MERGE Conceptual Framework, Version 6
(with research questions)
1. How is the potential for community-based conservation projects constrained or enhanced by
historical, ecological, cultural, socioeconomic and political factors at diverse scales? [Political
What are the key historical periods that have shaped current socioeconomic and ecological
conditions? How are these periods distinguished by changing government policies? What are
the connections to international, national, regional and local markets for local resources?
Which groups have been involved with these markets historically, and what was their
relationship? How have patterns of land use and resource use changed during different
historical periods? How did population density, composition, and pressure on resources change?
What are the key resources and ecological systems in this setting? How are they being used and
how is that use changing? How much is known (scientifically, and in terms of local knowledge)
about the biological dynamics at different scales? What kinds of protected areas exist and how
are they managed? How effective are existing conservation strategies in relation to key species
2. In what ways does resource management for conservation involve direct or indirect
negotiation among multiple stakeholders? In what ways are their interests complementary
and/or in conflict? How do their different levels of power and resources affect the outcomes of
negotiations? [Stakeholder analysis]
Who are the different users of the most important natural resources? How are their interests
defined? How do they conflict? What are the possible bases for cooperation or
complementarity? How were they involved in the history of the protected area proposal?
What kinds of negotiating strategies have been attempted? What were the results? What
state and non-governmental organizations are involved in the area? What community
organizations exist (formal and informal)? What kinds of (formal and informal) property
regimes and resource management institutions currently exist? How effective are they? For
which groups do they regulate access/control to key resources?
3. Under what conditions does participation by local communities contribute to goals of
achieving conservation with improved livelihoods? [Stakeholder analysis within the
What does "local community" mean for this case? What scales are involved in community-
based conservation efforts? In what ways does each community participate? Within the
community, who participates? Who are the relevant stakeholder groups within heterogeneous
communities? Who represents them? Which "local groups" have been empowered? What kind
of support or benefits do they receive? How are their activities affected? In which decisions
have they participated? How has local knowledge been recognized and incorporated in
4. In what ways do gender relations differentiate people's connections with natural resources
and ecological systems, including knowledge of, use of, access to, control of, and impact on
natural resources, and attitudes towards resources and conservation? [Gender relations and
What are the patterns of livelihood strategies by different groups of households? How do
gender relations differentiate links with key natural resources and ecological systems, as well
as attitudes towards conservation? What are the key groups differentiated by gender and
other key social dimensions (e.g. female-headed households; conch collectors or babassu-nut
crackers; male out-migrants)? How do these gender differences affect resource use and
5. Does stakeholder participation in participatory learning with a gender focus improve the
ability of local groups to negotiate their interests in conservation? [Project analysis]
What were the steps that led to the development of protected areas and local conservation-
and-development projects? Who were the key actors (outsiders and local)? What were the
objectives? How was the project implemented? What problems arose and how did they affect
the project? What kinds of training experiences have been offered to stakeholders? To whom
(numbers, types and representation of participants)? For what purposes? In what way was a
focus on gender and community participation incorporated? What were the results of these
6. How are changes in resource use and management by local communities linked to biodiversity
conservation? [Sustainability analysis]
How can improved natural resource management practices form a bridge between biodiversity
conservation and livelihoods of local people? Are nonsustainable uses of resources being
reduced? Are sustainable uses being enhanced? Are natural habitats being maintained? Are
fully protected areas included in the management plan, as controls for harvesting programs and
as reservoirs to replenish natural populations? Are local people directly involved in
monitoring the status of resource populations and designing and implementing management
plans? Do they recognize a connection between biodiversity conservation and economic benefits
for their communities?
7. How can stakeholder learning contribute to conservation success in the long run? How can it be
incorporated into a broader strategy for institutional change and partnership that provides
continuity in research, exchange, technical assistance and other participatory activities with
local communities? [Institutional analysis]
How have the results of training affected project strategies in community outreach, planning,
research and evaluation? What has been the strategy for training-of-trainers? What has been
the strategy for community empowerment? What has been the strategy for policy change?
What organizational partnerships and networks have been strengthened?]
Glossary of Key Terms and Concepts
Community refers to a heterogeneous group of people who share residence in the same
geographic area and access to a set of local natural resources. The degree of social cohesion and
differentiation, strength of common beliefs and institutions, cultural diversity and other factors
vary widely within and among communities.
Community-based conservation refers to a particular form of project design and
implementation that seeks to achieve social equity through community participation in
natural resource management. Community-based conservation projects are distinct from strictly
preservationist projects, and from those administered without community participation.
Similarly, community-based strategies differ from development projects that are solely
concerned to increase productivity or income without regard to social equity or to environmental
Conservation refers to the long-term maintenance of ecosystem biodiversity through the
management of multiple forms of resource use and preservation. The concept, as defined here,
applies to the landscape scale (as opposed to genetic or species-level conservation), and
includes the different human groups as well as the natural species that inhabit the ecosystem.
Conceptualized in this manner, conservation encompasses a broad and complex range of social
and ecological interactions and negotiations.
Empowerment means "leveling the playing field" in a manner that gives equal voice to
the perspectives and the priorities of less-powerful groups within the community, be they
defined by class, ethnicity, migratory status, or gender.
Gender refers to socially constructed differences and relations between men and women
that vary by situation and context. Gender analysis requires going beyond statements about
"women" and "men" to understand how historical, demographic, institutional, cultural
socioeconomic and ecological factors affect relations between women and men of different
groups, which partly determine forms of natural resource management. Gender analysis focuses
on the interaction of gender with other socially-important variables, such as age, marital
status, economic roles, ethnicity, and migratory status.
Institutions Institutions are sets of formal and informal rules and norms that shape
interactions of humans with others and nature.
Learning Processes consist of learning in a collaborative mode that incorporates
analytical and social skills, including a focus on gender, along with technical information and
local perspectives and knowledge Outside and local partners work together to test, apply, an
adapt emerging concepts.
Livelihood systems include the strategies and practices, including natural resource
management and socioeconomic forms of organization, that local people use to meet their basic
needs in site-specific and culturally variable ways.
Participation is a term used in many different ways with different meanings.
Participation can range from simply being informed, to receiving material benefits, to
empowerment through full participation in project decision-making and management.
Stakeholders are different social actors, formal or informal, who can affect, or be
affected by, the resource management issues at hand. Stakeholder analysis involves different
levels of analysis and relationship to resources, including organizations, groups and individuals
at international, national, regional and local levels, as well as different actors within local
communities and domestic groups.