Training often leads to improved practice, yet the success of individual training interventions can vary hugely. There are significant opportunities to improve training by learning from decades of training research. (see learning question A)
Training success depends on trainee characteristics, the working environment, and the design and implementation of training interventions. (see learning question B)
Carrying out a training needs analysis may offer an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of training interventions. (see learning question C)
We can’t conclude whether trained staff will likely stay with their organisation. Staff turnover depends on working conditions and training types. Improved monitoring of post-training effects could be very informative in the future. (see learning question D)
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Learn about the need for using evidence in conservation, our practical five-step approach, and the key insights on the topic of capacity-building.
Overview of the learning topic
Learn the how-to of this step in the approach: Step 1 – Define the learning topic.
Many conservation efforts identify a need to build capacity in order to improve ‘practice’ in various ways. The purpose can be for conservationists to implement their strategies more effectively or for other actors to change their practices to be less harmful and decrease threats to biodiversity. Using capacity-building to achieve these ends relies on two key assumptions:
- People learn skills and apply them in practice
- Trained people implement better practices
While testing these two crucial assumptions with evidence, we were also interested in some contextual aspects. Using the wealth of information about the conservation sector’s capacity-building efforts, we wanted to understand the skill deficits conservation actors typically identify in stakeholder groups. Another question was what the patterns are for trained people to stay within the work environment (e.g. conservation) and bring their new skills to practical use.
Learning questions and assumptions
Learn the how-to of this step in the approach: Step 2 – Develop learning questions.
Generally, the idea behind capacity-building is that once stakeholders are able to change their practices, they will do so. This strategy often involves other actions, such as positive or negative incentives to change behaviour or initially increasing stakeholder awareness of a problem. In this learning topic, we are focusing on the capacity-building itself.
Most capacity-building strategies assume that the conditions for successful training are in place. After a sufficient number of trainees are trained and recognise the value of the provided skills, an adequate number of people will apply the skills, if certain conditions are met.
Following that, practices improve. Conservation actors implement better strategies and actions. Other stakeholders use better techniques that are less harmful to biodiversity.
In this learning topic, we have been trying to get a grip on some of the critical aspects that make capacity-building strategies fly or fail:
- Whether trained people actually implement better strategies and practices (see learning question A)
- Whether trainees apply their skills in their work (see learning question B)
- Which skill deficits conservation organisations typically identify (see learning question C)
- Whether trained people stay with their organisation so they can bring their skills to good use in the relevant practices and actions (see learning question D)
Theory of change diagram (click to view full size):
Evidence and findings
The figure below shows an overview of the main findings. Note that these summary ratings do not represent uncertainty and level of confidence in the evidence appropriately. For the full picture, please review the evidence base and assessment for each assumption.
Learn the how-to of the approach: Step 3 – Collect evidence, Step 4 – Assess evidence, Step 5 – Compile & conclude.
Learning question A: Do trained people implement better strategies or practices than untrained people?
Training often leads to improved practice, yet the success of individual training interventions can vary hugely68. There are significant opportunities to improve training by learning from decades of training research.
Assumption A1: Trained people implement strategies/actions more effectively
The evidence suggests that practices improve when training people. However, outcomes of individual training interventions can vary hugely, ranging from complete success to utter failure. There are enormous opportunities for the conservation sector to improve the effectiveness of training interventions by learning from decades of training research conducted in other sectors (Salas et al. 2012, Ford et al. 2018).
Review the evidence used for this assumption in the evidence capture sheet .
To assess this assumption, we considered 58 pieces of evidence obtained from different sources.
An in-depth search of the MAVA grants database provided 11 pieces of evidence from eight sources that we could use to test this assumption. An initial review highlighted 78 grants relevant to the topic of capacity-building. Documentation – including progress reports, final reports, and technical reports – was searched in detail for indications that linked training with trainee performance.
A targeted questionnaire sent to 40 MAVA grantees provided eight answers as evidence pieces. The questionnaire contained ten questions, one of which was:
– What difference do you see in the implementation of actions before and after the capacity-building activity?
A systematic search of the Conservation Evidence database provided 21 pieces of evidence from 21 sources that we could use to test this assumption. We found these sources using searches for the keywords train, teach, learn, and capacity, supplemented with a search for actions relating to education and awareness. This search returned 142 conservation actions and over 1,000 studies. We prioritised those actions most likely to contain relevant studies, leaving us with 40 actions and 91 studies to search.
Exploratory searches of the wider literature found 18 pieces of evidence from 16 sources. There is extensive literature covering the outcomes of training interventions. We, therefore, made use of high-level, authoritative reviews and meta-analyses to guide our choice of sources in an attempt to provide a balanced view of the state of current knowledge.
On balance, evidence from the MAVA grants database, questionnaires, and wider literature provides some to strong support for this assumption.
Better practice through training
We found examples where training led to more effective action at various levels, from individuals to teams to whole organisations.
Individuals showed improvements in leadership, management, and practical skills (often to support livelihoods). In some cases, there was a shift towards more conservation-oriented behaviours.
“This new and confident behaviour while still being practised, embedded, and transferred is sparking cultural change in organisations and resulting in numerous cases of sector change through modelling a more inclusive leadership style and sharing learning”MAVA 20201
Team training positively affected many outcomes, including team performance, decision-making, and error reduction. In some cases, team training was only partially effective52.
There were positive outcomes at the organisational level for skills relating to management and administration, communications, outreach, advocacy, and developing new tools and platforms.
“As result of close cooperation and Saiga ranger network’s outstanding skills in leadership and staff management, detection and arrest of illegal hunting has been upgraded”MAVA-G3 2014
Limitations in the effectiveness of training
While evidence broadly supported the assumption, there was one case where training was considered inadequate9, in this case to ensure the quality of artisanal products. In another case, the role of coaching was called into question when participants’ performance on tasks did not improve50.
One piece of evidence from the MAVA questionnaire refuted the assumption20. It suggests that training and capacity-building may lead only to surface-level changes, which do not carry through to action.
“There are differences in the language you use to communicate with people after years of different capacity-building activities. Everybody knows the situation, the problematics, and the solutions. This, however, is not reflected in more proactive and effective action.”MAVA 2022
Two sources from the Conservation Evidence database reported that distributing leaflets and information signs was ineffective29, 33 in encouraging people to behave more responsibly towards wildlife. While these evidence pieces refuted the assumption, they were judged to have low relevance for the assumption due to the passive methods of information sharing they used.
Assessing effectiveness of training
Evidence from the MAVA grants database rarely involved a formal assessment of the impact of training interventions. More broadly, evidence from the conservation sector often lacked detail on the training methods used and justifications for the choice of methods and measures of success (with some notable exceptions56).
In contrast, the wider training literature was characterised by numerous large-scale, rigorous investigations of the effectiveness of various training interventions in different fields. Tremendous progress has been made in understanding how to design and deliver training interventions effectively and accurately measure their impact.
Learning question B: Do trainees actually apply their skills? If not, why?
Training success depends on trainee characteristics, the working environment, and the design and implementation of training interventions. A training needs analysis may reveal opportunities to improve the effectiveness of training interventions.
Assumption B1: Trainees apply their skills in their ongoing work
The evidence suggests that trainees often apply learned skills in their ongoing work. However, we found several cases where skills were not used or were used by only a few trainees. Findings from decades of training research suggest that training can work, but that trainee characteristics, work environment, and the design and implementation of training interventions will all impact whether trainees apply their skills.
Review the evidence used for this assumption in the evidence capture sheet .
To assess this assumption, we considered 95 pieces of evidence obtained from different sources.
An in-depth search of the MAVA grants database provided 28 pieces of evidence from 16 sources that we could use to test this assumption. An initial review highlighted 78 grants relevant to the topic of capacity-building. Documentation – including progress reports, final reports and technical reports – was searched in detail for statements or claims that linked training with the use of skills by trainees.
A targeted questionnaire was sent to 40 grantees to provide further evidence. Five questions focused on the use of skills by trainees:
- Do trainees apply the acquired skills in their ongoing work?
- What are the reasons that only a few trainees apply the acquired skills?
- If you do not know if the trainees apply the acquired skills in their ongoing work, can you explain the reasons?
- What do you think was/is the motivation of the trainees to apply the acquired skills? Why is it useful for them to use their skills?
- Were there additional actions to the capacity-building activity, ensuring that trainees could apply the acquired skills?
Each answer to Question 1 was used as evidence to test assumption B1. Thirteen answers from Questions 2–5 were used as evidence, and other answers provided context for the discussion.
A systematic search of the Conservation Evidence database provided 22 pieces of evidence from 22 sources that we could use to test this assumption. We found these sources using searches for the keywords train, teach, learn and capacity, supplemented with a search for actions relating to education and awareness. That returned 142 conservation actions and over 1,000 studies. We focused on actions likely to contain relevant studies, leaving us with 110 studies to search.
Exploratory searches of the wider literature provided 32 pieces of evidence from 20 sources. There is extensive literature covering the outcomes of training interventions. We, therefore, made use of high-level, authoritative reviews and meta-analyses to guide our choice of sources in an attempt to provide a balanced view of the state of current knowledge.
Evidence from the MAVA grants database and questionnaires strongly supports this assumption. On balance, support from the wider literature is weak but variable, with many pieces of evidence showing mixed or strong support.
The MAVA questionnaire found that trainees applied their new skills in 27 of 29 cases. Nineteen grantees reported that a majority used their skills, eight reported that a small number did. In two instances, grantees were unsure.
While evidence from the MAVA grants database also found that trainees used their new skills, reports provided little detail on:
- the number of trainees using skills
- how conditions before, during and after training helped enable the application of new skills
- assessments of whether the goals of training interventions were reached.
“A well-trained and respected ranger team operates throughout the saiga range”MAVA-G3 2014
“The eco-guards trained in bird counting techniques support the reserve staff in their activities. They have a better understanding of bird counting techniques and at the same time participate in the monitoring and safeguarding of the KRG’s ecosystems.”MAVA-G6 2018 (translated from French)
Sources from the Conservation Evidence database mainly measured the uptake of conservation-oriented behaviours and knowledge or practical skills that may support livelihoods. One case documented the establishment of community-based management groups following seminars and workshops.
Practical advice for successful training
In the wider literature, decades of research have led to a detailed understanding of how trained skills are applied and practical solutions for designing and delivering successful training.
Ford et al. (2018) propose the following four pillars for designing successful training:
1. Different individuals will learn differently
Conscientiousness is linked to applying learned skills71, particularly for complex, dynamic tasks80.
Trainees must believe in their abilities before, during, and after training72, 77, 86. Trainees that feel motivated to learn and apply new skills are also more likely to do so82.
This is in line with the MAVA questionnaire responses, in which MAVA grantees appreciated training that was targeted to their needs and were motivated by a desire to:
- improve their institution
- implement better conservation
- tackle big issues e.g. climate change
- understand new topics, e.g. conservation standards
- learn new skills e.g. fundraising
- make their activities more sustainable e.g. fisheries, agriculture, urban living
2. The design of training and how it is implemented matters
If using behaviour modelling training, consider including both positive and negative examples48.
Training in error management can be particularly useful when training open or adaptive skills (Keith & Frese, 2008).
Using multiple learning strategies (e.g. case studies, worked examples, discussions) will likely lead to more effective training (Cook et al., 2013). As will active repetition (Roediger & Butler, 2011), self-explanation, and distributing training over a longer period of time (Dunlosky et al., 2013).
3. Create a supportive work environment and allow trainees to use their new skills
Creating a positive work environment that supports and encourages trainees will increase the chance of them using their new skills70, 76,. Support from both peers and supervisors can play an important role. Mentoring83, coaching84, assisting with specific tasks85, and assisting with personal and professional challenges84 may all help.
Trainees must be given the opportunity to use new skills70. Even short periods of non-use after training can be detrimental to skill use in the future87-88.
The most successful training interventions may arise when trainees are motivated to use their new skills and organisations provide a supportive environment81.
MAVA grantees appreciated working with professional mentors and sharing knowledge with them. They highlighted several ways that greater support helps them apply new skills:
- Equipment and financial support, e.g. grants to help implement action in the field
- Regular opportunities to meet and share advice between groups with different expertise
- Follow-ups to support skill use, maybe through webinars or social media
- Sharing of critical skills and methods
- Establishing networks of professionals
- Developing tools to help further uptake, e.g. infographics
- Organisational development, e.g. opening up higher leadership roles
4. How you measure success can impact your conclusions – be wary of relying on a single measure
Understanding which elements of training worked (and which did not) is key to improving future training interventions (Ford et al., 2018).
Measuring the impact of training often focuses on four things: reaction to training; learning from training; behaviours; and results following training. Those measuring the impact of training should be clear about what the intended learning is and select measures that reflect their chosen learning outcomes (Salas et al., 2012).
Measuring the use of learned skills is more challenging when trainees differ in their peak performance compared to their typical day-to-day performance (“can do” vs “will do”). Poor peak performance may be explained by inadequate training. In contrast, poor day-to-day performance may be explained by a failure to motivate and support trainees sufficiently86.
Learning question C: Which skill deficits do organisations identify?
MAVA grantees are investing in delivering training to various audiences, targeting a diversity of topics. A detailed training needs analysis may reveal opportunities to improve the effectiveness of training interventions.
Assumption C1: Organisations know what actions and associated skills are required to carry out good practice
MAVA grantees are investing in delivering training to a range of different audiences, targeting a diversity of topics. The evidence capture sheet provides a heatmap combining audiences with capacity-building topics.
What remains unknown is the degree to which that investment meets the needs of individuals and their organisations. The available evidence does not directly address whether capacity-building actions anchor in previously identified capacity deficiencies.
There is abundant practical advice available in the wider literature on designing and implementing a comprehensive training needs analysis. The conservation sector may benefit from greater exploration of these processes, leading to more efficient and impactful training interventions.
We found little evidence of MAVA grantees conducting assessments of their training needs. Therefore, we instead identified the types of training that grantees conducted and the recipients of that training. An in-depth search of the MAVA grants database provided 78 relevant grants. We supplemented this with a questionnaire sent to 40 MAVA grantees.
Exploratory searches of the wider literature found a high-level review of the practical implications of findings from training research. They make a case for the importance of conducting a detailed training needs analysis before training begins. We present a series of their recommendations that should form the basis of any successful training programme.
Training topics and audiences in MAVA grants
When assessing the MAVA grants database, we identified 32 training topics and 19 target audiences (see the evidence capture sheet for details).
The top three learning topics covered by training interventions were:
- Ecosystem/biodiversity management or conservation – taught 71 times to 13 different target audiences
- Monitoring methods and tools – taught 39 times to 11 different target audiences
- Climate change – taught 34 times to 16 different target audiences
The top three target audiences for training interventions were:
- Protected area managers and staff – received 54 training interventions on 17 topics
- Environmental NGOs – received 39 training interventions on 15 topics
- Civil society organisations or community-based organisations – received 33 training interventions on 13 topics
The top three combinations of learning topic and target audience were:
- Training in ecosystem/biodiversity management or conservation for protected area managers and staff – 11 training interventions
- Training in ecosystem/biodiversity management or conservation for environmental NGOs – 10 training interventions
- Training in ecosystem/biodiversity management or conservation for conservation professionals in general – 10 training interventions
Training needs analysis as a tool
A review article on the practical implications of training research made a series of recommendations for conducting a detailed training needs analysis (Salas et al., 2012).
The purpose of a training needs analysis is to determine 1) what needs to be trained; 2) who needs to be trained; 3) within what kind of organisational system will training and subsequent work occur.
The key outcomes of the analysis are:
- Expected learning outcomes
- Guidance for design and delivery of training
- Plan for evaluating training
- Information about the organisation that may help or hinder training efforts
The three key components of training needs analysis are (adapted from Salas et al., 2012):
- Job task analysis
- Given a clear training objective, identify the critical knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to complete these tasks.
- This step is often replaced by asking trainees, “what training do you want to take?” However, trainees may not be able to articulate their real training needs. When jobs are knowledge-based, conducting an additional cognitive task analysis may be necessary.
- When trainees work in teams, consider a team task analysis. That should highlight which tasks require coordination and how team members can coordinate.
- Organisational analysis
- Here the focus is on the training needs of the organisation. Consider whether the organisation’s strategic priorities are aligned with potential training endeavours.
- An assessment of the organisation’s readiness to receive the training and support the trainees is of equal importance. Organisational support can be vital in ensuring trainees apply their newly learned skills.
- Support could involve providing encouragement and tolerating mistakes; covering other tasks the trainee may have; or providing opportunities to practice and use newly acquired skills.
- Person analysis
- The final step is to identify who needs training and what training they need. Those lacking the skills identified in the job task analysis will be priority candidates for training.
- Assessing the critical characteristics of potential trainees will also allow training design to suit their needs. Considering what motivates trainees and whether they are learning or performance-oriented may help.
Learning question D: Do trained people stay with their organisations or in the sector?
We cannot draw strong conclusions on whether trained staff are more likely to stay with their organisation. Working conditions, including pay, career progression opportunities, and training types, can all impact staff turnover. Improved reporting by grantees on employee post-training destinations could be very informative for this topic.
Assumption D1: Trained people stay with their organisations for at least five years after the training
We cannot draw strong conclusions on whether trained staff are likely to stay with their organisation. Addressing this knowledge gap should be a priority for the conservation sector. However, a distinction should be made between trainees who leave their organisations and those who leave the sector. Tracking information about where trainees end up working after training will be hugely valuable for this effort.
Review the evidence used for this assumption in the evidence capture sheet .
We considered 21 pieces of evidence obtained from different sources to assess this assumption.
An in-depth search of the MAVA grants database provided only one piece of evidence that we could use to test this assumption. An initial review highlighted 78 grants relevant to the topic of capacity-building. Documentation – including progress reports, final reports, and technical reports – was searched in detail for statements or claims that linked training with staff turnover.
Exploratory searches of the wider literature found 20 pieces of evidence from 15 sources that we could use to test this assumption. This assumption was covered less extensively than others in training and capacity-building. However, we found one literature review to help guide the search for evidence.
This assumption is beyond the scope of the Conservation Evidence database.
On balance, the evidence neither strongly supports nor refutes the assumption. Evidence for this assumption was notably lacking from the MAVA grants database, with only a single piece found.
Training may be oen of many factors that impact staff turnover, but is unlikely to be the most important. Other factors include job satisfaction, working conditions and hours, pay, and opportunities for progression. Training may have links with some of these other factors11, 15, and poor training might exacerbate other problems that cause employees to leave11.
The potential for progression within the organisation can also impact perceptions of training. While hotel managers had a somewhat positive view of training in one study, employees were less enthusiastic and over half of employees reported training fatigue7.
The types of skills being trained also matter, as does whether those skills increase trainee prospects at their current job or the broader job market8, 16. Employees trained in open, transferable skills20 or multi-skill training8 may be more likely to seek employment elsewhere.
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With this starting point based on best available evidence, we hope to spark discussion and to invite practitioners and organisations to learn about key conservation strategies.
If you are contemplating taking a similar approach for another strategy or would like to contribute with your evidence and insights, please contact us.
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More learning topics
- Conservation Learning Initiative (PDF, 18 MB)
- Capacity-building theory of change – Interactive theory of change in the Conservation Actions and Measures Library (CAML) on Miradi Share
- Evidence capture sheet – This sheet contains the collected evidence used to explore this learning topic