Stakeholder participation in nature conservation policies and especially in the management of protected areas has gained importance in the last decades. These changes are underlined by democratic principles and the perceived contribution of stakeholder involvement to the effectiveness of conservation management. Evaluating participatory processes is essential to learn about the past and thus increase the quality of future processes. The evaluation can be useful for the organisations responsible for planning and management, stakeholders and policy makers as well. The present paper shows the results of a systematic evaluation of 25 participatory processes related to the development of management plans for Natura 2000 sites in Hungary between 2007 and 2015. A conceptual framework was developed to evaluate the process and outcome of participatory management planning processes. Criteria were based on the scientific literature on public participation and tailored to conservation-related management planning and stakeholder involvement. Evaluated processes were grouped in three cases based on their time range and financial sources. Overall, the analysed processes scored at a medium level, showing better performance in the process criteria than in the outcome criteria. The best case scored significantly higher in four criteria compared to the other cases: representativeness, resource availability for facilitation, new, creative ideas and impact on the plan. The main factors behind the success were (1) embeddedness of the planning process in a larger project, where the plan was a tool for conservation, (2) carrying out only one process at a time, (3) previous experience of facilitators and planners with participatory planning and (4) the opportunity and capacity to propose a payment scheme as an incentive. But even this case received low scores in some criteria: conflict resolution, early involvement and well defined goals. Based on the results we suggest that more data is needed to evaluate the implementation of the plans and, in many cases, the impact of the process on the plan. Performance can be improved with the assistance of policy makers by further developing guidelines, harmonising payment schemes with the conservation measures of the plans and providing training on conflict resolution. The evaluation framework proved to be suitable for the assessment of a large set of conservation related management planning processes, but it also had some limitations, e.g. concerning the incorporation of stakeholders' views in the evaluation.
Keywords: Evaluation; Hungary; Management plans; Natura 2000 network; Participatory planning; Stakeholder involvement.
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