The Voice, Choice, and Action (VCA) Framework

A Conservation Practitioner’s Guide to Indigenous and Community-Led Conservation


The Voice, Choice, and Action (VCA) Framework is our common approach to supporting Indigenous and local community authority and capacity in natural resource management and decision making. The VCA Framework is intended for situations where human well-being and environmental outcomes are linked and interdependent, where the leadership of Indigenous Peoples and local communities is essential to achieving shared goals, where power imbalances may hinder achieving positive results for people and nature, and where projects may significantly impact local communities.

Indigenous Peoples and local communities are vital leaders in the pursuit of lasting solutions to the world’s most pressing environmental and human well-being challenges. They manage or have tenure rights over more than 25 percent of the world’s land and more than double that is claimed but not yet legally recognized, including interconnected systems of forests, grasslands, wetlands, rivers, lakes, the underlying groundwater, and coasts. With their territories harboring more than 24 percent of the world’s tropical forest carbon, and much of global biodiversity, and with nine out of 10 of the 32 million fishers worldwide being small-scale or artisanal fishers, Indigenous Peoples and local communities are critical partners, and have proven to be the most effective stewards of nature in the world.

The VCA Framework is also available in multiple languages as a PDF for download and use off-line.

Pillars of the VCA Framework


Refers to both the actual legal status as well as the perception by Indigenous Peoples and local communities that their rights over lands, waters, and resources will be upheld by other members of society, including external communities, corporate entities, and the government. It is dependent on the type (e.g., ownership, management, withdrawal, use, or access) and form (e.g., communal, public, or private) of rights that are held, and the acknowledgement and enforcement of those rights by customary and formal institutions. When Indigenous Peoples and local communities have rights over lands, waters, and resources that are recognized and enforced by society and the government, they are better able to assert their interests in how these resources are used and managed. In turn, this can result in stronger community security and engagement in natural resource management and sustainable natural resource use, especially in situations where the community has a strong stewardship ethic, robust governance structures, accountable leadership, and economic opportunities that are closely linked to environmental stewardship and sustainable management of resources.


Refers to the multiple capacities of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to lead decision making about lands, waters, and resources; maintain clear and equitable rules and processes for management of natural resources; and the skills, knowledge, and technology to engage in forums, administrate business and finances, and manage natural systems. When Indigenous Peoples and local communities have individuals, leaders, and institutions with strong capacities, they are better able to achieve the collective action, community cohesion, and effective governance needed for sustainable natural resource management; respond to external threats to lands, waters, and resources; pursue, exercise, and defend their rights; develop sustainable livelihood opportunities; and participate in decision making that impacts the lands, waters, and resources on which they depend.


Refers to the ability of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to organize or attend, voice thoughts and knowledge, and see uptake of their ideas and desires in forums that bring together multiple actors with an interest in lands, waters, or resources. These forums can occur at the local, regional, national, or international scale, can overlap in mandate or authority, and can have the goals of knowledge exchange, conflict resolution, and/or decision making. When Indigenous Peoples and local communities effectively and meaningfully engage in multi-stakeholder dialogue and decision making, and lasting structures are established to maintain that engagement, natural resource management decisions better reflect diverse perspectives on sustainability, incorporate unique insights on management and resilience, and benefit from a sophisticated understanding of the interconnectedness of people and nature. Additionally, Indigenous and local community rightsholders benefit from increased voice and visibility, a stronger negotiating position to advance their vision for economic prosperity, and a leveling of power dynamics.


Refers to the ability of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to pursue culturally aligned livelihood opportunities (e.g., adding value or stability to existing livelihoods, adopting new livelihoods or businesses bolstered by access to loans, credit, and other financing, or obtaining employment or compensation for good stewardship) that are in accordance with their vision for the future and enable them to thrive in place. When Indigenous Peoples and local communities have livelihood opportunities that are environmentally sustainable and culturally aligned, they are better able to assert their environmental and economic interests while maintaining a stronger negotiating position against unsustainable development options that degrade the environment and are poorly matched to their cultural values.

Foundational Elements of the VCA Framework


Refers to the ability of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and the intersecting social identities that comprise the community, to benefit equitably from partnerships, maximize positive impacts and minimize negative impacts (particularly to vulnerable or underrepresented social identities), and achieve equitable participation in decision making, training, and economic opportunities. When Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and the various intersecting identities that make up communities, can participate and benefit equitably from conservation initiatives, stewardship activities are strengthened by the unique perspectives and knowledges of different community members and the longevity of community decisions and actions is increased, leading to better outcomes for both people and nature.


Refers to the continued existence, use, and transmission of Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ place-based knowledge, language, culture, stories, and traditional practices that are critical to their well-being, and are the foundation for the success of their natural resource governance, management, and livelihoods. When Indigenous Peoples and local communities can maintain, revive, strengthen, use, and transfer their knowledge—which is often rooted in time, culture, and place—they are better able to center natural resource management decisions on principles of reciprocity, and ensure future generations can benefit from traditional ways of knowing and being.


Refers to the external enabling conditions that influence the long-term success of community-led stewardship, including the existence of conservation finance to fund long-term operating and management costs; a favorable local, regional, national, and international policy environment; and the diffusion of innovation through networks and scaling without compromising values. When Indigenous Peoples and local communities have access to finance that covers the full cost of stewardship activities; favorable government institutions that elevate their collective rights and participation in policy-making; and the ability to achieve the needed scale of impact through expansion, replication, and diffusion of successful models of community-led conservation, their efforts to thrive in place are more likely to achieve long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

Case Studies

Each pillar and foundational element of the VCA Framework is illustrated by one or more case studies to ground the concepts in place. Case studies span North and South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Pacific Islands, and cut across terrestrial, ocean, and freshwater ecosystems, for a truly diverse experience.

Tools & Resources

Each pillar and foundational element of the VCA Framework is accompanied by a suite of carefully curated tools and resources meant to aid conservation practitioners in their ability to apply the framework to their work.  These tools and resources include helpful diagnostics, checklists, guides, toolkits, and templates.


For more information on the Voice, Choice, and Action Framework:

Nicole DeMello

TNC’s Global Conservation in Partnership with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities Team:

Andrea Burgess