This dissertation explores the impact of local participation on the performance of sustainable development projects.
The first chapter of this dissertation uses game theory to explore how a strategic, cost-sensitive development agency will use activities like local participation to strengthen the effectiveness of a payment-based project (wherein payments incentivize local cooperation). This analysis highlights the importance of accountability mechanisms that ensure agencies are sufficiently concerned about project effectiveness. When this concern is low, agencies have a detrimental incentive to use participation but not offer payments.
The second chapter of this dissertation evaluates the overall effect of participation on environmental performance using a sample of projects (associated with the UN Reductions in Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD+, program) fighting forest clearing in the Brazilian Amazon. The author proposes a nuanced approach to measuring participation in sustainable development projects. Evidence shows that the most participatory projects in this sample do not perform substantially better or worse than others. Finally, further evidence shows that participatory projects are more effective when responding to local policy demands.
The third study compares forest loss over time in top-down and bottom-up sustainable use conservation areas across Brazil that are otherwise governed through similar participatory decision-making structures. Together, the chapters in this dissertation suggests that while participation does not explain much of a project’s environmental performance, initial local demand for a project does.
Participatory development projects face the following shortcomings: (1) a limited ability of participation to establish willingness to comply with resource use restrictions, and (2) an incentive to cut costs when adopting participatory design components in ways that undermine a project’s environmental impact.
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