Context . Community-based conservation managers and their funding providers must apportion limited resources to potential projects that provide varying biodiversity benefits. Funding applicants must demonstrate that proposed projects are likely to provide positive conservation returns on investments.
Aims . We investigated the practical usefulness of two bioeconomic frameworks, the Project Prioritisation Protocol and the Investment Framework for Environmental Resources (INFFER) in guiding community-based conservation funding decisions and the benefits and challenges to community groups in evaluating projects using the tools.
Methods . We evaluated four species-based community-led conservation projects in New Zealand using the tools, and assessed the quality, relevance and potential impact of the frameworks to community conservation, including users’ perceptions of their usefulness.
Key results . Benefit–cost metrics from both tools indicated that all four projects would provide a low return on investment. However, both tools were highly sensitive to key assumptions about the values of conservation assets (species) being managed and the values of predicted differences made by projects. Both tools scored well against criteria used to assess their technical ‘quality’. INFFER had greater flexibility for use in different situations, but its use by community groups may be constrained by the time demands of completing a full project evaluation. Both tools can help users define problems and formulate innovative solutions through assessment of success and risk factors and the identification of project efficiencies.
Conclusions . Although both tools provide quantitative, transparent processes for the relative evaluation and ranking of competing projects, their sensitivities to species and/or asset valuation and benefit estimates mean that users should not accept scores and project rankings uncritically. For community groups, evaluation frameworks are likely to be useful to document costs, conservation benefits and risk factors accurately and transparently, and can encourage applicants to develop more robust approaches to project management, including the development of specific and measurable management objectives.
Implications . Adoption of more transparent and standardised assessment of funding applications by agencies, despite some of the drawbacks of currently available tools, would facilitate more transparent prioritisation of competing funding bids and would encourage community groups to develop a more robust approach to project design and management.