Approaches Used to Evaluate the Social Impacts of Protected Areas

The Open Access text is available here. This paper is a version of my undergraduate thesis at Imperial College London.


Protected areas are a key strategy in conserving biodiversity, and there is a pressing need to evaluate their social impacts. Though the social impacts of development interventions are widely assessed, the conservation literature is limited and methodological guidance is lacking. Using a systematic literature search, which found 95 relevant studies, we assessed the methods used to evaluate the social impacts of protected areas. Mixed methods were used by more than half of the studies. Almost all studies reported material aspects of wellbeing, particularly income; other aspects were included in around half of studies. The majority of studies provided a snapshot, with only one employing a before‐after‐control‐intervention design. Half of studies reported respondent perceptions of impacts, while impact was attributed from researcher inference in 1/3 of cases. Although the number of such studies is increasing rapidly, there has been little change in the approaches used over the last 15 years, or in the authorship of studies, which is predominantly academics. Recent improvements in understanding of best practice in social impact evaluation need to be translated into practice if a true picture of the effects of conservation on local people is to be obtained.