De Vries, Danny H. (2005). Choosing Your Baseline Carefully: Integrating Historical and Political Ecology in the Evaluation of Environmental Intervention Projects. Journal of Ecological Anthropology, 9(1)
Environmental intervention projects aim to re-engineer the cultural landscape. Entering at a particular moment in time, such projects commonly produce a "baseline" analysis. This analysis captures elements in the environment that are later compared to measured changes the project claims to produce. Illustrated through a case study of a Tanzanian community conservation non-governmental organization, the argument made in this paper is that uncritical use of such baselines in measuring and evaluating environmental intervention projects is a practice that tends to impose ahistorical understandings of human-environmental relationships that have deep historical roots. The paper illustrates how an attempt to draw a "basic analysis" of initial conditions, without reference to historical situatedness, hindered accurate evaluation of program success in terms of finding sustainable solutions to the problem(s) addressed. Instead, the baseline survey unwillingly functioned as a tool that impeded local empowerment by missing opportunities for local management input and channeling authority to outside experts. The paper explores an alternative cultural-historical approach that integrates historical and political ecological insights by focusing on cultural memory, political facilitation, multiple temporal scales, and public compromise.
Journal of Ecological Anthropology
De Vries, Danny H.