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Evaluating Contestable Funds

Here we showcase the evaluation of two contestable funds – the Sustainable Farming Fund and the Envirolink Scheme

The Sustainable Farming Fund (SFF) invests in grass-roots projects with the aim of delivering economic, environmental and social benefits to New Zealand’s primary industries and rural communities. The Fund was set up in 2000. In the subsequent 14-year period MPI spent $122.8 million on 906 SFF projects.

Working closely with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), we evaluated the SFF during 2013. The evaluation assessed outcomes, value for money and possible adaptations to ensure the Fund remains effective and fit for purpose.

Value for money we assessed using an evaluative rubric that integrated economic, environmental, social and cultural values with the underpinning logic adopted by the SFF (the Bennett’s Hierarchy).

The evaluation drew together evidence from range of sources including: review of the SFF database; an online survey of project managers; case studies of three clusters of projects; workshops with MPI staff and fund managers; and review of past evaluations and SFF documentation.

The evaluation found that the SFF is good value for money and makes a worthwhile and valuable contribution to primary industries and rural communities. It supports the interests of science, the environment, agribusiness and the community in ways not replicated by other funding programmes.

Among the key benefits of the SFF are its contribution to:

  • increased capability for problem solving at individual, community and sector levels
  • enhanced relationships and networks between farmers, rural communities, scientists, local government and industry bodies
  • behaviour change that supports sustainable farming, including farmer engagement and emergency of leaders to champion ongoing change
  • development and adoption of new technology and environmentally sustainable practice
  • protecting and growing the economic value of primary industries, including export opportunities ·
  • cumulative impacts from related projects over time, with later projects building on learnings from earlier ones
  • supporting Māori self-determination
  • development of skilled project managers who help broker relationships, support individual and group change, and facilitate project management.

The evaluation was extensively quoted in a report to the OECD Trade and Agricultural Directorate which highlighted the value of using soft measures to support agri-environmental policy implementation.

Download the reports here: 

  1. Executive summary report
  2. Main report
  3. Case studies

Envirolink Scheme

The Envirolink Scheme invests in the transfer of environmental science knowledge to support select regional councils in their environmental management. Established in 2005, Envirolink made funding of $1.6 million available to regional councils each year, a total of $22.4 million over 14 years. Scientists within selected regional councils used the money to contract government-funded research organisations, including Crown Research Institutes, universities and some not-for-profit associations. Envirolink enabled selected regional councils to access existing environmental science from the Crown Research Institutes and other approved research providers.

We evaluated Envirolink in 2019  working closely with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Envirolink Co-ordinator. The evaluation used an evaluation-specific methodology and mixed methods approach. To assess whether the Fund was making a worthwhile and valuable contribution we assessed the extent to which the fund helped build science capacity, support better engagement and building of networks, the extent knowledge exchange occurred, the usability of the research, and the likely influence and impact of that research.

The evaluation found:

  • Envirolink increases the value of existing environmental science research by supporting higher uptake by users.

  • Envirolink is a well-run fund that enables eligible regional councils to problem-solve, respond to concerns from the community, develop policy, plan more effectively, manage environmental issues and respond to demands of government.

  • Envirolink supports regional councils to make evidence-based decisions that help manage their local environments more effectively.

On this basis we concluded that Envirolink delivered on its value for money proposition. 

Envirolink Evaluation Report 2019