In a nutshell: A review found that many of the published evaluations of zoo and aquarium education initiatives lacked the rigor and quality to adequately demonstrate their potential contribution to conservation. The authors provide recommendations to remedy these shortcomings.
Last year we posted a byte on a review of NGO behaviour change campaign evaluations (Verissimo and Wan 2018). Another review paper came out towards the end of 2018, focusing on the evaluation of aquarium and zoo environmental education programs. In this paper, the authors reviewed 48 published studies using an evaluation method from public health, the Effective Public Health Practice Project Quality Assessment Tool, an assessment tool that rates evaluation design, methods, and reporting attributes as strong, moderate, or weak.
They found that the quality of qualitative methods were generally adequate, although qualitative data verification was lacking. Most of the quantitative methods (83.3%) were weak with issues associated with construct validity, sampling bias, internal validity, and the validity of statistical conclusions.
The authors provided a helpful table of the barriers and recommendations for effective evaluation and previous research that use best practices (see below).
For conservation education initiatives that take place at aquariums, zoos, nature reserves or elsewhere, this review highlights the need for robust evaluation design and reporting practices. Additionally, the Effective Health Practice Project Quality Assessment Tool could serve as a useful checklist/guide for any conservation project undertaking a behaviour change or engagement program. Perhaps given the increasing importance placed on robust evaluation methods, the conservation community should design a quality assessment tool specifically for conservation evaluations.