Private-Sector Engagement Helps Develop Database to Monitor Innovative Payments for Forest Environmental Services System
In 2018, under the USAID-funded Vietnam Forests and Deltas Project, Microsoft and Winrock began an exciting partnership. The goal: to harness data across environmental and social indicators to help the Government of Vietnam better understand the impact of its innovative Payments for Forest Environmental Services (PFES) system.
PFES pays upstream forest owners to maintain healthy forests, a unique example of private-sector engagement that benefits downstream water users such as hydroelectric power plants and industrial water users. To monitor PFES, the Vietnam Forest Protection and Development Fund (VNFF) initially only collected data on the number of households receiving PFES payments, the dollar value of those payments and the hectares of forests under the system. As the PFES system developed, Winrock, USAID and VNFF wanted a more robust way to capture the true impact of this work on the ecosystems and livelihoods of those involved.
VNFF set out on a multipronged effort to improve their overall PFES monitoring and evaluation system. They reviewed what data they wanted to collect, how they wanted to collect it, and how they could ensure all users access to the information they needed. VNFF and its provincial partners identified 28 indicators that could help capture the impact of the system and allow decision-makers to see the results of PFES on forests and forest communities. For example, VNFF will now be able to analyze forest loss data to compare areas where forest owners receive PFES payments and areas where they do not and track how PFES funds are distributed — whether to community-level forest patrols, local infrastructure development or community initiatives such as women-led savings funds.
Of course, collecting and compiling all this information is a major undertaking and so when Microsoft reached out to the project to see how it could help, there was a clear answer! Microsoft provided financial support and access to leading local software developers, who worked with Winrock and VNFF to develop the database infrastructure and data management system to allow VNFF to process the information they needed. As the PFES system in Vietnam is globally unique, the database infrastructure and management needed to be specifically tailored for this use, and Microsoft was crucial for the development of this system.
“USAID/Vietnam has been looking for opportunities to work with Microsoft, and it’s great that PFES monitoring provided an opportunity for successful private sector engagement,” said former USAID/Vietnam Mission Director Michael Greene.
In partnership with Winrock, VNFF finalized and institutionalized the National PFES M&E Guidelines to establish consistent monitoring and evaluation processes and procedures across all 44 provinces that participate in PFES. Using the new guidelines, Winrock and VNFF trained national and provincial-level staff on their roles and responsibilities in the new system.
“Thanks to the M&E system developed by VFD, Son La province can quantify PFES results and evaluate the effectiveness of the PFES policy. The new guidelines are essential to help other provinces navigate and institute their own M&E systems,” says Mr. Phung Huu Thu, who heads Son La Provincial Forest Protection and Development Fund’s M&E Department.
As the Winrock-Microsoft partnership moves forward, VNFF will have nuanced data on the impacts of the $130 million annual payments that move through the PFES system. And this will make PFES stronger for all who use it.