Protected Areas

Governance, equity and rights

On this page, you'll find: - An overview        
  - Governance vs management
  - The turning of the tide: 2003 and beyond     
  - Governance diversity, quality & vitality
  - Publications and downloads
  - Ongoing projects 

An overview

The mission of the IUCN is the vision of a just world that values and conserves nature.   Unpacking the word ‘just’ allows us to address issues of justice, fairness, equity and rights-based approaches in conservation.  The governance of protected areas plays a key role in helping us to better understand how to create a just world that values and conserves nature.  It is commonly discussed in two dimensions: governance diversity (type) and governance quality

Governance diversity, addresses a few key concerns: Who has the main authority and responsibility for the protected area?  Who should be held accountable for its conservation results?  Soon, however, other concerns emerge: How are decisions made about the protected area? What norms are applied when making decisions? Which values, principles and approaches guide those decisions?  Are all relevant rightsholders and stakeholders involved?  With these questions, we begin to build a sense of “governance quality” -- at times referred to as ”good governance”. 

If we follow the criteria and values broadly accepted by the United Nations, we speak of “good governance” when the protected area authorities act in an open, fair and transparent way, can be held accountable, and their decisions are inclusive, effective, efficient, participatory, consensus-oriented and follow the rule of law.  In short, good governance takes steps to create a just world whilst protected areas managers also achieve their conservation objectives.  

Stakeholder participation in PA governance

The pages below give you an introduction to the concepts underpinning governance, the difference between governance and management of protected areas, the recognition of governance in international law and by the international conservation community and the innovative forms of governance that exist and/or are emerging in protected and conserved areas around the world.  The pages also list the publications and work done thus far on governance by the IUCN and its partners.  

If you are a protected areas manager or are involved in protected areas governance, and need further information, then please get in touch! To get started with the Governance Primer, please download it here in English, in French or Spanish

Governance vs management

“Governance of protected areas” is a powerful concept that people concerned with protected areas should understand and clearly distinguish from management. Management usually concerns what activities are being carried out in a given situation or area, while governance concerns who decides what those activities are, how that is decided and how those decisions are implemented.  Viewing protected areas through a governance lens opens up key information about not only power, authority and responsibility but also history, culture, traditions, people and political context.  Before 2003, protected areas management and management effectiveness were the central focus of protected area analysis.  Since 2003, however, the centrality of governance has emerged… and has never ceased to grow.    

The turning of the tide: 2003 and beyond

The 5th IUCN World Parks Congress, held in Durban, South Africa, in 2003, dedicated for the first time an entire stream of events to the concept of governance. Since those pioneering efforts, the topic has evolved into an expanding field of enquiry. In parallel, governance models in the field also keep evolving in dynamic and innovative practice. Government-established protected areas are now often governed and/or advised by multi-party Boards. Many conserved and protected areas are established and run by indigenous peoples, local communities, NGOs and family or corporate landowners. And the World Parks Congress 2014 in Sydney, Australia, November 2014, again dedicated an entire stream of events to the concept, namely Stream 6 entitled “Enhancing the diversity and quality of governance of protected areas”.

Please take some time to watch the three short movies produced before, at and after, in which key participants fully illustrate the governance conceptrecount the Stream and  explain its agenda for action. The Proceedings of the Stream and its Summary conclusions can also be downloaded at these links.

The concept of governance has received international recognition by the Convention on Biological Diversity in its Programme of Work on Protected Areas (POWPA), in Decisions at COP 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 & in the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.  Together, these pronouncements call CBD Parties:

  • To support innovative types of governance for protected areas… to be acknowledged in national legislation or via other effective means…
  • To seek equity and effectiveness in conservation while expanding coverage, intensifying restoration and engaging indigenous & traditional knowledge, skills and institutions.

An analysis of how to respond to the CBD call has been carried out, with CBD Secretariat’s encouragement,  by the IUCN, the ICCA Consortium, to address component two of the POWPA (”Governance, participation, equity and benefit sharing”) but also to pursue the 2010-2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and Targets 11, 14 and 18 in particular. Volume 20 of the Best Practice in Protected Area Guidelines Series was produced in 2013 and is now available in multiple languages. For further details of this publication, please see below. 

Governance diversity, quality & vitality

Governance diversity refers to the actors who take key decisions for protected areas and have those implemented.  The IUCN and the CBD recognises four broad governance types for protected areas:

  • Type A: Governance by government (at various levels)
  • Type B: Shared governance by diverse rights holders and stakeholders together
  • Type C: Governance by private entities (often land owners)
  • Type D: Governance by indigenous peoples and/or local communities (at times referred to as ICCAs)

Governance quality makes reference to the principles according to which decisions for a protected area are taken and implemented.  The expression “good governance” is used when that is done in accountable and fair ways, addressing substantive and procedural rights, and delivering effective and equitable results. 

Governance vitality is a property currently being investigated and not yet fully understood. We speak of vitality when the decision makers for the protected areas are responsive and functional when they act timely and wisely, then they show adaptability and creativity and when they demonstrate -- rather than aloofness and the mere exercise of power – a sincere sense of responsibility and a meaningful connection with society in general.

Publications and downloads

For a step by step guide to understanding governance and the diversity of governance types and for practical advice on how to assess, evaluate and enhance the diversity and quality of governance systems and of individual protected areas, please download the Governance of Protected Areas: From understanding to action – Volume 20 of the IUCN Best Practice in Protected Areas Guidelines Series.  This document is dedicated to enhancing the capacities of professionals, rightsholders and stakeholders to govern protected area systems and sites. In Part 1, it offers concepts and tools to understand the four main protected area governance types and the set of principles of good governance recognised by the IUCN, on the basis of examples from all over the world. In Part 2, it offers practical guidance for those willing to embark on the process of assessing, evaluating and improving governance for their systems of protected areas or for individual protected area sites.   The publication is available in English, Français and en Español.  The Annexes may also be downloaded in ​English, en Français, en Español.

Download the Governance primer:

Download the guidelines:

Download the annexes in ​English, en Français, en Español

Powerpoint presentations: 

Ongoing projects:

Main partners:





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