Evaluation of the EcoAction Community Funding Program

May 2009

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The evaluation of the EcoAction Community Funding Program focused on the fiscal years 2004–05 to 2008–09 and examined program relevance, success, cost effectiveness, design and delivery.  Overall, the EcoAction program is perceived by both funded and non-funded applicants as well as interview participants as a valuable source of support for community-based environmental projects.  However, the evaluation was most affected by out-of-date program data in the MIS and the limited data available on each of the program’s indicators.  This lack of accurate and timely data affects the ability to show program results and the achievement of outcomes.

a) Relevance

Evaluation findings indicate that the role of the federal government in participating in environmental protection and restoration is aligned with federal priorities.  The implementation of the federal government’s environmental agenda and the delivery of the EcoAction program are led by Environment Canada, which is the appropriate federal department for this role given its mandate to preserve and enhance the quality of the natural environment.

Evaluation findings also indicate that the funding provided through the EcoAction program was critical to the undertaking of roughly three-quarters of the proposed projects, both in the opinion of those who received funding and those who did not.  This indicates that this program addresses financial need among community-based groups to assist in the implementation of their projects.  The need for the program is also reflected in the consistent response to funding competitions held every year.

b) Success

The program has been successful in reaching its intended target groups. As the program has a strong environmental focus, the majority of applications are led by environmental groups.  While key informants believe that outreach activities could be improved, this is not required to allocate project funding given the constant and high response to funding competitions.

Those involved in the program believe that it has also progressed towards its intended outcomes.  Outcomes were examined under three themes: building community capacity, leveraging in-kind and monetary support, and creating positive results for the environment.  Funded projects reported positive results in all areas and program staff feel that the program is on its way to achieving its ultimate outcomes of creating healthier and more sustainable communities and encouraging individual Canadians to make more responsible environmental decisions.  

Performance information on project results, however, is limited in demonstrating whether or not immediate, intermediate and ultimate outcomes were achieved.  The number of funded projects that focused on each of the project results recorded in the MIS is too small to provide a valid measure of achievement of intended results.  Part of the problem is that the results are not always recorded or updated in the MIS, which affects the ability of the program to tell its performance story.  As well, there is little hard data available to identify the longer-term impacts of sustainable projects despite findings that point to the longevity of a majority of funded EcoAction projects.

c) Cost Effectiveness

The cost effectiveness of the EcoAction program was difficult to assess due to limitations in obtaining accurate program expenditures and in measuring achieved outcomes.  Consequently, cost effectiveness was examined indirectly by assessing program efficiency.  Findings indicate that EcoAction is not being delivered as cost efficiently as possible and some improvements may be made.  Compared to similar Environment Canada funding programs, the administrative costs ratio for the program is high at $0.39 spent in salaries and O&M for every contribution dollar, as per estimates in its initial program design.  Program documents show that EcoAction’s emphasis on a client-centred, grassroots approach requires a focus on providing client support to funding applicants, which necessitates higher overhead expenses.  Projects funded through EcoAction provided value for money by leveraging $2.26 on average from community partners for every dollar contributed by the program, exceeding the program’s minimum requirement that projects obtain at least 50% of their funding from other sources. Elements that distinguish EcoAction from other funding programs include its flexibility in funding a wider range of projects depending on departmental and regional priorities and its focus on client support.  Overall, interviewees felt that EcoAction funds are being used efficiently and effectively as a result of reporting requirements and project evaluation processes currently in place to ensure accountability.  Suggestions for improving the cost efficiency of the program include encouraging longer, multi-year projects, streamlining processes for approving applications and considering ways to lower administrative costs.

d) Design and Delivery

EcoAction clients were generally satisfied with the program and services received, although applicants report less satisfaction with the timeliness by which applications are reviewed and the ease of understanding of various forms and tools.  

Changes in the management structure of the program in the last few years have led to confusion in terms of who holds decision-making power and over which decisions. This lack of clarity was expressed by interviewed program staff, both within the regions and the NCU.  Overall, however, program staff felt that the program adhered to many of the principles of good governance such as allowing input from many voices (participatory), allowing a free-flow of information (transparency) and mediating to reach broad agreement on different interests (consensus-oriented).  

Evaluation findings indicate that practices for monitoring project finances are sufficient to ensure accountability for the money awarded.  Activities to monitor project results, however, could be improved.  Program data recorded in the MIS were not up-to-date or were missing.  As well, projects identified a large number of social, economic and environmental indicators to measure their project results for which no data were available.  Improving these performance measures would help to improve the program’s ability to tell its performance story.  

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