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Based in Tanzania, the Nepsus project seeks to explain the formation of complex partnerships in natural resource management and establish whether and how they lead to better and more equitable sustainability outcomes in comparison to simpler forms of partnerships. NEPSUS is funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark through the Consultative Research Committee for Development Research (FFU) and the Danida Fellowship Centre -- Project 16-01-CBS.


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New and more complex partnerships are emerging to address the sustainability of natural resource use in developing countries. These partnerships link donors, governments, community-based organizations, NGOs, business, certification agencies and other intermediaries. Yet, we still do not know whether more complexity, including more sophisticated organizational structures and inclusive processes, has delivered better sustainability outcomes, and if so, in what sectors and under which circumstances. To fill this knowledge gap and build capacity in this area, NEPSUS assembles a multidisciplinary team to analyze partnerships with kinds and degrees of complexity through structured comparisons in three key natural resource sectors in Tanzania: wildlife, coastal resources and forestry. Tanzania provides an ideal case for researching the impact of new partnerships on sustainability outcomes because policy and program implementation in these three sectors are heavily dependent on their success. 

RQ1: Complexity

  • What factors account for different degrees of complexity in partnerships for natural resource governance?

  • In what local, national and international contexts have these partnerships arisen?

  • What kinds of social networks are woven around them?

RQ2: Processes 

  • How do different kinds of partnerships develop, gain and manage legitimacy among different audiences and stakeholders?

  • What kinds of legitimacy (input, process, output) do they seek and how? And which forms of legitimacy, if any, provide most power to local communities?

  • How does the history of relations between state, local communities, private and international actors influence participatory processes and interactions and power relations among actors?

  • What processes, if any, are successful in preventing powerful actors (public or private) from capturing the partnership process to suit their own interests?

RQ3: Sustainability outcomes 

  • What are the environmental, socio-economic/livelihood outcomes across partnerships of different complexity under different resource systems? How are these effects distributed among different groups of actors?

  • What are the synergies and/or trade-offs between socio-economic and environmental outcomes? What features minimize trade-offs and maximize synergies between them?

  • What instances of conflict and cooperation have emerged as a result of these partnerships?  In which cases have relations of domination between state administrations and local communities been transformed?

Research questions

Comparative Research Design

NEPSUS will examine three natural resource systems (Wildlife, Coastal Resources and Forestry) that are key to rural livelihoods in Tanzania. Within each sector, the research design is built upon two layers of comparison:


(1) between ‘simpler partnerships’ (SP) and ‘more complex partnerships’ (CP), selected in contiguous areas that are as agro-ecologically and socio-economically similar as possible. SPs are more centralized and top-down conservation initiatives (game reserves, forest reserves controlled by central or local governments, and marine parks). CPs are based on different degrees and forms of co-management and involve more stakeholders: Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs); combinations of Community-Based Forest Management (CBFM) with timber certification and REDD+ initiatives; and Beach Management Units (BMUs) and related Collaborative Fisheries Management Areas (CFMAs). 


(2) between ‘early-mover’ (EM), ‘latecomer’ (L), and (where applicable) ‘control’ (C) sites. The logic of including L sites is to assess whether they were able address some of the challenges (but also learn from successes) previously experienced in EM sites. C sites are those that had either attempted to join, or were asked to join, a sustainability partnerships but failed to do so, or chose not to join. 

See the table below for an overview of the comparative design based on the three resource systems and the different partnership arrangements. 

2 WMAs in Rufiji District

Complexity scoring

Methods and Analysis

Data collection:

The NEPSUS Project employs a broad portfolio of data collection methods that the members of the research team have practiced over many years of work in Tanzania and elsewhere. The diversity of methods will enable critical reflection and triangulation of data. Key informant interviews (KII) will be the main method of data collection, and will be augmented by the collection of secondary documents (SD) as well as focus groups and participant observation (FG/PO). FGs will be organized in local communities to gather data on perceptions of environmental and socio-economic change, and the history, dynamics, legitimacy and impact of partnerships. PO of partnership meetings and activities (when possible and allowed) will be carried out in areas of operation. Furthermore, questionnaire-based surveys (SUR) will be the main method to quantitatively assess socio-economic outcomes at the household and community levels, perceptions of partnerships processes and functioning, and perceptions of environmental outcomes. Finally, data on environmental outcomes (EO) will be collected for both spatial and (when possible) temporal comparison. Main indicators for EO analysis will include resource conditions (quantity and quality) and changes in anthropogenic threats to resources.

Data analysis:

  • Mapping, contextual and historical analysis of partnership types through qualitative thematic analysis of SD and of transcripts of KII and FG/PO. We will code data for specific words and themes and examine them with qualitative data analysis software (NVivo11).

  • Social network analysis (SNA) will provide an additional measure of partnership complexity; it will be used to map the inter-personal and inter-organizational networks to delineate: the structure of the network; network connectivity, density, centrality and clustering patterns; key organizations and individuals that are well-connected and central; delineate groups, coalitions and alliances; and map institutional interactions. The R-based free software package ‘sna’ will be used to conduct network analysis. 

  • Qualitative thematic analysis, software-based qualitative data analysis, and survey data will be used to examine three legitimacy categories:

    • Input legitimacy: participation of various categories of actors and groups in the design and operation of relevant partnerships; balance in the type, origin and function of stakeholders;

    • Process legitimacy: procedures allowing or limiting participation and democratic process; quality of governance procedures, system management, accountability, and transparency;

    • Output legitimacy: assessment of directly attributable output and changes over time (e.g. number of villages involved, area under conservation, quantity of certified timber, number of participants, awareness of partnership in the communities) vis a vis expectations.

  • Descriptive and inferential quantitative statistical analysis will be combined with qualitative narratives/descriptions to establish possible causal relations between a multi-dimensional measure of partnership complexity and socio-economic and environmental outcomes, and their trade-offs or synergies.

    • Analysis of survey results of socio-economic outcomes, perceptions of socio-economic and environmental change, and perceptions on the provision of possible socio-economic services by the partnership

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