Table of Contents

Performance Assurance Program

In February 2020, the Centre for Land Conservation (CLC), with generous support from Environment and Climate Change Canada, hosted a national forum for land trusts in Canada. The objective of the workshop was to explore ways in which implementation of the Canadian Land Trust Standards and Practices can best be demonstrated and to discuss considerations for the design of an approach that independently provides performance assurance of such implementation efforts.

Prior to the forum, the CLC broadly engaged the land trust community and convened an Advisory Committee to provide advice and recommendations on the design and structure of a performance assurance program in Canada and on the consultation and engagement process for the development of such a program.

Building on the engagement initiated at the forum, the CLC proposes the following steps for the development of the performance assurance program.

The timelines indicated below are general guidelines and will be adjusted as needed based on stakeholder input and progress.

Preparing for broad consultations

Jun-Aug 2020

  • Prepare draft performance assurance program
  • Consult via e-mail and video/phone conferencing
  • Advisory Committee
  • Working Group
  • Other experts (e.g. standards organizations)

Open consultation

Aug-Oct 2020

  • Consult on draft performance assurance program
  • Adjust program design as required
  • Conservation organization community and other stakeholders
  • Advisory Committee
  • Working Group  

Ground truthing

Feb-June 2021

  • Prepare materials and tools
  • Identify organizations interested in testing the program
  • Host workshops and test program with identified land trusts
  • Working Group
  • Conservation organizations to test


July-Dec 2021

  • Revise program, tools and materials
  • If necessary, further test program
  • Advisory Committee
  • Working Group
  • Conservation organizations to test

Soft launch


  • As the program is voluntary, work with conservation organizations interested in participating in the program including training and other support and advice required by the participating organization  
  • Interest conservation organizations

Advisory Committee

In November 2019, the CLC broadly circulated a call for nominations to establish an Advisory Committee. The purpose of the Advisory Committee is to provide advice and recommendations on the design and structure of a performance assurance program in Canada and on the consultation and engagement process for the development of a performance assurance program.

The Advisory Committee consists of representatives from 14 land trusts (including the three provincial alliances), a representative from the U.S. Land Trust Alliance, two representatives from the Canadian Wildlife Service and three directors from the CLC Board of Directors. The Advisory Committee meets through conference calls on an as-needed basis.


Open Consultation (August-October 2020)

During a broad consultation held between late August and early October 2020, the CLC invited comments on a discussion document that outlined the performance assurance reporting program (PAR) implementation plan and potential governance options, and encouraged feedback on practice elements from the Canadian Land Trust Standards and Practices (S&Ps) that could be the focus of the program.

The responses to the open consultation were fairly consistent and helped identify a list of practice elements to use in the next phase of the program’s development. In addition to comments received during the consultation, the current working list of practice elements reflects the strategic direction advice from the February 2020 national forum, comments from the Advisory Committee and a smaller working group, and generally aligns with the elements used in the land trust accreditation program in the US. Following the open consultation, the CLC held conference calls with the Advisory Committee and with a smaller working group to discuss the results of the consultation and next steps.

Ground truthing exercise (February-June 2021)

In keeping with CLC’s principles for the program, we consulted with 14 conservation organizations to help ensure the performance assurance program is accessible and realistic for the diversity of organizations within the community and to help identify gaps or modifications to improve the program.

The conservation organizations who participated in this exercise were from across Canada and ranged from large organizations to small, volunteer-based organizations. Participating organizations were given a workbook to provide feedback on the list of priority practice elements (as identified in the consultation in 2020) and the list of corresponding pieces of evidence to demonstrate effective implementation of the practice elements. The organizations who participated in the exercise spoke candidly on the benefits and challenges of a program and shared suggestions on how to make the program more accessible and better meet the needs of the community. The process focused on finalizing the nature of the evidence, understanding the type of support an organization would need, and confirming that practice elements from the S&Ps would accurately reflect the performance of an organization.

The Outcomes

  • Priority practice elements

During the forum, open consultation, and ground truthing process, the community was hesitant to use all the practice elements from the S&Ps to avoid participation in the performance assurance program from being too demanding or onerous. Using the priority list of practice elements resulting from the open consultation, the participants in the ground truthing exercise further refined the list of selected practice elements and helped reduce redundancies in the list.

  • Nature of the evidence and demonstrating effective implementation

CLC created a preliminary list of documents or other information that an applicant could provide to demonstrate effective implementation of the indicator practice elements.  This list was reviewed and refined by participants of the exercise. Participating organizations recommended different terms and provided comments to ensure the program requirements are clear, simple, and easy to understand. Further, some pieces of evidence were removed or alternative approaches were suggested. The input provided helps to ensure the program reflects the diversity within the conservation community in Canada.  

  • Level of effort

During the forum, open consultation, and ground truthing process, the community expressed concerns about the time needed to participate in the program. The prioritization of practice elements and the refined list of evidence reduces the workload and effort required by any applicant to the program. During the ground truthing process, many participating organizations indicated the level of effort to be reasonable, especially for those who have a digital system for the organization of their documents and files.

  • Resources and support

To ensure all applicants are well-equipped, organizations recommended templates and guidance for certain types of evidence (for example, written policies), mentoring and peer-to-peer learning opportunities, the use of case studies on how materials would be assessed, as well as financial support for applicants. A self-assessment tool was also suggested to help an organization understand its progress in developing policies and procedures based on the S&Ps.   Existing information is available to assist conservation organizations in developing policies and procedures, including by the Réseau de Milieux Naturels protégés, the Ontario Land Trust Alliance and the Land Trust Alliance of BC. It was also noted to ensure that enough time is provided for an organization to collect and revise documents for the program.

  • Determining performance level

Ideas and suggestions about who should do the assessment to determine the performance level of an organization were productive although not definitive. Some organizations continued to prefer all reviews and assessments be done within the land trust community rather than through a third-party auditor or verification provider. Other organizations prefer the use of an internal approach for review and assessment to ensure the reviewers and assessors understand the complexities of private land conservation and the uniqueness of the private land conservation community. Further, use of external or third-party verifiers would have potential cost implications that organizations would like to avoid.

Still other organizations preferred a hybrid approach that used a third-party verifier (vetted and trained by CLC) for the indicator practice elements that relate to the organizational standards in the S&Ps, and land trust practitioners or experts for indicator practice elements related to the acquisition and stewardship standards. Alternatively, the organizational standards could be reviewed by a CLC committee comprised of individuals, including people from the land conservation community with the necessary expertise while ensuring independence and avoiding potential conflicts of interest.

  • Conceptual model

Organizations did not have definitive thoughts on the conceptual model for the program of whether an organization should be assessed and reported overall or by each standard. Still, the conversations were informative and valuable to help CLC understand the nuances of how to report on performance and the potential impact on participants of the performance assurance program.

Some organizations who preferred a rating by standard highlighted that this model provided a means for continuous improvement (an organization would know where they had gaps and how they could improve). Alternatively, some organizations preferred an overall rating by organization which could also highlight areas of improvement through comments received directly by the organization (not published externally).

  • Terminology

Organizations varied on their opinion of the terminology to use for the program. Prior to the Forum in February 2020, there was hesitation about the use of “accreditation” and at the Forum there was reluctance to rely on graduated system (such as the use of “Gold, Silver, or Bronze”).

During the discussions from the ground truthing process, organizations continued to express preferences for either a single or graded system. While no single option has been preferred overall, some organizations seemed comfortable using more descriptive terminology for when an organization is participating in the performance assurance program (for example, “participating organization” or “in progress”) and another term for when the organization has successfully completed the process (for example, “compliant” or “program requirements satisfied” etc.).

Early Findings

While the CLC remains in the early stages of consultation and engagement with land trusts, the provincial land trust alliances and other stakeholders, some early findings drawn from the national Forum held in February 2020, the Advisory Committee and a working group of land trust practitioners are provided below. As no decisions have been taken on the matters set out below, the CLC looks forward to any additional comments on them that people may wish to provide.

1. Not all practice elements with the S&Ps are needed for an effective performance assurance program

The Canadian Land Trust Standards and Practices are comprised of 144 practice elements which are grouped into 60 practices which, in turn, are found within 12 standards. Moreover, many of the practice elements include a number of provisions. Evaluation of the implementation of all practice elements and sub-elements would be overly onerous for both land trusts and the CLC and is not viewed as necessary. There is considerable complementarity between practice elements such that selection of key or core elements is likely to be sufficient to demonstrate that a land trust is effectively implementing the S&Ps. Such an approach would be consistent with that taken by the Land Trust Alliance and the Land Trust Accreditation Commission in the U.S. where “accreditation indicator elements” have been identified for the purposes of accreditation.

2. A common set of practice elements should form the basis of a performance assurance program

While there is considerable variability within the Canadian land trust community, the more widely held view is that a single set of practice elements should be applied to land trusts which participate in a performance assurance program. As such, larger regional and national land trusts would be evaluated against the same set of practice elements as volunteer community-based ones.

3. The initial performance assurance program should evaluate a smaller number of practice elements, recognizing that the program could expand over time to include other elements

Given the large number of volunteer community-based land trusts, and wide recognition of the need for capacity-building, there is support for selection of a smaller number of key practice elements in the initial program. This would ensure that the program is not onerous on the organizations participating in the program while ensuring that the program remains meaningful both from the perspective of supporting organizations in identifying needs and priorities for capacity-building, and maintaining funder and public confidence in land trusts and the performance assurance program itself. In time, additional practice elements could be included in the program reflecting capacity-building and growth within the sector.

4. There should be a single level of performance assurance

Some performance assurance programs operate using levels of performance. For example, the well-known LEED green building certification program has 4 levels – platinum, gold, silver and certified – based on a scoring system. For a land trust performance assurance program, feedback to date supports a single ‘designation’ rather than a tiered or graduated approach. A single ‘designation’ would be consistent with the approach ultimately adopted in the U.S. for its land trust accreditation program.

5. The program should be voluntary

Consistent with feedback to-date, the CLC remains of the view that a performance assurance program should be voluntary. Land trusts are not all at the same stage with respect to implementation of the S&Ps and it is important to ensure that land trusts make their own decisions on when to participate in a performance assurance program. In addition, the CLC will work with and support land trusts in their efforts to successfully participate in the program.

6. The program should be accessible

The CLC wishes to ensure the program is accessible to land trusts. In this regard, the CLC will work to ensure that the program is not onerous on land trusts, particularly the community-based land trusts which often may not have paid staff. In addition, as noted above, the CLC will work with land trusts that wish to participate in the program to provide support as may be needed by the land trust.

Program Principles

Since the publication of the Canadian Land Trust Standards and Practices (S&Ps) in 2005, there has been periodic and ad hoc discussion on the merits of developing a land trust ‘accreditation’ program in Canada. With the publishing of revised and updated S&Ps in January 2019, and following the establishment of the Centre for Land Conservation (CLC) in May 2019, the CLC, as custodian of the S&Ps, has initiated further discussion on a potential land trust accreditation or performance assurance program based on the S&Ps.

While the CLC has no preconceived notions on the specific details of a program that assesses implementation of the S&Ps, it has developed several principles upon which it believes such a program should be based. The CLC believes such a program should:

  • Reflect the unique characteristics of the Canadian land trust community
  • Take into account the circumstances of all land trusts from large national ones to local volunteer land trusts
  • Be developed collaboratively with land trusts, provincial alliances, private funders and governments
  • Be a tool to help land trusts build capacity and capabilities
  • Be independent of government

Rationale and Benefits

In recent decades, expectations for organizations – public and private, for-profit and not-for-profit – to demonstrate sound environmental, social and economic performance have continued to grow.  In response, a diverse array of sectors have developed standards and practices, and associated verification programs to enable sectors to independently demonstrate sound and effective organizational management.  Examples can be found in sectors such as health care, education, and natural resource sectors including forestry, mining and agriculture to name a few.

Standards and practices, buttressed by a verification program provide a means to validate the quality of the organization.  Such programs highlight areas where an organization is doing well and identify opportunities for improvement in the ongoing pursuit of excellence.  Overall, such programs enhance the credibility of the sector and maintain public, investor and government confidence in it.

Importantly, standards and practices combined with a performance assurance program provide a consistent, independent and repeatable means of fostering and supporting organizational improvement resulting in better risk management.  As demonstrated by existing performance assurance or accreditation programs, some of the benefits of such programs include:

  • Sets standards of excellence and affirms that an organization meets standards of quality
  • Provides organizations with a template for high quality services, administration and governance
  • Promotes on-going organizational awareness and improvement through a continuous process of assessment
  • Provides a credible, independently verifiable method of demonstrating effective implementation of sector standards and practices
  • Documents that the organization is true to its own organizational objectives
    (mission, philosophy and goals)
  • Gives purpose and direction for long-range strategic planning
  • Provides public assurance of quality
  • Promotes accountability
  • Provides a complete review and written documentation, enabling the identification of strengths and weakness within the organization
  • Gives the organization an opportunity to self-congratulate for quality services provided
  • Works as a staff and management team building activity as the organization continues its quality improvement objectives

With respect to a performance assurance or accreditation program for land trusts specifically, in the United States, the Land Trust Accreditation Commission was incorporated in April 2006 as an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance to “operate an innovative program to build and recognize strong land trusts, foster public confidence in land conservation and help ensure the long-term protection of land”.  In 2018, an independent external evaluation of the U.S. Land Trust Accreditation Program assessed the impacts of the first ten years the program.  An overview of and detailed report on the evaluation can be found by clicking here: Land Trust Accreditation Ten-Year Impact Evaluation (only available in English).

Land Trust Forum 2020

The Centre for Land Conservation (CLC), with generous support from Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), hosted a national conversation on February 26 & 27 in Ottawa, ON.

The workshop was attended by 37 land trusts from across Canada (ranging from national to small, volunteer-based land trusts), funders, and other conservation stakeholders. Additionally, CLC Board of Directors and staff and representatives from ECCC were also in attendance.

Summary of Land Trust Forum

Sylvia Bates Standards and Practices

Sylvia Bates Accreditation

Darren Sleep Standards

Forum Report