Interview: Protected Areas— governance, management and why we should care

11 September 2013 | Article

Dr. Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend—Global Coordinator of the ICCA Consortium— is principal author of the newest IUCN Best Practice in Protected Areas Guidelines

What is “governance” of protected areas?
In just a few words, governance encapsulates “who takes decisions” about protected areas, and “how those decisions are taken”.  Formal authority, responsibility and accountability are a large part of what this is all about, but not the only one.  Beyond formal attributions, governance is dependent on the actors and institutions at play, on the instruments and forms of powers they possess and are willing to use, and on the decisions at different levels that concur to given outcomes. Is thus governance a concept too complex to understand and handle in a practical way?  Not really.  The newly published IUCN Guidelines on Governance of Protected Areas (Volume 20 of the IUCN Best Practice in Protected Areas Series) argues that in-depth analyses can be useful, but governance can also be assessed, evaluated and acted upon starting from two simple parameters: type and quality.

Why should protected area professionals care about governance?
Today it is evident that “sound governance” is essential for conservation. Governance is the variable with greatest potential to affect coverage and it is a main factor in effectiveness and efficiency, as in appropriateness and equity, of management decisions.  Importantly, governance can ensure that protected areas are better embedded in society.  As governance can be improved, it can provide precious help in facing ongoing challenges and global change.  No wonder the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have agreed to improve governance in their systems of protected areas, and to report about their results as part of their CBD obligations.  One may be surprised, in fact, that the concept remained relatively hidden for such a long time.  Many people focused on “effective management”, which is often a by-product of good governance.  The two, in some cases, may have even been confused.

The two may have been confused?  Are management and governance not the same thing?
Management and governance are conceptually and qualitatively different.  Management has to do with taking action on the basis of an understanding of what needs to be done to achieve some desired goals, and on the basis of experience, technical capacities and resources.  If proper action is taken and it produces the desired results, we say that “effective management” is in place.  Governance, on the other hand, has to do with who takes decisions about management and how those decisions are taken.  We speak of “good governance” when decisions are taken legitimately, competently, fairly, with a sense of vision, with proper accountability and while respecting rights.  And we speak of “governance diversity” when decisions–  for protected areas but also for the larger landscape and seascape– are made by a variety of actors who, through a variety of arrangements, enrich and strengthen conservation in practice.

When did the world of conservation start taking notice of governance?
Ten years ago, the fifth World Parks Congress in Durban explored in some depth the concept and practice of governing nature in general and protected areas in particular.  It actually included an entire stream of events dedicated to it, which developed specific recommendations and insights and ushered in a novel component of the Programme of Work on Protected Areas (PoWPA) adopted by the 193 Parties to the CBD– Element 2 on Governance, Participation, Equity and Benefit Sharing.  In Sydney at the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014, a decade later, a new Stream on Enhancing the diversity and quality of governance of protected areas is poised to consolidate, strengthen and take Durban’s governance legacy to new heights of insight and influence.

Are the Stream plans already advanced?
Yes. The Stream is ambitious and has already attracted attention.  It will showcase the results of a number of national processes to assess, evaluate and take action about the governance of protected area systems and individual sites, which will take place in the months to come. The processes will be inspired by the IUCN Guidelines no 20, which, besides outlining what governance is about, provides a road map to enhance its diversity and quality. 

The Stream addresses a broad base of relevant actors – governments, indigenous peoples, local communities, NGOs, private landowners, development agencies – and it will seek to help them to consolidate and strengthen the implementation of their own governance commitments.  At a second level, however, the Stream is also poised to advance the frontiers of governance achievements.  It will, for example, draw attention to responsibilities – public, individual and collective – as crucial for sustainability and resilience, human well-being and resistance to threats.  And it will explore mechanisms of accountability, citizen oversight and the realisation, maintenance or restoration of rights.  To promote connectivity, integrity of ecosystems and fairness, the Stream will recognise that trans-boundary governance has to be the norm more than the exception, and will stress how that can be carried out in practice. “Ecological” and “territorial” governance will be explored. And UNEP WCMC will showcase how the governance dimension is featured in the World Database on Protected Areas and in the ICCA Registry.

Every participant in the Stream will have the opportunity to come away with documents, classifications, tools and a more solid understanding of how governance is linked to conservation outcomes. Besides personally enriched, the participants will also gain new relationships with other actors— as the Stream will make a conscious effort to connect them for mutual support.

What will be the legacy of the IUCN Guidelines no. 20 and Sydney’s governance Stream?  
The institutions that partnered to develop the IUCN Guidelines no. 20 and organise the governance Stream are committed to fostering more appropriate and effective governance for protected areas — a goal enshrined in the CBD PoWPA and in the consciences of many. Beyond that, we share the belief that livelihood security, socio-economic justice and cultural diversity are necessary to sustain the beauty and richness of nature in the long run. It is because of that that we seek to enhance the diversity and quality of the institutions governing landscapes and seascapes, within and beyond protected areas, and to ensure sustainable and equitable well-being for communities in all world regions. Few have all the answers about how to do this, but the IUCN Guidelines no. 20 and the Governance Stream at Sydney have the courage to ask many questions. At least some of the answers, I am confident, will emerge from the experience and concerns of the readers of the Guidelines and the participants in the Stream.  This is an ambitious goal. If we come even close to achieving it, it will remain an unforgettable legacy.