New guidebook seeks to boost forest clout for a massive, marginalized group

Adaptive Collaborative Management offers avenue to greater equality for women.
Lubuk Beringin villagers, Seproh (left), Hasroh and Nurhayati pose for a photograph at Lubuk Beringin village, Bungo district, Jambi province, Indonesia. Photo by Tri Saputro for Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

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SALT LAKE CITY, USA—Consider it a problem-solver for a problem-solver.

In recent years, “top-down” approaches to managing forests and other natural resources have given way to methods that are more inclusive of local communities—especially the widely used Adaptive Collaborative Management (ACM) method.

But for all the effort spent on including local people, one group of people too often remains cut off from decision-making:


A new guidebook seeks to rectify this by offering a framework for increasing women’s participation in the context of the dynamic problem-solving ACM method.

But it doesn’t seek to treat women as different or separate in the process, one expert cautioned.

“Gender is integrated as a kind of parallel process here, it is not the ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’,” said Anne Larson, a principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) who has used ACM methods before.

“And it is not about working with women, or doing ACM with women. It’s about organizing ACM ‘as usual’ but integrating the discussion, monitoring and analysis of women’s participation throughout the process, kind of a parallel adaptive management of gender relations.”


Over the years, Adaptive Collaborative Management successfully promoted data collection and monitoring activities and facilitated local decision-making based on observation and learning. Widely used with the intention of improving the management of natural resources, for some the integration of gender across management decision-making process remained a challenge.

The Field Guide to Adaptive Collaborative Management and Improving Women’s Participation, launched recently at the Congress of the International Union of Forestry Research Organizations (IUFRO) in Salt Lake City, addresses that challenge.

Our role here is very important because we are doing work that integrates; we are not excluding anybody

Kristen Evans

ACM is about problem solving, working with community members or policy makers on process analysis, using data from participant observations to make decisions. It emerged during the past decade as researchers and practitioners recognized that traditional management approaches based on governmental “command and control” did not always work as intended, largely because they had not included local people in decision-making, thus ignoring their knowledge, values and capabilities.

A conscious effort to learn and act collectively to adapt systematically to change and improve management outcomes, ACM evolved to address this situation.

“Human-ecological interactions are complex and constantly changing. ACM explicitly recognizes that complexity and provides a framework for working within dynamic systems,” said Kristen Evans, a consultant with CIFOR and the lead author of the guide.


The idea for the field guide, according to Evans and colleagues, arose from a project funded by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) on Gender, Tenure and Community Forests in Uganda and Nicaragua. The objectives of this project were twofold: to improve women’s access to forests through their increased participation in community user groups with regard both to decision and livelihoods benefits and also to enhance stakeholder uptake of institutional and policy innovations to promote women’s participation, specifically regarding how community forest decisions include women and reflect their interests.

Project coordinators Larson and CIFOR colleague Esther Mwangi decided to use ACM to build capacity, collaboration, and awareness about gender dynamics.

The overall project supported two processes. In the first, using ACM methods, women and men start working together to solve community-level natural resources problems. Second, ACM methods were used to observe gender dynamics, monitor them and address issues that were identified in the process.

While the overall purpose of the project was to identify and implement actions to strengthen women’s rights, participation, and influence over forest resources and management decisions, the research built capacity for participants to continue learning, planning and adjusting to new information. Because participants had an active role in defining the process and moving it forward, they reported that the ACM approach felt less intrusive and they were able to address sensitive topics such as gender.

The project has now been using this process for about three years, and in some communities, participants felt that women’s leadership and confidence had improved, with increasing acceptance of their participation by men.

In Uganda, ACM-based projects enabled women’s participation in tree-planting; increased the number of women in decision-making positions; and enabled older women to assume leadership roles. Though men, young and old, still dominate discussions in meetings, women have been slowly gaining ground, increasing overall confidence.

In Nicaragua, indigenous communities are addressing difficult issues associated with the titling of communal territories, conflicts with colonists and governance challenges. ACM created ‘safe spaces’ where men and women came together to discuss these issues as well as women’s integration. Some communities chose to engage in tree planting and monitoring activities, but almost all wanted to work on governance, knowledge building and leadership.

“Our role here is very important because we are doing work that integrates; we are not excluding anybody,” Evans said. “At times, it is difficult for women to participate. We have to understand the culture. There are self-esteem problems; there are women who speak more, there are others who listen, and others who participate in other ways.”

“At each workshop, more women are participating.”

Larson said these methods would take time. “Through its processes of discussion, action and evaluation, ACM promotes analytical thinking and the kind of long-term engagement necessary for real change over time,” she said.

“Deep-rooted issues such as gender relations are not going to change overnight.”

For more information on this topic, please contact Anne Larson at

This research was supported in part by the Austrian Development Agency and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.

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Topic(s) :   Community forestry Rights Gender