Assessing social impacts of protected and conserved areas (SAPA)

April 2013 -

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)

There has been debate about the positive and negative social impacts – ‘benefits and costs’ – of protected areas (PAs) 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 principles that PAs should strive to reduce poverty – and certainly not make it worse – and that their benefits and costs should be equitably shared, were endorsed by the World Parks Congress in 2003. This 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) that was approved in 2004, and which included a specific call for the assessment of benefits and costs of PAs (activity 2.1).  

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

SAPA initiative 

SAPA's first phase began in 2008 as a collaborative initiative of IIED, IUCN and a number of conservation and development NGOs, and included a review of around 30 tools and methods that have been used – or could be used – to assess social impacts of PAs.

SAPA’s second phase started in 2013 with funding from the UK government’s Darwin Initiative and UK aid. In collaboration with Fauna & Flora International, the Wildlife Conservation Society and UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and drawing on elements of the existing methodologies we earlier reviewed, we developed and tested the SAPA methodology at 10 PAs in six different countries in Africa. Our research report 'Understanding the social impacts of protected areas: a community perspective' presents the results from the first four sites.

The SAPA methodology is designed to help PA managers and other key stakeholder groups increase and more equitably share positive impacts, and reduce the negative impacts. It can be used at any type of PA – those owned/managed by communities, the private sector or the state – and uses a multi-stakeholder approach to ensure that key stakeholders are fully engaged in the design, interpretation of the results and development of recommendations for action.

This approach also serves to enhance the accuracy, credibility and legitimacy of the results. We published our first edition methodology manual for SAPA facilitators in 2016, 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).

Enhancing equity and effectiveness

The current third phase of the SAPA initiative focuses on roll-out: supporting a growing number of PA sites to use the methodology, in collaboration with international agencies and donors that are recommending the use of SAPA in their PA-support projects. We launched this with the publication of the second edition of the methodology manual for SAPA facilitators in 2018. 

The second edition of the SAPA manual outlines fundamentally the same methodology, but with some significant improvements. Drawing on our experience of developing a dedicated governance assessment methodology (GAPA), we have strengthened the elements that focus on understanding governance so that SAPA can be used to assess the equity of PA management and governance as well as social impact.

We have also provided more detailed guidance on how to increase the uptake of the ideas for action generated by SAPA, and we have changed the methodology’s long form name to 'Social Assessment for Protected and Conserved Areas' (but it remains SAPA for short).

With further funding from the UK government’s Darwin Initiative, with FFI we are also coordinating the 'Enhancing the equity and effectiveness of protected area conservation' project. This uses the second edition SAPA methodology to institutionalise social equity assessment and action planning at eight protected areas in Kenya and Uganda, and initiate similar processes in Liberia and Malawi.

Within the current CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-20, Aichi Target 11 calls for ‘equitable management’ of PAs by 2020, and with the Sustainable Development Goals giving strong emphasis to issues of equity and equality, equity is likely to remain a key issue in the CBD’s post-2020 strategic plan.

People’s perception of equity is important because a sense of unfairness can fuel resentment that can be significant motivation for poaching and other illegal activities. But progress towards delivering more equitable management is limited, with few people understanding the meaning of equity in a conservation context or having a means to assess it. The SAPA methodology provides a practical solution.

Get in touch

Contact us to tell us where you are using SAPA, to get technical guidance on using SAPA, and to find out about regional experts in your area. We’d love to hear from you – email


    Social Assessment for Protected and Conserved Areas (SAPA) methodology manual for SAPA facilitators (second edition), Phil Franks, Rob Small, Francesca Booker (2018), IIED Toolkit

    Évaluation sociale pour les aires protégées (SAPA) Guide méthodologique à l’intention des facilitateurs SAPA, Phil Franks, Rob Small (2016), IIED Toolkit

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

    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

    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)

    Assessing the social impacts of conservation policies: rigour versus practicality, Dilys Roe, Maryanne Grieg-​Gran, Essam Yassin Mohammed (2013), IIED Briefing 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