Social-psychological principles of community-based conservation and conservancy motivation: attaining goals within an autonomy-supportive environment

Conserv Biol. 2008 Dec;22(6):1443-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.00996.x. Epub 2008 Jul 29.


Community-based natural resource conservation programs in developing nations face many implementation challenges underpinned by social-psychological mechanisms. One challenge is garnering local support in an economically and socially sustainable fashion despite economic hardship and historical alienation from local resources. Unfortunately, conservationists' limited understanding of the social-psychological mechanisms underlying participatory conservation impedes the search for appropriate solutions. We address this issue by revealing key underlying social-psychological mechanisms of participatory conservation. Different administrative designs create social atmospheres that differentially affect endorsement of conservation goals. Certain forms of endorsement may be less effective motivators and less economically and socially sustainable than others. From a literature review we found that conservation initiatives endorsed primarily for nonautonomous instrumental reasons, such as to avoid economic fines or to secure economic rewards, are less motivating than those endorsed for autonomous reasons, such as for the opportunity for personal expression and growth. We suggest that successful participatory programs promote autonomous endorsement of conservation through an administrative framework of autonomy support-free and open democratic participation in management, substantive recognition and inclusion of local stakeholder identity, and respectful, noncoercive social interaction. This framework of the autonomy-supportive environment (self-determination theory) has important implications for future research into program design and incentive-based conservation and identifies a testable social-psychological theory of conservancy motivation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Community Participation*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Developing Countries
  • Motivation*
  • Psychology, Social / methods*