Site-level assessment of governance and equity (SAGE)

IIED and partners in the SAGE initiative have developed and are rolling out a relatively simple, low-cost tool for stakeholders and rightsholders in protected or conserved areas to assess governance and equity. Building on very positive experiences to date, further scaling up will follow the formal launch of the tool in spring 2022.

Began April 2019
Phil Franks

Principal researcher (biodiversity), Natural Resources

Natural Resources research group
Conservation, communities and equity
A programme of work showing how IIED is building capacity to understand and implement equitable conservation and enhance community voice in conservation policymaking
A group of men at a table under a tree

Community men using the site-level assessment of governance and equity to assess protected area governance in Zambia (Photo: Phil Franks, IIED)

Site-level assessment of governance and equity (SAGE) is one of three tools for stakeholders and rightsholders to themselves assess the social impacts, governance and equity of their conservation efforts. The other two tools are social assessment for protected and conserved areas (SAPA) and governance assessment for protected and conserved areas (GAPA).

Guidance is available on which tool to use in which contexts. This page explores SAGE in more detail.


Led by IIED, the SAGE initiative aims to improve the governance and equity of a protected and conserved area (PCA) and other measures designed to support conservation. It is based on the relatively simple SAGE methodology, which enables PCA stakeholders to assess the status of governance and equity, plan actions to improve, and monitor progress.

The importance of governance to conservation was highlighted at the IUCN World Parks Congress in 2003, and subsequently in the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) programme of work on protected areas developed in 2004. More recently, Aichi target 11 of the CBD Strategic Plan 2011-20 states that protected areas (PAs) should be equitably managed.

This attention to equity continues in the new ten-year global strategy for conservation – the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) – which is likely to include a commitment to equitable governance of PCAs.

Equity in conservation is about respect of actors and their rights; decision-making, transparency, accountability, dispute resolution, and how costs and benefits are distributed – in other words largely a matter of governance. Developed by a collaborative effort led by IIED, this framing of equity was endorsed by the CBD's Conference of the Parties (COP14) (PDF) in 2018.

What is IIED doing?

The SAGE initiative is a joint effort of a number of conservation agencies, NGOs and research organisations led by IIED.

Drawing on our collective understanding and experience, SAGE assesses the quality of governance, including equity, using a simple framework of ten equitable governance principles based on that of IUCN (see table below). Each principle is further unpacked into five themes that provide a comprehensive and practical understanding of governance.

Framework of equitable governance principles

Equity: recognition 1. Recognition and respect for the rights of all relevant actors
2. Recognition and respect of all relevant actors and their knowledge
Equity: procedure 3. Full and effective participation of all relevant actors in decision making
4. Transparency, information sharing and accountability for actions and inactions
5. Access to justice, including effective dispute resolution processes
6. Effective and fair law enforcement
Equity: distribution 7. Effective measures to mitigate negative impacts on community members
8. Benefits equitably shared among relevant actors
Other 9. Achievement of conservation and other objectives
10. Effective coordination and collaboration between actors, sectors and levels

We developed the first version of the SAGE methodology in 2019. In contrast to SAPA and GAPA, which aim to improve social impacts and governance at a site, SAGE also has the aim of providing information for reporting on PAs governance and equity to national and global levels, including against the targets of the new GBF.

We conducted a first round of SAGE in late 2019 in nine countries: Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Chad, Cameroon, Tanzania, Zambia, Greece and the UK. In January 2020, the facilitators from each of these sites and other key collaborators met to reflect on their experiences and refine the methodology.

Watch a video of the experiences of participants in SAGE assessments in Greece, Tanzania, Bolivia and the Philippines

SAGE has now been used in many more countries, including Bolovia, Colombia, Kenya, Côte d'Ivoire, Malawi, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nepal and Indonesia. These assessments have covered marine and terrestrial sites that are owned and managed by state agencies, local communities and Indigenous Peoples.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic we have, in partnership with IUCN and GIZ, developed virtual interactive training for SAGE facilitators that enables SAGE to be used without a need for in-person training.

We are now beginning a process of scaling up SAGE to more sites around the world, aiming for uptake by 2030 comparable to that of Protected Area Management Effectiveness evaluations (eg 10.000 sites) and that this will be a significant contribution to the transformative ambition of the post-2020 GBF. 

This includes using SAGE as part of the IUCN green list process, with social safeguards and integrated with management effectiveness evaluations.

SAGE – what is it and why do it?

Essentially, SAGE is a stakeholder workshop in two parts. In the first part, different stakeholder groups complete the SAGE questionnaire in their separate groups. In the second part these groups come together to share their findings and their ideas for actions to improve governance and equity. This takes from one to three days according to how many of the ten principles are covered, and time needed for interpretation.

The chart below shows the scores (out of a maximum of three) from a SAGE in Zambia, including the different perspectives of different stakeholder groups (such as PAs managers and communities, men and women).


Mean scores by governance principles and stakeholder groups in Zambia

The SAGE questionnaire is similar to the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT) and, like METT, SAGE also captures qualitative information including specific governance challenges identified by different stakeholders, reasons for differences in perspective, and suggested actions to address the challenges.

Many users also comment that SAGE helps them understand governance and equity and that the stakeholder-led, interactive process of SAGE builds trust and enables community members, and in particular Indigenous People and women, to have a stronger voice.

  • Read about SAGE and its early contributions to governance of area-based conservation in Bolivia, Kenya and Zambi

In addition to the actual assessment, and effective communication of the results, SAGE includes optional modules for planning actions to improve governance and equity and monitoring of progress.

SAGE is simpler and less costly than most other methodologies. Although this limits the depth of analysis, this reduces the risk of causing conflict around sensitive issues, which makes SAGE an excellent entry point for work to improve governance and equity of protected areas and other area-based approaches to nature conservation.

Get in touch

If you would like to know more about SAGE and possibly be part of the roll-out, contact Francesca Booker ( or Phil Franks (