Assessing social impacts of protected areas

April 2013 -

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has developed and tested a relatively simple, low cost methodology for assessing the positive and negative social impacts of protected areas, and is now supporting its roll-out.

Identifying social impacts at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya (Photo: Phil Franks/IIED)

Debate about the positive and negative social impacts (benefits and costs) of Protected Areas (PAs) has been ongoing for many years. The picture is complicated by very different PA contexts, the use of very different methods to assess impact, and reference to different standards.

The principle that PAs should strive to reduce poverty – and certainly in no way exacerbate it – and that their costs and benefits should be equitably shared, were endorsed by the World Parks Congress in 2003.

This new emphasis on the social impacts of protected areas was further elaborated in the programme of work on PAs of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which was approved in 2004, including a specific call for the assessment of benefits and costs of PAs (activity 2.1).  

SAPA initiative 

The SAPA initiative is responding to these needs by developing a relatively simple low-cost methodology for assessing the positive and negative social impacts of a PA on the well-being of communities living within and around it.

SAPA is designed to help PA managers and other key stakeholder groups to increase and more equitably share positive impacts (benefits) and reduce the negative impacts (costs). This can be applied to any type of PA, including PAs owned and managed by communities themselves and private sector actors, as well as state owned/managed PAs.

SAPA uses a multi-stakeholder approach to ensure that key stakeholders are fully engaged in the design, interpretation of the results and development of recommendations. This approach also serves to enhance the accuracy, credibility and legitimacy of the results.

Launched in 2008 as a collaborative initiative of IIED, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and a number of conservation and development NGOs, SAPA's first phase included a review of around 30 tools and methods that have been, or could be, used to assess social impacts of PAs.

The second phase, which concluded in March 2016, has supported use of the SAPA methodology at 10 PAs in six different countries in Africa. The research report presents and discusses the results from the first four sites.

Based on this experience, a detailed SAPA methodology manual has been produced, along with a manual for conducting the SAPA household survey using an open data kit, and two additional tools to be used in conjunction with the open data kit. These are a SAPA household survey template for the open data kit (download from Dropbox), and a SAPA impact analysis tool (Excel .xls file).

The third phase of the SAPA Initiative focuses on roll-out: supporting a growing number of PA sites to use the methodology, in collaboration international agencies and donors who are recommending use of SAPA in their PA-support projects. This is being supported by the launch of Version 2 of the SAPA manual. Drawing from our experience with PA governance assessment, SAPA Version 2 has a stronger emphasis on governance issues that are particularly relevant to social impacts, and more detailed guidance on how to translate recommendations into action. 

Get involved

Following the methodology development and initial field testing, the SAPA initiative is looking for additional partners that are interested in using the SAPA methodology with a range of different types of PA in developing countries. Anyone interested should email and

    Additional resources

    Related publications

    Governance, equity and the greenlist, Francesca Booker, Phil Franks (2018) Event report

    Understanding and assessing equity in protected area conservation: a matter of governance, rights, social impacts and human wellbeing,
    Phil Franks, Francesca Booker, Dilys Roe (2018) Issue paper

    From livelihoods to equity for better protected area conservation, Phil Franks, Adrian Martin, Kate Schreckenberg (2016), IIED Briefing Paper

    Understanding the social impacts of protected areas: a community perspective, Phil Franks, Rob Small (2016), IIED Report

    Social Assessment for Protected Areas (SAPA) methodology manual for SAPA facilitators, Phil Franks, Rob Small (2016), IIED Report (en Francais)

    Social assessment of protected areas: Early experience and results of a participatory, rapid approach, Phil Franks, Dilys Roe, Rob Small, Helen Schneider (2014), IIED Working paper

    Towards equitably managed protected areas: A review of synergies between Protected Area Management and social and governance assessment, Neil D. Burgess, Fiona S. Danks, Rebecca Newham, Phil Franks, Dilys Roe (2014), IIED Discussion paper

    Social assessment of conservation initiatives: A review of rapid methodologies, Kate Schreckenberg, Izabel Camargo, Katahdin Withnall, Colleen Corrigan, Phil Franks, Dilys Roe, Lea M. Scherl and Vanessa Richardson (2010), IIED Report

    Social Assessment of Protected Areas (SAPA) project flyer | en Français (this project flyer was produced for the first phase of work that ended in March 2016)

    Key blogs


    Darwin Initiative (Defra)