New methodology for protected area governance assessments applied in Bangladesh and the Philippines

19 June 2017

Two protected areas supported by GIZ pilot new governance assessment methodology in Bangladesh and the Philippines. The participatory assessment evaluated governance mechanisms and structures in order to identify strengths and weaknesses of good governance. Results are being taken up as ideas for actions by protected area managers and local authorities with the support of GIZ.

With the goal to fulfill the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 (we have less than three years to go!), Aichi Biodiversity Target 11[1] has often been in conservationists’ focus. While concrete numbers are certainly helpful (17% of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10% of coastal and marine areas are conserved) – this target component is on track, the latter target component holds equally important criteria: […] conservation through effectively and equitably managed protected area (PA) systems. But what does effective and equitable mean in the context of PAs?

Governance is a key factor to both the effectiveness and equity of PAs.  By looking at how and by whom decisions are being made, a governance assessment links conservation outcomes (effectiveness) with social outcomes (equity). Overall, the information a governance assessment provides can be used for better informed decision making e.g. concerning future policies and the institutional arrangement of collaborative management.

So how exactly can the governance of a PA be assessed? The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in collaboration with many other organisations (among others GIZ), developed general guidelines for assessing the quality and diversity of how protected areas are governed. The IUCN World Parks Congress[2] (2014) and the Conference of Parties (2016) to the Convention on Biological Diversity[3] (CBD) re-emphasised the importance of understanding and assessing PA governance. Based on the IUCN guidelines, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the GIZ Sector Program (SV) “Implementing the Biodiversity Convention” jointly started developing a practical site-level assessment methodology.

The newly developed methodology is a highly participatory self-assessment. For phases 2 and 3 in the assessment process (see Figure 1), the it suggests using tools such as Key Informant Interviews, Focus Group Discussions and workshops, which equally involve a large number of governmental and non-governmental stakeholders as well as community members. The stakeholders identify best practices and challenges related to selected “good governance principles” such as sharing of benefits, participation, conflict resolution, and transparency. Based on the specific requirements of each site, four to six priority principles are selected from a full list of 11 principles for in-depth analysis. As a result, a set of recommendations towards better governance is jointly agreed upon by all stakeholders and discussed with decision makers for further action.

The newly developed methodology was, inter alia, field tested in two GIZ-SNRD Asia sites. Some highlights of these assessments are described below.

Figure 1: Overview of the overall methodology of the governance assessment and its process steps (IUCN)

  1. Bangladesh: The Sundarbans Mangrove Forest under the “Management of the Sundarbans Mangrove Forests for Biodiversity Conservation and Increased Adaptation to Climate Change” Project (SMP)

The Sundarbans, a UNESCO World Heritage and Ramsar Site, constitute the largest mangrove forest of the world. Here, unique and globally important biodiversity has remained preserved.  A large amount of people in Bangladesh, especially those living in its periphery, depend on the mangrove forest for their livelihood and for protection from tropical storms.  However, coordination among and participation of the many stakeholders involved in the planning and implementation of measures for the protection and sustainable use of the forest remains a challenge in the existing institutional and organizational framework.

The collaborative management system for the Sundarbans, which is formally in place, brings together community members, the Forest Department and other relevant stakeholders. Local community members are to a certain extent participating in meetings, but are not yet sufficiently empowered to effectively influence decision making outcomes. Communication of meeting results among the different co-management organisations is not always functioning properly. For example recommendations and concerns formulated at village level are not channelled to the higher decision making levels and vice versa. The roles and responsibilities of the different co-management organisations are not always clear because people understand their purpose differently and in some cases no formalised statutory document is available.

To address these issues, ideas for action generated through different steps in the assessment included capacity building and institutional development for co-management organisations at village level, to organise exchange and networking events for co-management stakeholders and to more clearly allocate the co-management responsibilities within the Forest Department organisational structure. The Forest Department and development partners appreciated the results as helpful for improving governance of the Sundarbans and designing future interventions. SMP has likewise taken up some of the outcomes of the assessment in its further activity planning. The assessment was especially perceived as valuable since it systematically documented the different challenges hampering good governance of the Sundarbans and provided a jointly developed set of initial ideas for action.

  1. Philippines: Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary under the Conflict sensitive Resource and Asset Management (COSERAM) programme’s module on Indigenous Practices for Biodiversity Conservation (IP4Biodiv).

The governance of the Agusan Marsh Wildlife Sanctuary, a key biodiversity area and Ramsar Site, was assessed against six governance principles. As a program working on improving the governance of natural resources in conflict affected areas, the strengths, challenges and ideas for action which surfaced while discussing the principle on “Fair and Effective Processes for Dispute Resolution”, which is closely intertwined with the “Recognition and Respect for the Rights of all Relevant Actors”, were particularly interesting.

For small scale disputes, functioning traditional resolution mechanisms are in place at the local level. The results showed, however, that the overlapping mandates of different government agencies regarding land titling lead to larger scale conflicts. Due to the lack of coordination, mechanisms to resolve these are not functioning, thus strongly threatening conservation efforts. Both settlers as well as indigenous communities take advantage of this situation, conducting illegal activities and leasing/selling their lands to investments companies. Local conservation groups (Bantay Danao) lack the power and support to enforce the law and are confronted with threats- a scenario which must be taken seriously in an area prone to violent conflict. Besides strengthening these conservation groups and raising the awareness of the communities regarding their rights and responsibilities, the assessment came up with concrete ideas for action to address the challenges regarding overlapping land titles.

The recommendations have been taken up by the technical working group of the program, which has gathered existing geographical data and produced thematic maps. Besides the previously known overlaps of ancestral domains and the PA (approx. 55% of the Marsh) more than 1500 private titles have been issued in the PA after its declaration. The matter has been brought to the regional directors, who have committed to take adequate action based on the in depth analysis of the data.

The Agusan Marsh Superintendent especially appreciated the PA Governance Assessment tool, since its participatory character allows for an internal perspective, while the external facilitation triggers honest answers and provides structured results. A lot of the findings were not new, but since they have been validated on the ground and were presented in a simple yet analysed way, they have now been heard by all relevant stakeholders.

Outlook: Benefits for GIZ Programs

In addition to the more direct benefits to GIZ programs, such as providing additional direction to planned measures regarding the conservation and use of natural resources in PAs, the assessment provides leeway in addressing crosscutting issues such as promotion of human rights and equity, which are part of the GIZ quality standard criteria. A paper reflecting on the tool’s utility in different types and phases of projects, potential contributions to achieving project objectives and other co-benefits as well as limitations of the tool will be published by the Biodiversity WG at the end of 2017.

This knowledge product will be complementary to other (planned) publications on the PA governance assessment tool by the SV Implementing the Biodiversity Convention and IIED that describe the assessment methodology and field experiences from different sites including two of the GIZ supported sites.

Authors: Nicole Bendsen; Carina van Weelden

Contact: Oemar Idoe (Bangladesh); Nicole Bendsen (Philippines)

[1] Aichi Target 11: By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape. (

[2] Recommendation #1 of the “governance stream” of calls for countries to undertake governance assessments (GA) of their PAs at with a view to increasing both effectiveness and equity of PA management.

[3] Decision  XIII/2.  Progress towards the achievement of Aichi Biodiversity Targets 11 and 12