Governing natural resources for effectiveness, equity and sustainability: what matters?

Authors Nunan, F.; Menton, M.; McDermott, C.; Schreckenberg, K.; Huxham, M.
Year of Publication 2018
Type of Publication Policy and Practice Brief


The governance of natural resources – such as fisheries, forests and grazing land – often fails to deliver adequately on sustainable use, justice and improved livelihoods. Decision-making structures and processes determine the management of resources and who benefits from them. How can governance approaches become more effective and fair to enable improved sustainability and livelihoods over time? ​

This policy brief explores these questions through a review of the ESPA programme's and broader literature, and concludes:

Improving effectiveness

1. Greater cooperation and coordination is essential between actors, including within and across government.

2. An ecosystem-based approach could encourage greater coordination, plus recognition of multiple ecosystem services and of potential trade-offs from policy. Transparent processes for resolving trade-offs are needed.

Improving equity and livelihoods

3. Governance systems must be deliberately designed to deliver on fairness and poverty alleviation.

4. Intermediary organisations can help build trust between resource users and government actors. Their participation often depends on project funding, so adequate sustained support should be given.

5. Governance approaches should address distribution (who bears costs and benefits), procedure (who participates and how) and recognition (whose voice, rights, values and priorities are heard and respected) to be equitable and just.

Improving sustainability

6. New approaches should consider existing systems, including local rule-making structures.

7. Inclusion of adaptive management and active learning processes can acknowledge the inevitability of change to natural and social systems, and anticipate the adaptation of governance systems in response.