First Line of Defence (FLoD)


The First Line of Defence (FLoD) initiative uses a theory of change approach to explore the design logic of programmes intended to engage communities in tackling the illegal wildlife trade (IWT). It compares and contrasts the logic and assumptions of the designers and implementers of such initiatives with that of the communities at which they are targeted, with a view to improving project design and therefore effectiveness in tackling IWT.

Members of the Olderkesi Conservancy in Kenya scoring strategies for engaging communities in tackling IWT for effectiveness (Photo: Micah Conway)

Engaging communities as partners in combating the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is increasingly recognised as critical, but has proven difficult to operationalise in a meaningful and sustainable manner.

While there is increasing recognition among practitioners and policymakers of the need to engage rural communities that neighbour or live with wildlife as key partners in tackling IWT, a clear framework to guide, monitor, and assess this action has been lacking.

With some exceptions, the role of rural communities in combating escalating IWT in high-value species, and the conditions under which community engagement does and does not work, have received little attention. This has hampered efforts to effectively partner with communities in the fight against wildlife crime.

The FLoD Initiative grew out of the Beyond Enforcement initiative and specifically the first Beyond Enforcement workshop in South Africa, one output of which was a draft theory of change on engaging local communities in tackling IWT.

The FLoD initiative takes an action research approach to testing and investigating a refined version of this theory of change, comparing and contrasting the assumptions, perceptions, and logic flows of IWT project designers and target communities. 

What is IIED doing?

The FLoD initiative takes advantage of an iterative learning process to help local communities, project designers and implementers at site and landscape levels to understand the context-specific motivations and assumptions that underpin the activities (legal and illegal) of local communities. We will document lessons learned and theories of change as case studies that will serve as guidance for policymakers, practitioners and donors.

IIED has partnered with the IUCN East and Southern Africa Regional Office (IUCN ESARO) to conduct case studies at Kilitome and Olderkesi conservancies in Kenya. IUCN ESARO have conducted a further case study at Shompole-Olkiramatian conservancies in Kenya and also scoped the application of the FLoD approach in Southern Africa.

Combined, these experiences have informed the design of the FLoD initiative’s methodology, and the team has produced a guidance manual that includes a series of tools so the approach can be adopted by others.


Local communities: First Line of Defence against illegal wildlife trade (FLoD) – guidance for implementing the FLoD methodology, Diane Skinner, Holly Dublin, Leo Niskanen, Dilys Roe, Akshay Vishwanath (2018), IIED Toolkit | en français | em português

Local communities: the overlooked first line of defence for wildlife, Dilys Roe, Holly Dublin, Leo Niskanen, Diane Skinner, Akshay Vishwanath (2018) IIED Briefing Paper

Engaging communities to combat illegal wildlife trade: a theory of change, Dilys Roe, Duan Biggs, Holly Dublin, Rosie Cooney (2016), IIED Briefing Paper

Engaging local communities in tackling illegal wildlife trade. Can a 'theory of change' help?, Duan Biggs, Rosie Cooney, Dilys Roe, Holly Dublin, James Allan, Dan Challender, Diane Skinner (2015), IIED Report

Additional resources

All the case studies, tools and other FLoD outputs are available on the IUCN ESARO website

First line of defence: engaging communities in tackling wildlife crime, Dilys Roe, Rosie Cooney, Holly Dublin, David Challender, Duan Biggs, Diane Skinner, M. Abensperg-​Traun, N. Ahlers, R. Melisch, M. Murphree (2017), Unasylva journal

Developing a theory of change for a community‐based response to illegal wildlife trade, Duan Biggs, Rosie Cooney, Dilys Roe, Holly T. Dublin, James R. Allan, Dan W.S. Challender, Diane Skinner (2016), Conservation Biology journal


Illegal Wildlife Challenge Fund, funded by UK Aid

United States Agency for International Development, in partnership with the United States Department of the Interior International Technical Assistance Program


IUCN East and Southern Africa Regional Office (IUCN ESARO)

IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi)

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