Evaluation Process


Evaluation of the Catchment-Based Approach – Pilot Stage


Improving environmental water quality at the river catchment scale is at the heart of the Government’s drive to improve the water environment, as set out in the recent Water White Paper. Water systems are complex, interacting with the surrounding landscape in response to a range of natural and man-made factors. A shift in focus from larger river basins to the smaller catchment scale is widely recognised as a positive step towards achieving long-term improvements in the water environment and delivering our targets under the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Central to this approach is the engagement of local stakeholders to establish common ownership of problems and their solutions, building partnerships to implement actions at the local level.

A series of catchment-level partnerships is being developed through a pilot phase (May 2011 – December 2012) to test these new approaches. Ten of these partnerships are being hosted by the Environment Agency (EA) and a further 15 pilots are being hosted by stakeholders such as the water industry, rivers trusts and wildlife trusts. A wider network of 55 additional catchments has expressed an interest in the pilot scheme.

The Government’s aim is that the 25 pilot catchments will provide a means for all stakeholders to learn together how to develop effective, partnership-based approaches for catchment improvement. Each catchment pilot is different, reflecting variations in (among other things) local geography, history of engagement, the stakeholders involved and how they go about identifying and implementing solutions. The pilot phase therefore provides the opportunity for the 25 catchment-level partnerships to learn from one another, and develop effective approaches to stakeholder engagement through adaptive management and continuous learning.

The aim of the evaluation is to support this learning process and provide an independent assessment of which approach works best, where, for whom and why. The findings from this will be used to inform guidance for national roll-out of the catchment-based approach from 2014. There will be a particular focus on how well pilot approaches deliver improvements in WFD standards in different catchments.


Defra has commissioned a team of researchers, to undertake an independent review of the 25 catchment pilots. The team will work alongside Government, stakeholders and communities, collating information provided by the pilots, and gathering views from all involved about what is working well, and what could be done better. The researchers will be ensuring that we learn all we can from this vital pilot phase, sharing what we are learning now with each other, and making sure that we can pass on that learning to those taking forward catchment management approaches in the future.

Phases of the Work Programme

January 2012

Scoping Learn about the pilots and their specific situations.Work together to define how best to evaluate the way the pilots work. Establish the best ways to communicate and learn from key messages as they emerge.


Formative Evaluation Working alongside Government, stakeholders and communities to:

  • collate feedback from the pilots,
  • monitor the approaches used,
  • identify what works well and what is more difficult to achieve, and distil this into key messages,
  • design and deliver events to help the pilots learn from their experiences.


Summative Evaluation Determine the benefits and value for money of the different approaches taken in the pilots. Capture lessons learned and understand what works well and when. Guide decisions on how to roll-out catchment-based approaches more widely.

March 2013

Reporting Carry out overall evaluation. Produce a Handbook on catchment based approaches, providing guidance on the roles and activities, ups and downs, and good practices, based on what we have learned from the pilot phase. Provide information for a Policy Impact Assessment.


The key benefits of the project to Defra and to catchment managers will be to provide an evaluation of the pilot phase of the new catchment-based approach, particularly with respect to delivering the WFD, by:

  • Identifying the key issues relating to the establishment and delivery of the catchment-based approach and to support the pilots in learning how to address the issues;
  • Developing an understanding of the costs and benefits of the catchment-based approach, which will support future policy recommendations;
  • Supporting the national rollout of the catchment based approach by detailing lessons learned and providing guidance on good practices.


Project Team

The project has been awarded to a consortium led by Cascade Consulting, partnered by Collingwood Environmental Planning and YJRees Consulting. This core team is further supported by Arup, Delta Partnership, Economics for the Environment Consultancy (eftec), Lancaster University, and the Open University. The team provides a breadth and depth of experience in catchment-based approaches and engagement in the UK. If you have any further questions regarding the evaluation project, please contact us at:

Progress Reports

  quick assignment help