and industry representatives. Stakeholder engagement has shaped the ABMI’s scope and direction from the start, with various groups sharing their biodiversity information needs through a series of ABMI-hosted workshops between 2004 and 2006. Ten years later, we reprised those workshops to find out how well we’ve met our initial objectives, and check in on our stakeholders’ ever-changing biodiversity information needs.

During this process, which included interviews, a detailed survey, and a series of nine workshops, we wanted to deepen our understanding of the needs of groups we already work closely with, but also build new relationships with others across the province. In doing so, we reached out to nine different sectors, had 81 individuals participate in facilitated sector-specific workshops, and received 64 survey responses from the full breadth of our stakeholders.

We were excited to see some clear, common themes emerge throughout the process. For example, every group we engaged with expressed the same two specific needs. The first was a request for more knowledge translation. In short, the ABMI has lots of valuable information, but our stakeholders don’t always know it exists, where to find it, or how to use it. They’ve asked for more and better ways to access the information, including website improvements, ABMI-hosted lunch and learns, webinars, testimonials, and other approachable information products. The ABMI has been working hard to augment our knowledge translation activities, so this fits well with the direction the organization was already moving.

The second common message was about geospatial data: stakeholders like what we’ve done, but they want more of it. Specifically, they’re looking for more details to be included in our geospatial products, and they want them to be available at a higher resolution. Again, this is really useful: the ABMI is always working to improve the quality of our geospatial products, and now that we have a complete list of additional desired attributes, we can take an even more systematic approach to doing so.

Self-evaluation is always eye-opening, and the results of this engagement process have real implications for the ABMI’s future operations. The Board of Directors used the results of this review, and those of a separate review of our scientific processes, to prioritize what we’ll focus on to ensure we continue to meet the needs of our stakeholders in the future. The ABMI strives to be transparent, and we invite you, our readers, partners, and stakeholders, to read the same reports that our Board of Directors is evaluating. Even if you weren’t a part of the official 10-year Science and Program Review, we’d still love to hear from you! Please use the feedback form at the bottom of each page of the 10-year Review site.

Reviewing 10 years of formal operation is both exciting (we’ve come so far!) and humbling (we still have so much we can improve!). The ABMI is an ambitious program that aims to support Alberta’s policy makers and land managers in making evidence-based decisions that will serve Alberta well for years to come. But we can’t do it alone, and we sincerely appreciate your feedback and ongoing support. We look forward to many more years of working with you—our stakeholders, partners, and all Albertans—to ensure we continue to meet your biodiversity information needs.

With files from Brett Campbell, Kurt Illerbrun, and Sonya Poller.