Site-level assessment of governance and equity (SAGE)

Began April 2019

Led by IIED, the Site-level Assessment of Governance and Equity (SAGE) initiative aims to improve the governance and equity of protected areas, other conservation measures, and conservation-related actions. It is based on the relatively simple SAGE methodology, which enables stakeholders to assess the status of governance, plan actions to improve, and monitor progress.

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)

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.

SAGE governance and equity principles for conservation

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 the SAPA and GAPA methodologies used to assess social impacts of protected and conserved areas (SAPA) and governance at protected and conserved areas (GAPA), which aim to enable stakeholders at a site to improve the social impacts and governance at that 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 pilots in late 2019 in eight countries: Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Chad, Tanzania, Zambia, Greece and the UK. In January 2020, the facilitators from each of these pilot 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

In May 2020, SAGE version 2 was ready for a second round of field-testing, which we hope will be completed by December 2020. In partnership with IUCN and GIZ, we are developing virtual interactive training for SAGE facilitators that will enable SAGE to be used without a need for in-person training. 

We plan to start a process of scaling up from January 2021. This includes using versions of SAGE as part of the IUCN Green List process and with Protected Area Management Effectiveness evaluations. In addition, we will extend the use of SAGE beyond PAs to other areas contributing to conservation, and any closely related interventions such as Payments for Ecosystem Services.

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.

The chart below shows the scores (out of a maximum of three) from a SAGE assessment 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 and promote convergence of perspectives. Many users also comment that SAGE helps them understand governance and equity.

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. 

If you are interested in getting more information on SAGE and possibly being part of the next round of SAGE field testing, contact Phil Franks ( or Francesca Booker (