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Engage communities over the course of the nature-based solutions project to ensure successful and equitable outcomes


Engage communities over the course of the nature-based solutions project to ensure successful and equitable outcomes

Engage communities over the course of the nature-based solutions project to ensure successful and equitable outcomes

Posted on November 17, 2020 by Sasha Lishansky

Authoring Organizations: Pacific Institute
Consulting Organizations: Greenpop
Universal: No
Applicable Tags: Nature-Based Solutions
Last Updated Jun 17, 2024


Effective engagement with local communities in nature-based solutions (NBS) projects requires thoughtful commitment. Build relationships with stakeholder groups and incorporate their input throughout the project lifecycle, from design and planning to project management and maintenance. Engaging and empowering a diverse and inclusive group of local stakeholders allows local concerns and circumstances to be addressed early on, expands the breadth of benefits considered, and leads to improved project design. This, in turn, leads to more successful and sustainable projects that have local buy-in and a "social license to operate.ā€

This Lesson Learned is based on Incorporating Multiple Benefits into Water Projects: A Guide for Water Managers, 2020.


  • NBS interventions can be improved by local knowledge and traditional land management practices. 
  • Stakeholders can identify benefits that fall outside the purview of traditional research.
  • Prioritizing stakeholders’ concerns and desired outcomes can lead to greater community investment in the project’s success. 
  • Giving local stakeholders more power over their environment leads to increased social benefits and can improve equity by rectifying past injustices and decreasing displacement.


  • Budget time and resources for stakeholder engagement at the start of the project to ensure that this engagement is a central goal. 
  • Continue engagement throughout the project life cycle to maintain support from all stakeholders.
  • Identify and seek the highest level of stakeholder engagement that is practical for the project, from informational support to empowerment (see IAP2’s spectrum of public participation, 2018).
  • Share anticipated benefits and possible tradeoffs of the NBS with local stakeholders to maximize transparency, increase trust, and enable informed decision-making by all parties. 
  • Identify affected communities that may not be at the decision-making table. Because underrepresented groups face cultural, financial, linguistic, and logistical barriers to participation, consider how engagement could overcome these barriers. One strategy to address these barriers is to partner with local community organizations (e.g. schools and religious institutions). These organizations often have wide networks, and community members are more likely to respond to a local entity. In addition, these organizations can help to identify resources needed to lower barriers to participation such as childcare, language translation, transportation, and hosting meetings at accessible and familiar locations. 
  • Demonstrate cultural sensitivity to ensure respectful and effective engagement. Learn about cultural norms by conducting background research and consulting with community representatives or community organizations. 
  • Show appreciation and respect for the time and effort of partner organizations and participants by compensating them financially or through other benefits for their time and expertise. This puts community stakeholders on an equal level with other experts and can allow greater participation from traditionally marginalized groups. Compensation should not replace stakeholder engagement, but rather be one component of robust stakeholder engagement practice.

For more guidance, see 


Greenpop’s Forests for Life program undertakes reforestation and invasive alien plant clearing projects in South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania. Greenpop centers the needs of local communities in projects by implementing projects only when a local organization initiates a project request. The local organization recommends the most relevant intervention for its community and leads decision-making during the course of the project. In addition, many of Greenpop’s projects utilize the Asset-Based Community Development framework, which seeks to identify and mobilize a community’s assets to solve its challenges. Finally, at least 50% of project budgets are set aside for capacity building related to forest restoration. Examples of this include developing alternative income streams for communities such as beekeeping or agroforestry, workshopping efficient stove technologies to minimize the demand for firewood fuel, and investing in invasive plant clearing to facilitate forest restoration and job creation. By taking a pro-community approach, Greenpop is able to implement solutions that benefit both communities and ecosystems.

Projects that have validated this Lesson

None found.

This lesson learned reflects the beliefs and experiences of the author, not necessarily the Pacific Institute, CEO Water Mandate, or UN Global Compact.