Decision-making processes in design and implementation
Benefit-sharing mechanisms should ensure that decision-making processes have ample stakeholders, are transparent, and offer grievance mechanisms.
The legitimacy of REDD+ benefit sharing arrangements is compromised when there is a lack of inclusive consultation with, and participation of groups that consider themselves to be stakeholders, such as local institutions and actors, customary authorities and indigenous leaders. A comparative study found that women’s participation in, and basic understanding of REDD+ in five countries (Peru, Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam and Cameroon) was limited to attending meetings and training, while the male-dominated forest user groups engaged with, and participated in decision making, monitoring and rule enforcement activities (Larson et al. 2015). Local elites in many rural and forest communities also hold power of access to information and exert influence over local decision-making processes to capture a disproportionately larger share of the benefits, constraining equity in decision making. Top-down processes often result in sessions to disseminate information or decisions rather than meaningful engagement of local groups in decision making, and can undermine conservation efforts.
High participation among community members, despite agenda setting and withholding of information in Kondoa, Tanzania
A study investigating how actors participated in decision making in a REDD+ pilot project in Kondoa, Tanzania, reveals how participation may not lead to empowerment if the structures and processes of participation reinforce underlying power differentials among the actors. Therefore, it is crucial that global and national policy ensure that the structure of REDD+ governance accounts for the variation in power wielded by actors operating at different levels.
The REDD+ pilot project featured a high level of community participation due to specific interventions, including seeking the consent of participating communities, land-use planning, making payments and deciding on benefit sharing arrangements. Locals participated in a series of separate meetings for making decisions related to each of these processes, enabling villagers to gain some control over most decisions and receive information. The overall attitudes to the project and the decision-making processes were positive due to the high level of engagement of communities in decision making. Yet there was also evidence of agenda setting among some village leaders, and REDD+ project implementers and district officials creating barriers against discussion of certain issues concerning REDD+. Some leaders used their mandate to convene meetings to deliver information in line with their interests, or refused to call meetings entirely. Project implementers and the district officials were mandated to provide information, but had flexibility concerning the type of information that they would disclose to local people. While there were suggestions from the African Wildlife foundation (AWF) and public officers of an 80% share of benefits for communities, these suggestions were not discussed during the village general meetings. Instead, the focus during payment meetings or indeed with community leaders was on devising criteria for making payments and on how to allocate the money to the various community projects.
The REDD+ in Kondoa exemplifies how structures at international and national levels of governance can influence decision making at the local level. Decentralization systems in Tanzania helped locals to counter some of the power by higher level actors by enabling them to decide on their preferred rules and generally how the REDD+ programme should be organized. The challenge, however, was that participatory forest management and decentralization did not effectively deal with the underlying power dynamics, with the result that local people did not gain as much genuine control over decisions as they could have (Nantongo et al. 2019)
Decision-making space in Vietnam dominated by government agencies: Not enough space for non-state actors
A study found that in Vietnam, the dominant role of government agencies in REDD+ policymaking leaves limited political space for non-state actors, e.g., NGOs and civil society organizations (CSOs), to exert an influence on final policy outputs. But even in this highly centralized context, evidence was found to suggest that some political space in decision making is given to non-state actors, who were able to propose alternative policy options.
Important stakeholders were absent from key REDD+ discussions, namely, actors associated with major drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Vietnam, including large-scale agriculture producers, e.g., the Vietnam Coffee and Tea Association, the Fishery Association and large-scale timber and furniture companies. Without considering the interests of these groups, REDD+ policies will not be able to address these drivers effectively. Second, no representatives of vulnerable groups such as indigenous people and the poor were included in the consultation processes. Mass organizations, such as women’s unions or farmers associations, were also notably absent from REDD+ decision making. Grassroots interests are meant to be represented via mass organizations, but this does not often occur in practice.
The issue is not only the absence of NGOs, but rather the nonrepresentative nature of the processes; some voices (most notably, state actors) are given more weight than others (e.g., NGOs). Consultation meetings, as a tool to fulfil the requirements of participation, seemed largely ineffective and inadequate for incorporating the suggestions and opinions of international NGOs, and for generating serious feedback. According to most interviewees, governments and donors have adopted participatory governance processes primarily to comply with international requirements. This weak motivation may be contributing to the ineffectiveness of consultations, which provide little incentive for stakeholders to maintain their engagement in the political process. Ensuring inclusive decision making and accountability requires a shift in current governance from traditional top-down approaches to a more participatory form of decision making (Pham et al. 2014).
 Larson, A.M., Dokken, T., Duchelle, A.E., Atmadja, S., Resosudarmo, I.A.P., Cronkleton, P., Cromberg, M., Suderlin, W., Awono, A., Selaya, G. 2015. The role of women in early REDD+ implementation lessons for future engagement. International Forestry Review 17.1.
 Nantongo, M., Vatn, A., 2019. Estimating Transaction Costs of REDD+. Ecological Economics 156, 1–11.
 Pham, T.T., Di Gregorio, M., Carmenta, R., Brockhaus, M., Le, D.N., 2014. The REDD+ policy arena in Vietnam: participation of policy actors. E&S 19, art22.