Project Overview



The project focuses on the rangelands, wetlands and forests of the East African savannah, especially in the borderlands between Kenya and Tanzania where the world’s greatest concentration of biodiversity and its most significant repository of wildlife lies. The I-CAN research team addresses the challenge of combining protection of biodiversity with strengthened livelihoods, whether through recognizing local rights over resources, livelihood diversification, or stimulation of a new green economy, including ecotourism.


Working primarily in eight study sites neighboring some of the world’s most significant Protected Areas for wildlife and biodiversity, I-CAN’s Thematic Working Groups and Research Site Teams will involve researchers, students, and members of development and conservation organizations in the design and implementation of research activities to elucidate the institutional conditions most supportive of increasing commitment to biodiversity conservation on the part of local communities. In particular, I-CAN will examine (1) the structure of organizations that manage natural resources; (2) property rights in land and other resources; and (3) incentive systems and motivations.


Designed as a research-for-development initiative, I-CAN will implement knowledge mobilization and capacity building activities that will enable the sharing and co-creation of knowledge among partners and other stakeholders while facilitating a dialogue with policy makers – at local, national and global levels, regarding the rights and obligations of communities in accessing, managing and utilizing natural resources.



Main goal of I-CAN

  • To IDENTIFY effective community-based conservation programs that can protect biodiversity and strengthen community livelihoods



Specific Project Objectives

To attain the main goal of the project, the following specific objectives will need to be achieved:

  • To TRACK organizational networks to understand how the ‘institutional canopy of conservation’ influences the effectiveness of local CBC programs;
  • To DEVELOP prototypes for governance institutions, focused on three major design components that are subjects of ongoing theoretical and policy controversy: organizational structures, property systems, and livelihoods and incentives;
  • To STRENGTHEN attitudes of environmentality – the cognitive frameworks that influence conservation attitudes and behaviors – through institutional innovations;
  • To INFLUENCE conservation policy from the local to national and international levels;
  • To TRAIN a new generation of academics and leaders, via graduate degrees and community and NGO leaders acquiring project-based skills.


Theoretical Frameworks


The issue of conservation in East Africa is taking place within a complex social-ecological system that calls for trans-disciplinary and integrative approach to research. Consequently, the research to be undertaken during I-CAN is based on a number of important theoretical frameworks developed to inform our understanding of social-ecological changes in the context of natural resource governance


The Institutional Perspective

Institutions and organizations provide a framework of incentives and a body of values to which economic actors respond. Institutions represent the set of rules, conventions, informal norms and shared beliefs that govern the interactions and relationships between persons. Organizations are groups of individuals pursuing common goals through partially coordinated action. Multiple organizations adopt a multi-scalar perspective on conservation, which creates an “institutional canopy” that provides “cover” for and is interwoven into the conservation process.


I-CAN will study how organizations at different levels generate this “canopy” and interact within it.


Civil society and Environmentality

Regarding environmentality, attitude regarding natural resources within communities is informed by customary institutions that define territoriality, rights in resources, local authority, and indigenous knowledge. It is also influenced by the transformation of persons into “environmental subjects” for whom conservation becomes a leitmotif of their practices in the world. Creating ‘conservation subjects’ involves ‘conversationalism’, that is, dialogue between communities and conservation agents and organizations.


I-CAN will examine the evolution of attitudes towards wildlife and forest resources, changes in human/wildlife conflicts, and changes in wildlife distributions, population dynamics, poaching, deforestation, and resource marketing, in this institutional context.


The ‘Indigeneity’ of Communities

Regarding the “indigeneity” of communities, since the 2007 Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (and establishment of a Permanent Forum at the UN), many communities of pastoral, hunting-gathering, and forest dependent people declared themselves indigenous, deserving special rights over the natural resources on which they depend. They have seen their territories diminished by commercial farming and ranching and expansion of Protected Areas and conservation, highlighting questions of indigenous land rights and conflicts.


I-CAN will examine the impact of indigeneity on conservation attitudes and outcomes.