Site-level assessment of governance and equity (SAGE)

Began April 2019

IIED has developed and is now rolling out a relatively simple, low-cost tool for assessing the governance and equity of protected or conserved areas.

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 protected and conserved areas and other conservation measures. It is based on the relatively simple SAGE methodology, which enables 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.

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.

Since 2003, a lot has been done to elaborate key aspects of governance in the context of conservation and provide guidance for governance assessments, notably by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and its commissions.

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 10 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: recognition1. Recognition and respect for the rights of all relevant actors
2. Recognition and respect of all relevant actors and their knowledge
Equity: procedure3. 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: distribution7. Effective measures to mitigate negative impacts on communities
8. Benefits equitably shared among relevant actors
Other9. 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 PA governance and equity to national and global levels, including against the targets of the Convention of Biological Diversity.

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 a SAGE workshop at Randilen Wildlife Management Area, in Tanzania, in November 2019

Since then, an updated version of SAGE has been used in many more countries, including Bolivia, Colombia, Kenya 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 also, in partnership with IUCN and GIZ, developed virtual interactive training for SAGE facilitators that will enable 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. This includes using versions of SAGE as part of the IUCN Green List process and with Protected Area Management Effectiveness evaluations.

Watch videos of SAGE being used at Evros Delta National Park in Greece and Mount Kalatungan Range Natural Park in the Philippines.

SAGE – what is it and why do it?

Like GAPA, SAGE is a governance assessment methodology that is used by managers and other site-level rights holders and stakeholders themselves.

Essentially, SAGE is a one or two-day 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.

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 PA 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.

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

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 (