Participatory policies and intrinsic motivation to conserve forest commons


Participatory policies for natural resource management and poverty reduction have been implemented worldwide. Inclusive participation and empowerment potentially enhances intrinsic motivation to conserve resources. However, whether participation in activities for poverty reduction enhances intrinsic motivation for resource conservation is unknown. We evaluate the impact of participation, in activities to develop sustainable livelihoods, on the intrinsic motivation of forest-dwelling community members to conserve forest commons. As a component of Brazil’s Bolsa Floresta programme, these activities involve decision making, skills training and knowledge exchange related to sustainable livelihoods. Using a framed common-pool resource game with 160 community members in Amazonas State, we measure intrinsic motivation via members’ extent of cooperation in conservation of trees. We obtain an estimate of impact by exploiting a natural experiment, whereby the treatment group was offered the choice to participate in activities to develop sustainable livelihoods. We find that participation crowds in cooperative behaviour and, hence, intrinsic motivation to conserve forest commons. This result suggests that enabling participation and empowering community members in the development of sustainable livelihoods has a positive effect on conservation behaviour. Our results have critical implications for participatory policies with dual environment–development goals in settings where policy recipients are marginalized.

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Fig. 1: Map showing location of communities sampled in RDS Rio Negro (treatment group) and RDS Puranga Conquista (control group), Amazonas State, Brazil.
Fig. 2: Average extraction rates per person—treatment versus control groups.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.


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For helpful discussions and comments we thank J. Bouma, B. Groom, E. Gsottbauer, A. Kontoleon, A.-K. Koessler, L. Lima, R. Lubowski, M. Malen, S. Roth, V. Salviatti, G. Shreedhar and V. Solidade; participants at the Sustainability and Development Conference (Michigan), BIOECON (Wageningen); and research seminars at Cambridge University, Hamburg University and the LSE. We also thank our research assistants (A. Ferreira, C. França, T. Farias, A. de Carvalho, E. Mota, L. Barros, L. M. Ferreira, M. Leitão and R. J. da Costa) in the Institutional Links project ‘Participatory Approaches to Natural Resource Conservation in the Brazilian Amazon’, funded by the British Council (Newton Fund, grant no. 261873660 (SSP-C577)). The FAS provided further funding and logistical assistance. This article is dedicated to the memory of T. Hall, who sadly passed away in May 2019.

Author information




A.H., V.V. and C.P. conceived the project. C.P and G.I.S. designed the experiment, household survey and interview questions. G.I.S., E.L. and C.P. conducted the experiments. G.I.S. and E.L. conducted the interviews. C.P. developed the analytical approach, analysed the data and wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Charles Palmer.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary discussion, methods, Tables 1–14, Figs. 1–4 and references.

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Palmer, C., Souza, G.I., Laray, E. et al. Participatory policies and intrinsic motivation to conserve forest commons. Nat Sustain (2020).

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