Evaluation of the Georgia Basin Action Plan

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  1. 1.1 Background
  2. 1.2 Objectives of the Evaluation
  3. 1.3 Scope
  4. 1.4 Methodology

Environment Canada's (EC) Audit and Evaluation Branch (A&E) completed the evaluation of the Georgia Basin Action Plan (GBAP) in April 2007. This project was selected for evaluation by EC's Departmental Audit and Evaluation Committee (DAEC) in November 2005. The DAEC directed that an approved evaluation framework be applied to the GBAP, one of the programs under Priority Ecosystems (PE).

There were significant delays in the completion of this project, principally due to an unsuccessful reporting by the contracted consultant applying the new framework; this resulted in the need for Evaluation Division staff to reprocess the data collected to produce the current report.

This document presents the findings and recommendations of the evaluation of the Georgia Basin Action Plan and is organized in the following way:

1.1 Background

The Georgia Basin Action Plan (GBAP), an evolution of the earlier Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative, was implemented on April 1, 2003, to establish priorities and undertake initiatives that positively influence the state of the natural environment, economic growth and social capital within the Georgia Basin and Puget Sound region. The GBAP is the second five-year phase (2003-2008) of collaborative programming for the Georgia Basin and builds on previous and continuing initiatives such as the:

The GBAP encompasses the mid- to south-eastern portion of Vancouver Island, the lower mainland (including Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver Regional District), the lower Fraser Valley and the Sunshine Coast. Together, these areas represent the fastest growing urban area in British Columbia. The environmental pressures are clearly linked to the impact of population growth on space, land use, transportation, resources and development.

To protect, restore and conserve this unique ecosystem, the federal government launched the Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative (GBEI) in 1998. The GBEI pursued a vision of "managing growth to achieve healthy, productive and sustainable ecosystems and communities" by pursuing four component action plans, each of which has an associated goal, also known as the "ultimate outcome." The four action plans were Achieving Clean Air, Achieving Clean Water, Conserving and Protecting Habitat and Species, and Sustainable Communities.

Due to the interconnection between the Georgia Basin and Puget Sound ecosystems, the Joint Statement of Cooperation on the Georgia Basin and Puget Sound Ecosystems was signed by Environment Canada and the United States Environmental Protection Agency in January 2000.

Priority ecosystems

As is the case with the GBEI, the GBAP is one of six geographically-based ecosystem initiatives in operation across the country. These Ecosystem Initiatives (EIs) target priority ecosystems to address and solve complex environmental issues in concert with stakeholders. The objective of Priority Ecosystems is to attain the highest level of environmental quality within a targeted ecosystem. This acts as a means to enhance the health and safety of Canadians, preserve and enhance our natural environment, and optimize economic growth by applying an integrated ecosystem management approach.

Current Priority Ecosystem Initiatives (PEIs) are:

In addition, a Priority Ecosystem Initiative Integration OPP was set up to address horizontal issues related to ecosystem management.

In leveraging collective capacity through partnerships, Priority Ecosystems were developed based on environmental, health and economic competitiveness factors, as well as an effort to respond to the unique problems of targeted areas and communities.

A number of core principles characterize Priority Ecosystems, including the following:

At the heart of integrated ecosystem management is the approach of breaking down "stovepipes" created by departmental and jurisdictional mandates along with national program definitions, and allowing federal activities to be aligned with a shared management agenda composed of commonly agreed-upon priorities, goals and objectives. Its intended results are increased cooperation and coordination of federal efforts, enhanced efficiency and effectiveness, and the development of unified positions and perspectives.

GBAP goals, objectives and strategies

The GBAP is committed to achieving the following goals1:

To realize these goals, the following strategies are implemented:

To fully take advantage of the above strategies, the following GBAP actions have also been identified:

A number of key result areas are shared by the GBAP formal partners (such as Parks Canada, the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment). As depicted in a logic model for the GBAP, these outcomes are as follows2:

Shared (partners) ultimate outcome
Shared long term results
Shared interim results

In addition to these shared results, Environment Canada has developed related short-term outcomes:

Program approach and structure

The GBAP seeks to foster integrated and sustainable approaches to land use and development for the protection and conservation of habitat, species, water, air and the viability of economic opportunity and individual well-being within the Georgia Basin. Building upon previous agreements and partnerships, Environment Canada works directly with planners and decision makers within partnerships to foster more sustainable policies and processes in the Georgia Basin.

Many of the decisions and actions affecting the long-term success of the GBAP remain the purview of provincial and local governments. The GBAP allows EC to influence these decisions through shared science, technical information, networks, and program experience. Moreover, the GBAP's collaborative stewardship approach, supported by science and traditional knowledge, helps all partners to understand the consequences and impact of decisions. It also enables partners to take advantage of opportunities to ensure sustainable communities within the Georgia Basin.

The GBAP has a coordination and management structure that is intended to facilitate collaborative planning and stakeholder involvement within and across individual mandates by a number of departments and ministries, as well as partnering with other organizations on specific projects. The management structure is also planned to be flexible and to allow for developing partnerships.

As outlined in Figure 1, the governance structure of the GBAP is composed of the following bodies:

  1. Steering Committee;
  2. Coast Salish Advisory Forum;
  3. Management Committee;
  4. Planning and Implementation Teams;
  5. Coordination Office.

Figure 1 - Georgia Basin Action Plan
Management Structure
Figure 1 - Georgia Basin Action Plan - Management Structure

Click to enlarge

  1. Steering Committee: The signatory parties to the Statement of Cooperation co-govern by means of a Steering Committee, at the senior executive or equivalent level. As designed, the Steering Committee, chaired by EC, is intended to provide oversight and general direction to the programs and actions undertaken through the Georgia Basin Action Plan. The Committee is responsible for the overall implementation of the action plan, including annual reporting on results. It also sets key directions and priorities, approves objectives for the coming year, receives progress reports on work and achievements to date, serves as a forum to mediate disputes, and approves annual communications plans, GBAP reports and public announcements. Included in the Steering Committee governance process is an annual meeting with a public participation component to enable interested stakeholders and other levels of government to provide input to planning as well as receive information on progress to date.

  2. Coast Salish - First Nations: The original structure included an Advisory Forum that allowed for annual meetings with First Nation leaders in the Georgia Basin. This has since been replaced by the inclusion of the Coast Salish as signatory partners.

  3. Georgia Basin Coordination Office: Environment Canada staffs the Georgia Basin Coordination Office (GBCO) to support the Steering Committee and Management Committee, foster information exchange, coordinate strategic communications, and facilitate program integration amongst and between the Planning and Implementation Teams and with complementary Georgia Basin - Puget Sound transboundary initiatives.

  4. Joint Management Committee: A Joint Management Committee has been formed composed of senior staff representatives from the signatory parties and other departments, agencies and ministries that participate in the delivery of the Action Plan. The role of the Joint Management Committee is to:
  5. Planning and Implementation Teams: In order to undertake the planning and implementation requirements for project work, issue-specific Planning and Implementation Teams (PITs) have been formed as required (shown within the dotted line in Figure 1). The role of PITs is to develop collaborative projects that support the achievement of the Action Plan's goals and outcomes. PIT membership includes representatives from partner agencies, the Coast Salish First Nation, the Georgia Basin Coordination Office and other organizations involved in the planning and delivery of Action Plan projects and initiatives. PITs are intended to remain flexible and represent a range of organizations and interests that contribute program expertise to the achievement of the Action Plan goals. Co-chaired by key partners, the following PITs are currently in place:

In addition, a number of stakeholder mechanisms and processes exist. Georgia Basin stakeholders and Puget Sound partners are invited to participate in two processes under the Action Plan: an annual partners' workshop that engages the full range of GBAP delivery partners to provide guidance, advice and support in the development of annual work plans; and an annual stakeholder meeting that provides an opportunity for the GBAP Steering Committee to report on progress, profile best practices and receive stakeholder input.

Program funding and expenditures

In April 2003, the federal Environment Minister announced a five-year contribution of $22.5 million, combined with an ongoing investment of $8 to $10 million from EC for clean air, clean water, habitat and species protection, and improved environmental decision making in the Georgia Basin. As of March 2004, an updated budget suggested the annual allocation for the GBAP was approximately $4.7 million, with the Coordination Office within EC overseeing its delivery. However, there is a significant amount of EC staff time that is dedicated to the GBAP that is not reflected in this budget figure. The funds are dedicated to projects that advance EC priorities. It is in this regard that there is a general anticipation that partner agencies and institutions will contribute their own resources, either financial or in-kind, towards the projects that they lead. These collaborative projects are identified through inter-agency PITs. Table 1 below summarizes Environment Canada's budget allocations by goal (objective), and by year, based on 2004 estimated data.

Table 1: Five-year budget allocation by GBAP goal (objective)







Goal 1:

Information is accessible






Trends are measured






We work together






Goal 2:

All plans use an ecosystem approach






Resource use is sustainable






We understand the consequences of
our actions






Goal 3:

The environment's impact on humans
is better understood






Human impacts on the environment
are better understood






Climate change impacts are better






Goal 4:

We have safe water to drink






Pollutants in air and water are reduced






Biodiversity is protected












Five-year total






Note: Budget reflects over-programming which will be cash-managed by in-year adjustments

A number of key requirements and obligations (legislation, agreements, and memoranda of understanding) provide the necessary direction for the GBAP policy and strategies, including the following:

Georgia Basin Action Plan within Ecosystem Initiatives

The Ecosystem Initiative Program of Environment Canada embodies this approach and enables the Government of Canada to focus on six priority areas in Canada of which the GBAP is one.

Environment Canada facilitates or leads integrated planning on a five-year cycle. This planning may involve the other federal departments working in the ecosystem, the provincial departments concerned, Aboriginal people, citizens and communities as well as non-governmental organizations. Partners are involved in intensive consultations held in connection with the implementation of Ecosystem Initiatives (EIs). The priorities identified through this process align with national priorities. The precautionary principle and risk management considerations are adopted in decision making.

Environment Canada currently has six EIs with a total annual budget of $24.5 million for 2005-2006. In some regions, other A-based funds have been coded to the EIs to augment programming delivery. Thus, the reference level for the EIs in 2004-2005 was $43.5 million. This budget has an important leverage effect because it secures the financial commitment of federal partners (and provincial partners for some initiatives) for an extended period.

The decision to unbundle and what it means for Ecosystem Initiatives

For each Priority Ecosystem Initiative (PEI), a five-year plan is established with partners, as an effort to respond to the unique environmental and sustainability issues of targeted ecosystems. The plans incorporate measurable environmental results, collaborative governance mechanisms, integrated science and monitoring, community involvement, the sharing of information and experiences and informed decision making. The PEI plans (placed-based) incorporate many issues (wildlife, water, air, toxics, community projects, indicators) connected with broader national EC programs.

An unbundling exercise carried out in June 2006 was to facilitate better integration with national program objectives and results (national coherence and effectiveness as a balance to strong regional integration). Governance activities were maintained in the 1C1 OPG (PEI planning, coordination and reporting activities, partnership management (governance structures and agreements), community engagement and capacity building and strategic integration between PEIs and in the Department). The results and associated resources related to all other areas, however, were redistributed to the most appropriate OPG in the Department for the duration of the PEI action plans.

The delivering OPG and OPP Leads from that point on are accountable for delivering targeted results and commitments in Priority Ecosystems Action Plans and reporting on them. The resources are managed by the delivering OPP for the duration of the EI plan (five years) but EI resources are to become available at the end of an Action Plan for reallocation to new plans and priorities. Also, delivering OPGs are to be involved in the planning and development of new PEI five-year plans when they take place (development of agreed-upon results with partners, establishment and strengthening of partnerships, etc). This participation as well as the implementation of a new PEI Management Framework should lead to a more common approach, to design and delivery of PEIs in the Department.

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1.2 Objectives of the Evaluation

There were four broad issue areas of focus for the evaluation, namely:

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1.3 Scope

This evaluation of the GBAP is summative in nature. It will rigorously apply the 30 evaluation questions from the evaluation framework and examine all four evaluation issues noted above.

The framework is built on a traditional logic model, built on the premise that one uses resources (Inputs) and does things (Activities) which result in products (Outputs) targeted at certain stakeholders (Reach) in order to achieve certain results, desired end-points or altered conditions (Outcomes). Subsequently, a suite of generic evaluation questions (along with associated indicators and data sources) was developed that could be applied to any program and examined in tandem with the completed logic model. The questions focus on the four main evaluation issues - relevance, success, cost-effectiveness and design and delivery. These generic questions (which include the seven expenditure review questions) would be coupled with a handful of supplementary evaluation questions pertaining to the specific program being evaluated. These supplementary questions would be determined in the context of carrying out a specific evaluation. The evaluation framework is shown in Annex 1.

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1.4 Methodology

The Departmental Audit and Evaluation Committee (DAEC) of Environment Canada approved an evaluation framework composed of questions along with associated indicators and data sources. They directed that it be applied to Priority Ecosystem, GBAP. To test and support the approved framework, the evaluation employed the following data collection methods:

However, a number of limitations presented themselves during the course of this evaluation. The following represent the more noteworthy ones:

  1. An initial contract to conduct and report on the GBAP in the context of the new framework failed to achieve the requisite results and the data collected were reprocessed in-house by Evaluation Division staff to produce the current report.

  2. The ability to address some evaluation questions was limited by the availability of information, an issue that became more apparent as the evaluation unfolded. For example, without any documents reporting on financial costs, comparable programs to benchmark with, expenditure trends, data on project results, etc., it was not possible to produce a reliable assessment of efficiency and cost effectiveness.

  3. It was found that certain evaluation framework questions were missed in the consultant's data collection instruments, leaving some of the evaluation questions with reduced available data for the subsequent analysis.

  4. As shown in Annex 2, the ability to draw upon large numbers of stakeholders to participate in this evaluation was constrained.

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1 Goals, strategies and actions are taken from the Georgia Basin Action Plan: Sustaining a Healthy Ecosystem and Healthy Communities 2003-2008. A Framework for Collaboration.

2 All of these results, including EC's role in the program, are represented in the GBAP Logic Model dated March 2004.

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