Environmental Monitoring

Environmental Monitoring

The links here are set to open on a new page so you can keep track of where you are and the page can be downloaded as a work sheet in Word format for you to use to keep track of your progress and to provide the basis of your program (and to identify gaps which you need to fill in or get advice on). The web site has more information available than is linked to this page so use the search function to look for additional information if you need to.

Preliminary questions

Who are you doing this for?
Who owns the project?
Who is interested in the outcomes?
How much institutional support is there? ( Establish the long term institutional situation, knowledge transfer, responsibilities, legal issues etc.)
Are senior management/Council committed to the outcomes?

Why are you concerned about the environment?
What are the issues?
What evidence do you have already to identify the issues of concern? (Exploit existing data and do ad hoc surveys and confirmatory testing of the quick and dirty type e.g. look at the stream (what can you see and smell?; where? when?), take a few samples and gather all the documents together that you can.)
Can/have you prioritised issues (risk; cost-effectiveness/etc)
Are there human health impacts? Have you done a sanitary survey of the catchment?
What actions are proposed that you expect to have an impact (positive or negative)?

Map location of impacts/sources

What assumptions or models etc do you base your concerns on?
(There are always assumptions and mental models behind what we do; the greatest danger is when we are unaware of those assumptions and ways of seeing the world because we cannot challenge them or test them.)

Why do you want to carry out an environment sampling program?

Have you consulted the community about their concerns?
A preliminary structure for considering the level and extent of community consultation:

Known or potential level of impact ("hazard")

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High

Known or potential scale of impact ("hazard")

  • Local
  • District
  • Regional

Level of concern ("outrage")

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High

Likelihood of change

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High

Peter Sandman developed the idea that Risk = Hazard + Outrage and has useful things to say about risk communication. Bringing "hazard" and "outrage" into alignment may be a critical part of your program. There may be a temptation to ignore a high hazard if there is no outrage but sooner or later it will bite you somewhere sensitive. Being aware of the potential for change, either in outrage (community awareness) or hazard (ongoing pollution, change of scale due to events,...) can guide your priority setting and where you need to direct your resources.

Can you draw a diagram of the situation of concern and how your program fits in?

What will you measure, and why will it help address the issues of concern to you?

How will you incorporate the "precautionary principle"?

How will you know the program has been successful?
You need to specify this up front because you need to know the "effect size" that is important to you so you can design the program to be robust and powerful enough to give you the results you need to make that decision.

Check that management intentions are implemented, and check whether the management actually works. Don't just rely on measuring the output; if nothing is actually done on the ground you can't expect to measure a change. And especially don't waste your time measuring only the input!

What will you do with the answer?
Clearly you will need to tell someone about the results, but in addition how will the results affect the way you manage and make decisions?

What are the elements of your program design?

Making a team
Reason for involvement

Define your problem

Define the scale of the problem

  • Space
  • Time
  • Processes
  • Parameters/indicators

(What are the limits of your concern?)

What are the risks involved?

  • Cost/benefit
  • Failure
  • Health
  • Environment
  • Safety

How will you choose between alternatives? Standard management tools such as decision trees can be used to clarify your understanding of your choices and to provide an explicit statement of your beliefs about the probability of particular outcomes (a measure of the risk of the program).

What is your hypothesis?
(Use Toulmin logic to make a clear statement of your beliefs about the situation, and then turn that into a testable statement.)

What kind of design will you use?

There are a large number of classes of experimental design. They differ with respect to the relationship between the experimental treatment(s) and the measured response.

A comprehensive overview of different designs is provided in the USEPA Guidance for choosing a sampling program. The document includes discussion on the following types of Sampling Designs:

  • Judgmental Sampling
  • Simple Random Sampling
  • Stratified Sampling
  • Systematic and Grid Sampling
  • Ranked Set Sampling
  • Adaptive Cluster Sampling
  • Composite Sampling

Population characteristics


Population characteristics

Experimental aims

Sampling design

Experimental design

Homogeneous random variation

Estimating and comparing population parameters

Simple random sampling

Completely randomised design

Heterogeneous with systematic and random variation

Estimating and comparing means

Stratified random sampling

Randomised block design


Analysis of pattern and process

Systematic sampling

Response surface

Repeated measures

Factorial structure

Estimating and comparing means for combinations of factors

Factorial designs

Factorial designs

Dependence relationship

Prediction of a value from a single predictor

Simple random sampling

Regression analysis


Prediction of a value from more than one predictor


Multiple regression



Where and when will you sample?

Use Green's table of designs to identify the type of program you are planning and then look at the kinds of sampling you will need to do. (Think about your design and how you can use the results - do you have reference or control sites? Can you stratify your sampling sites?)

What will your measure and by what methods?
How will you avoid measurement errors?
What effect size is of interest?
Will you be able to detect that accurately?
Do you have adequate "power" to avoid errors in analysis and be sure of your decisions?
Can you do the tests in-house or will you require laboratory contracts?)

Can you afford the program you need?
If not, what can you afford that is worth doing?
Take into account both direct (cost of materials and services) and indirect costs (staff time and the alternative work they might be doing - "opportunity cost")
Can you use volunteers for (part of) the work?

How will you know you can trust the results?
(What are your QA/QC requirements and implementation plan?)

How will you analyse the results?
(What are the expected characteristics of your data? Which statistical tests are appropriate? Can you use graphical/exploratory data analysis to clarify and communicate your results?)

How and when will you communicate the results?

To your team?
To your managers?
To your Council?
To the community?
(Sometimes there is a time for being hard headed - come back year after year to hound the likes of the relevant government agencies and utilities - this is where you can use the media - starting with local media and then ramping up if you need to. Remember the "outrage" factor!)

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