This research will generate new knowledge on long-standing questions about the origins of adaptive forest governance. Previous research has established that strong institutional arrangements, i.e., the rule systems that structure human behavior, are needed for effective forest governance outcomes. But the specific contextual factors that enable strong institutional arrangements to take form remain a puzzle. This research directly addresses this puzzle by collecting and analyzing new data on how humans interact with their natural environment. This project will combine new data collection and advanced analytical methods to rigorously test the hypothesis that the emergence of adaptive governance is critically linked to three factors: local ecological knowledge; cultural values and beliefs, and socioeconomic inequalities. Data will be collected from 56 community-managed tropical forest ecosystems in Bolivia and Uganda and will focus on the measurement of possible causes and consequences of individual and community decision making about access to and use of forest resources. These data will be generated using a variety of data collection methods, including direct measures of forest composition, satellite imagery, studies of forest user behaviors, household surveys, focus group discussions, and interviews with key informants and decision makers. Data will be analyzed using system-dynamics models, cross-sectional time-series analysis, and qualitative comparative analysis to determine how the interrelated factors of local ecological knowledge, cultural values and beliefs, and socio-economic inequality within resource user groups affect forest conservation outcomes.
This research challenges the conventional wisdom that extrinsic incentives, such as direct payments to forest users, will uniformly lead to increased forest conservation, and will produce information on how forest conservation efforts affect forest users' decisions and behavior in a variety of socioeconomic and cultural settings. This new knowledge will build a more nuanced view of the potential benefits of a global program to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries. The research is of immediate practical value as organizations around the world struggle to create policies that promote effective natural resource governance.