Introduction to the guidance manual
20. Validation and quality control



JNCC and the Agencies are developing together a quality control and quality assurance programme which will address the issues below and make it clear who needs to do what at each stage. The text within this section is intended to give an outline of the sorts of quality assurance that will need to be put in place, rather than provide detail of work actually being carried out.
20.1 Operational practice
Country agencies need to be sure that operational practices are communicated to operational staff, understood and adhered to. The role also needs to ensure that conservation objectives for the site are used in undertaking the practical monitoring.
20.2 Application of guidance and comparability of targets
This task can be achieved by ensuring conservation objectives comply with the guidance issued. Together the UK guidance informs the writing of conservation objectives which set targets and apply standards. Country Agencies need to ensure that guidance to set conservation objectives has been issued, understood and used consistently. A key component of this role is also to ensure that the guidance has been used to create comparable targets for the same feature on different sites, taking into account the necessity for some site specific variation.
The specialist groups charged with the development of UK guidance need to ensure that targets are comparable between countries. Put simply, are England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland setting targets for a feature at different levels of condition?
There is a third role to ensure that targets are sufficiently comparable across different groups of feature. Are we aiming for a more favourable condition for lowland grassland than for woodland? This is effectively undertaking quality assurance across the UK guidance setting groups. This will be a role for JNCC.
20.3 Consistency of results
A quality assurance process should aim to measure inter-observer variability. A number of the groups developing guidance tested the methodology in terms of inter-observer variability, with generally favourable results. Country Agencies can usefully continue to measure and reduce inter-observer variability.
There is another task to check if different Country Agency interpretations of UK guidance cause inter-observer variability between the countries. Do SNH, CCW, EHS-NI and EN operational staff make different condition assessments for the same site? A test of this will probably be undertaken during the refinement of guidance. Differences might be caused through divergent operational practices or by divergent use of UK guidance in setting conservation objectives.
20.4 Reliability of Results
Country Agencies need to test whether the results they produce really reflect the condition of the feature on the site. English Nature intend to do this through a validation network that will check results on a few sites through more rigorous monitoring.
20.5 Quality of guidance
UK guidance needs to be assessed against the results of the other quality assurance activities and improved appropriately. This will require input from all involved in the CSM process.