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Open Access Highly Accessed Systematic review

Assessing community-based conservation projects: A systematic review and multilevel analysis of attitudinal, behavioral, ecological, and economic outcomes

Jeremy Brooks1, Kerry Ann Waylen2 and Monique Borgerhoff Mulder3*

Author Affiliations

1 The Ohio State University School of Environment and Natural Resources, 210 Kottman Hall, 2021 Coffey Rd, Columbus, OH, 43212, USA

2 The James Hutton Institute, Social, Economic, and Geographic Sciences Group Cragiebuckler, Aberdeen, Scotland, AB15 8QH, UK

3 Anthropology Department, University of California, Davis, 210 Young Hall, One Shields Ave., Davis, CA, 95616, USA

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Environmental Evidence 2013, 2:2  doi:10.1186/2047-2382-2-2

Published: 31 January 2013



Community-based conservation (CBC) promotes the idea that long-term conservation success requires engaging with, and providing benefits for local communities. Though widespread, CBC projects are not always successful or free of controversy. With criticisms on all sides of the conservation debates, it is critical to have a better understanding of (1) whether CBC is an effective conservation tool, and (2) of the factors associated with the success or failure of CBC projects, and the scale at which these factors operate. Recent CBC reviews have typically examined only a single resource domain, have limited geographic scope, consider only one outcome, or ignore the nested nature of socioecological systems. To remedy these issues, we use a newly coded global comparative database of CBC projects identified by systematic review to evaluate success in four outcome domains (attitudes, behaviors, ecological, economic) and explore synergies and tradeoffs among these outcomes. We test hypotheses about how features of the national context (H-NC), project design (H-PD), and local community characteristics (H-CC) affect these four measures of success.


To add to a sample of 62 projects that we used from previous systematic reviews, we systematically searched the conservation literature using six terms in four online databases. To increase the number of projects for each country in order to conduct a multilevel analysis, we also conducted a secondary search using the Advancing Conservation in a Social Context online library. We coded projects for 65 pieces of information. We conducted bivariate analyses using two-dimensional contingency tables and proportional odds logistic regression and conducted multivariate analyses by fitting reduced form proportional odds logistic regression models that were selected using a forward stepwise AIC approach.


The primary and secondary searches produced 74 new projects to go along with the 62 projects from previous reviews for a total of 136 projects. The analyses suggest that project design, particularly capacity building in local communities, is critical in generating success across all outcomes. In addition, some community characteristics, such as tenure regimes and supportive cultural beliefs and institutions, are important for some aspects of project success. Surprisingly, there is less evidence that national context systematically influences project outcomes.


Our study supports the idea that conservation projects should be carefully designed to be effective and that some characteristics of local communities can facilitate success. That well-designed projects can prevail over disadvantages relating to the pre-existing national and local context is encouraging. As the evidence base on CBC grows, it will be useful to repeat this analysis with additional search terms, and consider additional variables related to national context to further evaluate the role of broader socio-political and economic contexts.

Community-based conservation; Conservation and development; Conservation evaluation; Conservation interventions; Socio-ecological systems; Community institutions; Evidence based conservation; Multi-level analysis