Understanding the local context

Last changed: 25 January 2023
Child outside hut in Africa

Every local context around a project is unique and research shows that understanding and adapting to the local context is key for a project to achieve its goals.

Local contexts are complex and include for example how to create and maintain trustful social relations, local systems for land use and to understand local political processes. Local communities are diverse and local relations of power need to be understood if projects are to be welcomed locally and achieve expected social and economic benefits.

Click on the arrow below each question to read about more concrete examples of problems that can happen.

Questions to ask

Has the project been designed by, or in close collaboration with, the affected people so that the project design visibly includes affected people’s values, norms and needs and the local context in general?


For example, has it been analysed if the tree species to be planted are suitable to the local climate and soil conditions? If trees are expected to reduce erosion or provide shade, is it described in what way erosion is a current problem, or shade a current need, in that local context? Are payment mechanisms organized so that money will not be captured by an elite?


Does the project description mention that local communities are diverse and that different groups may benefit more from the project than others? 


For example, if landless people, or people with no land title document or only small land plots cannot take part in the project, how will the risk of conflict and inequality be dealt with? If incomes from carbon credits goes to certain groups who are (over-)represented in local leadership, how can other groups (such as landless, youth, widows and other low status or poorer individuals) benefit equally? If people whose trees die or do not grow fast enough could miss out on carbon incomes, what measures will be taken to avoid negative impacts? Is distribution of project payments within households or project groups discussed (research shows that persons with higher status often control monetary incomes)?


Is there a description of the local market for expected project products?


For example, if pine trees are to be planted, is there a local demand for pine timber and does the national legislation allow for trade with pine timber? If fruit is to be sold, does the local population have access to a market for doing this?


Warning signs

The project has no or little previous experience from the area or other socially, culturally and ecologically similar areas.


For example, the project is to be carried out in a rural area in Tanzania, but the actor in charge of developing the project is from the US with no previous experience of working in Tanzania.


The problems and solutions described are written in a very general manner, not adapted to context and without a deeper discussion about what causes the problems.


For example, the problem is described as being local people’s agricultural expansion into forests and it will be solved with planting more trees, while not investigating the reasons behind that expansion.


Groups within the particular project site that are less likely to benefit are not clearly identified and/or no plan exists on how to deal with uneven impacts for these different groups.


For example it is only stated that “vulnerable groups will be included”.