Equity and protected areas

Assessing equity

Users of Protected Planet who wish to carry out an equity assessment of a particular protected area, using the guiding questions below, are invited to complete this questionnaire (https://goo.gl/forms/V15oXxRBscpjoupy1).

Social equity is made up of three dimensions: distribution, procedure and recognition. These dimensions are central to the assessment of social equity in protected areas.

One study recently built on these dimensions to propose a set of ten indicators to assess equity in protected areas at the global scale1. These indicators were tested on a set of protected areas around the world. The study is presented here as an example of how equity might be assessed more widely in the future. Other approaches have also been trialled to assess social equity at site level2.

The authors of the study presented here developed several guiding questions to aid in assessing equity. These questions are designed to be distributed to protected area stakeholders in the form of a questionnaire.

In an ideal situation, a diverse cross-section of stakeholders would answer the questions for a given protected area (e.g. a park ranger; a representative of the protected area's governance authority; a representative of a community living within, or adjacent to, the protected area). The questions can be used to assess the level of equity of a protected area, but also the divergence in opinions on its level of equity. A high level of divergence may itself be an indication that the protected area could be managed in a more equitable and transparent manner.

The questions are summarised here:

1.Have the cultural identities of local stakeholder groups contributed to the design and implementation of management actions in the protected area?

Cultural identity is the values and culture of a group of people, including their relation to nature and religious beliefs.

2.Are traditional knowledge systems included in the management of the protected area?

Traditional knowledge systems are resource-use practices employed by indigenous or local people for managing natural resources (e.g. traditional land use planning, and traditional farming systems or fishing practices). Statutory systems are non-traditional practices and principles (e.g. scientific principles).

3.Do local stakeholder groups retain their statutory and customary rights with the establishment or management of the protected area?

Customary rights are “established, traditional patterns of norms that can be observed within a particular socio-cultural setting", and are relevant to the management of the protected area, such as local forms of authority, traditional spatial planning, local access and use-rights. They differ from (but can co-exist with) formal state law (statutory rights).

4.Has Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) been obtained in relation to the protected area?

FPIC is a consultative process whereby potentially affected local and indigenous people engage in an open and informed dialogue with outsiders interested in using areas occupied or traditionally used by them, and decide whether to consent to the use in question.

5.Are local stakeholder groups satisfied with how decisions are taken in relation to protected area management?

6.Are local stakeholder groups able to access information about management planning?

Management planning refers, for example, to regulations about access to specific places in the protected area, or to the use of revenues from tourism or trophy hunting.

7.Are local stakeholder groups able to satisfactorily resolve disputes through existing mechanisms?

Disputes could involve issues of relocation, or compensation for crop/livestock damage.

8.Do local stakeholder groups know to whom to raise concerns for solving issues related to management actions?

9.Are there actions in place to mitigate burdens to local stakeholder groups living in or near the protected area?

Burdens are e.g. preventing the clearing of land for agriculture or other livelihood activities, loss of access to natural resources, or damage to crops.

10.Do households of local stakeholder groups receive benefits from management actions through a culturally-accepted system of benefit sharing?

Each of these questions is presented with three multiple-choice answers, resulting in a score of 1 (the protected area does not score highly on this indicator: the management does not enhance this aspect of social equity in the protected area), 2 (the protected area has a medium score for this indicator: the management somewhat enhances this aspect of social equity in the protected area) or 3 (the protected area scores highly on this indicator: the management strongly enhances this aspect of social equity in the protected area).

Although not included in the questionnaire, the following questions are also of importance when assessing equity:

1.Has any study been carried out to identify the groups of people living in or near the protected area, their interests, concerns and impacts of the protected area on them?

2.Who are the relevant local stakeholder groups involved in advancing social equity in protected areas?


1Zafra-Calvo, N., Pascual, U., Brockington, D., Coolsaet, B., Cortes-Vazquez, J.A., Gross-Camp, N., Palomo, I. and Burgess N.D. (2017). Towards an indicator system to assess equitable management in protected areas. Biological Conservation 211, 134-141. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2017.05.014

2Dawson, N., Martin, A. and Danielsen, F. (2017), Assessing Equity in Protected Area Governance: Approaches to Promote Just and Effective Conservation. Conserv. Lett., Doi:10.1111/conl.12388