Four boxes represent the four sections of the book. Horizontal box (Section: Recognise the problem) is greyed out. This box sits above three vertical boxes side by side. Arrow points from left of horizontal box to greyed-out left vertical box (Section: Create demand for evidence use) and from right of horizontal box to greyed-out right vertical box (Section: Collate and assess evidence). Arrow from left and right vertical boxes point to central vertical box (Section: Deliver change), highlighted to indicate current section

6. Identifying Stakeholders and Collaborating with Communities

Marina Best1, Robyn Irvine2, Longji Bako3, Geoffroy Citegetse4, Alison Field5, Dilys Roe6, David Rose7, Jonathan Spencer5

© 2022 Chapter Authors, CC BY-NC 4.0

Working with communities, including local and Indigenous communities, is fundamental to most successful conservation practice. Key elements include determining the appropriate level of engagement, identifying the key stakeholders, identifying appropriate means of collaborating with different stakeholders, creating and maintaining trust, and collaborating to deliver the objectives.

Four boxes represent the four sections of the book. Horizontal box (Section: Recognise the problem) is greyed out. This box sits above three vertical boxes side by side. Arrow points from left of horizontal box to greyed-out left vertical box (Section: Create demand for evidence use) and from right of horizontal box to greyed-out right vertical box (Section: Collate and assess evidence). Arrow from left and right vertical boxes point to central vertical box (Section: Deliver change) containing a smaller box (chapter: Identify stakeholders (6)) highlighted to indicate current chapter

1 Parks Canada Agency, Indigenous Conservation, Indigenous Affairs and Cultural Heritage, 30 rue Victoria, Gatineau, Quebec, Canada

2 Parks Canada Agency, Ecosystem Conservation, Protected Areas Establishment and Conservation, 30 rue Victoria, Gatineau, Quebec, Canada

3 The A.P. Leventis Ornithological Research Institute (APLORI), University of Jos Biological Conservatory, P.O. Box 13404, Laminga, Jos-East LGA, Plateau State, 930001, Nigeria

4 BirdLife International, Conservation of Migratory Birds and Habitats, Mermoz Pyrotechnie, Lot 23 Rue MZ 56, Dakar, Senegal

5 Field and Forest, Land Management, 2 Beech Copse, Winchester, UK

6 International Institute for Environment and Development, 235 High Holborn, London, UK

7 School of Water, Energy and the Environment, Cranfield University, College Road, Cranfield, Bedford, UK

6.1 The Benefits of Community-Working

  1. The natural environment is embedded within the cultural–political–economic systems in which communities live their lives. These communities are affected by conservation decisions, and in turn, their decisions, responses and actions often determine conservation outcomes. There are thus several reasons why such communities should be involved in conservation decision making.
  2. Moral and legal: local communities and Indigenous peoples have a moral and legal right (embodied in international human rights law) to be involved in decision making about the land, waters, and ice that they may have lived on and stewarded for generations. Despite legal rights, these communities have often been, and continue to be, evicted from their homes and may face diluted land rights in the name of conservation (Adams and Mulligan, 2002; Sandlos, 2005; Borras et al. 2011).
  3. Improved evidence for decision making: communities often hold considerable knowledge about their traditional and ancestral territories with positive associated conservation outcomes (Schuster et al. 2019); similarly, in landscapes of intensive agriculture and urbanised populations, communities may hold important knowledge of the locale and its history. Such knowledge should be respectfully included by scientists who could learn from lay, place-based stories of what works for conservation, and what does not; for example, Australian Aborigines possess sophisticated knowledge of the consequences of different types of fires (Pascoe and Gammage, 2021). Conversely, the loss of traditional knowledge, or the disappearance of traditional practices, can lead to impoverishment and decline in the quality of semi-natural habitats surviving as relics in modern, transformed landscapes; knowledge of their past management can be key to their successful future management. The United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) specifically recognises the value of Indigenous and local knowledge and highlights the need to protect it.
  4. Building support for conservation: interventions made in the name of conservation should benefit, or at least not negatively impact, local and Indigenous communities, for example by not restricting traditional sources of food and income or violating spiritual and cultural practices. It is then far more likely that projects will work and be durable, with ongoing community support and ownership, and will serve to begin the process of repairing relationships that have not necessarily been developed in honourable ways in the past (Wong et al. 2020).

Box 6.1 summarises key principles for collaborating with local and Indigenous communities.

6.2 Types of Community Engagement

The benefits of community working, whether with Indigenous communities exercising traditional rights and practices or local communities in often intensively managed landscapes, essentially emerge from a wider understanding and deeper appreciation of views, interests, rights and responsibilities of the parties involved. The appropriate type of community engagement depends on the impact of actions and extent of involvement (Figure 6.1). A proposal to create a wildflower area behind the churchyard may simply justify mentioning in local media while a river restoration project that overlaps land with Indigenous rights will usually be expected to have deep collaboration and to only proceed with the consent of the community.

A matrix for deciding community involvement actions based on comparing three categories of Impact and Engagement (Minor, Moderate and Considerable)

Figure 6.1 Appropriate type of community involvement according to the likely impact caused by the proposal and the extent of community engagement in the site. (Source: authors)

Table 6.1 lists the different levels of engagement ranging from incorporating information from the community to providing information to aid a community’s decision. The lower levels of involvement apply where there are few external responsibilities. Resources and timelines for conservation projects may practically influence the level of engagement that is possible (White et al., 2022). Of course, the level of engagement has to reflect the risks or likelihood of adverse impact; for instance, in the UK the consultation and negotiation associated with discussions on the reintroduction of long-extinct beavers (with concerns over flooding and tree damage) or lynx (with concerns for sheep and pets) far exceed that involved with the return of locally extinct butterflies or orchids.

Stakeholder analysis at the outset can be used to frame both these levels of concern and the level of appropriate response. Partnerships on all sides need to consider what the project aims to achieve, and what level of engagement is appropriate.

Table 6.1 Types of interactions with communities.

Type of interaction


Finding and including information

Using existing information provided by the community

Requesting information

Asking community members for relevant information


Speaking to individuals or groups prior to decision making


Individuals or representatives present and consulted during decision making but not final decision makers


Collaboratively look at the full range of evidence and assess


Community members or representatives work on and in the projects


Individuals or representatives fully involved as equal in decision making


Community knowledge and expertise brought together with technical conservation knowledge and expertise to jointly create and use information produced


Joint decision with community and conservationists


Providing information to aid communities in making their own decisions

6.3 Identifying Who to Collaborate With

Human communities are complex. The groups and sub-groups that will be impacted by the proposed intervention, and in turn that the intervention will be impacted by, need to be identified at the initial stages of project development. These could be community groups, Indigenous communities, non-governmental organisations, or associations representing different interest groups. A point of contact with each identified group should be established at this stage as the impacts on and by the groups will differ. It is also important to recognise that there may be differences within groups and efforts should be made to understand these differences and take them into account where necessary. Table 6.2 lists the groups that need to be identified and acknowledged accordingly.

Table 6.2 Groups that may be impacted by interventions and other key figures.



Concerned groups

Communities, including governmental and non-governmental agencies, with specific concerns about the management decisions and who have obligations to manage parts or all of the important resources.

Dependent groups

Those whose livelihoods may be at stake due to their dependence on the resources under consideration.

Groups with claims

Communities with territory or resource claims or any form of traditional or legal rights, claims or entitlements.

Holders of knowledge and skills

Who are the most knowledgeable individuals or groups in the area? Does local, valuable knowledge pertain to the conservation question?

Impacted groups

Made up of those who live in close proximity to an intervention site and who may be physically, culturally or economically affected directly by the intervention.

Impacting groups

Groups with members whose activities may be impacting the area or its natural resources, legal or otherwise.

Managers and users

Are there individuals or groups that currently manage the area and its resources or have done so in the past?

National authorities

Are there any national authorities with the mandate to develop and implement policies and rules regarding the area and its resources?


Who are the individuals or communities living near the resources?

Potential investors

Who are the individuals or groups who may be willing to invest human and/or other capital resources in the area and resources at stake?

Special circumstances

Perhaps the resource use and dependence by the group in question are affected by seasons (e.g. are there seasonal migration patterns or any seasonal events that have important impacts on the area and its resources?) or other factors.

Traditional authorities

Who are the traditional authorities in the area at stake?

Trusted individuals

Are there individuals or groups who are particularly trusted, e.g. as being skilled in conflict management, liaison, and facilitation?

A key stage in this process is to undertake a stakeholder mapping and analysis exercise (see Box 6.2) to determine who should be included, keeping in mind that this list may change due to various reasons, such as capacity or interest.

6.4 Initiating Contact

Prior to establishing contact with a community group, it is important to be clear on why changes to an existing situation are necessary. Then outline the anticipated level of engagement required (see Table 6.1). A consultation programme might start by assessing existing levels of evidence and resources (Sutherland et al., 2017), and researching any past history of challenge or conflict so that clear expectations can be set when first interacting. It is useful at this stage to find out what has, or has not, worked well for previous conservation projects in that (or a similar) community and the reasons why. This can provide a framework for the consultation process. Following local protocols is important, including, where appropriate, the provision of gifts or recompensation for time and effort.

6.5 Creating and Maintaining Trust

Trust is the basis for almost everything we do (Frei and Morriss, 2020). Effective community relationships are dependent upon trust; for example, Lachapelle and McCool (2012) suggested that the lack of trust with conservation agencies was often the fundamental barrier to the negotiation and construction of natural resource management plans. More positively, Young et al. (2016) showed how increased trust, through fair processes, makes conflict resolution more likely.

The elements of trust can be classified as Contractual trust (promises upheld, commitments and expectations explicit, participants can rely on each other), Communication trust (key information provided appropriately and important material not withheld), Competency trust (collaborators will deliver knowledgeably and effectively), and Caring trust (support for diversity of needs and understanding when needed).

Frei and Morriss (2020) suggest that people are trusted when others think they are interacting with the real person (authenticity), when others have faith in their judgement and competence (logic), and when others believe that they are cared about (empathy). Achieving and maintaining trust takes time (but can be lost quickly) and requires an approach including being honest about objectives, showing integrity, listening to concerns from a broad community, asking questions with genuine curiosity, showing humility, sharing knowledge effectively, being helpful, delivering on promises, admitting mistakes, giving credit, and providing praise.

6.6 Collaborating

The beginning of any project never starts with a blank sheet. There are always existing interests and resource uses that need to be understood. Critical questions at the outset of a project consultation include the role of individuals and communities engaged in the consultation, the extent to which existing activity or usage can be relocated elsewhere, what the current position is (including the veracity of assumptions), the range of views, and what means are required to find out the answers. Initial or pre-engagement consultations benefit from a sense of direction, even if it takes time to complete, to encourage focus in discussions.

Some projects never find such a compromise: consensus does not always lead to an agreed or successful outcome. Even reaching a consensus can be difficult or impossible in wide consultations, where some participants may have opinions that are difficult to reconcile. Nevertheless, the discussions and meetings, proposals and counter proposals should have led all participants to understand why the decision was ultimately chosen and what the level or distribution of support for it was.

Bringing together different communities can be challenging, with the potential for significant disagreement and conflict. There are often skilled intermediaries or trusted facilitators in communities who can help to reduce biases and power inequalities as well as manage conflicts. For collaborative initiatives with Indigenous peoples, it is recommended to use facilitators who are Indigenous or who adequately understand Indigenous worldviews and ways of knowing. For projects in developed countries with large urban populations or nationally-based interest groups, facilitators from more neutral or widely respected organisations are more appropriate. In all cases it is key that a facilitator can speak the local language and understands local cultural norms. Once trust and understanding have been gained between the parties involved, the further services of such facilitators may not be necessary.

For interventions that involve research, there are often ethical standards that need to be observed. Most universities and research institutes will have their own ethics procedures but, in the absence of these, external codes of conduct can be used such as the code of ethics of the Society for Ethnobiology (

Everything is more complicated than it seems. Successful projects acknowledge this truth. Their hallmark is a complex mix of engagement with communities and stakeholders from the outset, leading to compromise and an agreed common vision of what needs to be achieved and how.

Relationship building is key and usually goes well beyond the scope of a single project. This element is foundational to the success of a truly co-developed and collaborative project. Building a solid relationship takes considerable time, commitment, and continued nurturing. Ideally, effort should be made to build the relationship with key partners, specifically local people, local interest groups and Indigenous communities, and should be pursued well in advance of any specific project. Building such relationships outside of the pressures of meeting objectives or ties to any project goals helps to show the sincerity and commitment of an organisation to a particular area or community. This often means, when possible, ethical, frequent and accepted participation in a community’s events and activities, creating bonds with community members, and hosting meetings and discussions on a broad range of topics. For example, in remote locations, an individual’s role as a representative of a conservation organisation remains even outside working hours. Getting involved in community activities outside of work hours helps foster stronger and more meaningful relationships. This may mean participating in cultural celebrations, weddings, funerals, festivals, or feasts, or other events that might fall well outside of the normal scope of one’s organisational duties.

Community meetings benefit from an open and flexible approach that allows for the scope of discussion to change depending on the priorities and issues that are raised by community members. Moreover, it is important, especially with Indigenous communities, to conduct meetings in places that make sense to them, which typically means hosting a gathering on the lands, ice, and waters in question. Keeping a balance between the players involved is critical, and Madden and McQuinn (2014) provide some advice on how to balance the ‘cards’ participants are holding. Examples of this balancing can range from things like using various facilitation and structural methods to ensure all voices are heard in meetings or ensuring that data sovereignty is rigorously upheld.

Prior to any project getting underway, it is important to determine how a community’s knowledge and information will be used and stored. For example, First Nations in Canada have principles of ownership, control, access, and possession (or OCAP™), which assert their stewardship of their information and data. Courses and workshops are available for researchers and are highly recommended before conducting any work. Moreover, Inuit in Canada have also put together the National Inuit Strategy on Research (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, 2018), which aims to advance Inuit governance, capacity, and access to research processes in Inuit Nunangat. Ensuring that researchers follow guidance from the communities will help build trust and foster the relationship, while at the same time working to advance projects in a manner that respects the communities’ involvement.

The Healthy Country Planning approach to the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation co-develops conservation projects with Indigenous partners (Carr et al., 2017). Adopted by many conservation planners around the world, this approach provides a foundation for ‘Two-Eyed Seeing’ (or Etuaptmumk), coined by Mi’kmaq Elders Albert and Murdena Marshall, this is the principle of bringing together Indigenous and western ways of knowing through seeing the strengths of each perspective, viewing the world with the ‘two eyes’ (i.e. from both sides) and advancing in a collaborative space (Reid et al. 2020). The approach allows cultural and socio-economic objectives to parallel and overlap the ecological and quantitative ones. This enables the co-creation of conservation projects and sharing decision making.

Box 6.3 gives a range of examples of conservation projects for which community engagement was fundamental.


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