The GCS REDD+ project builds on 26 years of CIFOR efforts to understand the causes of deforestation and forest degradation as well as to elaborate what can be done to reverse those trends in tropical countries. The first phase of CIFOR’s REDD+ research focused on overall design issues and building strong research-based knowledge. The second phase focused on analyzing nascent and evolving policy processes and the actions of early starters in developing REDD+ policies and measures to inform and facilitate transformational change. This is the third phase, which focuses on the assessment of policy design and actual impacts of REDD+ policies and measures as a basis to achieving results in the broader context of landscape management, livelihood objectives and equity considerations.

CIFOR will continue working with research partners and stakeholders so REDD+ policy makers and practitioner communities have access to and use the information, analysis and tools needed to design and implement REDD+. CIFOR will also support enabling conditions and assessments as to what degree REDD+ has delivered carbon-effective, cost-efficient and equitable carbon and non-carbon benefits.

The project has four research modules and a partner-centered knowledge sharing module, as illustrated in Figure 1.


Figure 1. GCS REDD+: Research modules and research phases.


  • Module 1 (REDD+ policies) focuses on effective, efficient and equitable (3E) REDD+ policies, and measures them at the national level. CIFOR also works on REDD+ policy architecture, such as mechanisms for REDD+ benefit sharing and Safeguard Information Systems.
  • Module 2 (REDD+ subnational initiatives) focuses on assessing the performance of REDD+ subnational initiatives, i.e. REDD+ projects implemented by governments and NGOs at various levels.
  • Module 3 (Measuring carbon emissions) focuses on measuring carbon emissions and determining forest and carbon reference levels, and works on the Monitoring, Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MMRV) of forests and carbon.
  • Module 4 (Multilevel governance) focuses on understanding the synergies and trade-offs in joint mitigation and adaptation, and addresses the challenges of multilevel and multi-sector governance and carbon management.
  • Module 5 (Knowledge sharing) is dedicated to partner engagement and dissemination.
Impact pathway and theory of change

Our policy learning framework (Figure 2) applies to developing countries and the international arena that frames national implementation (e.g. UNFCCC, IPCC). Actors make policy decisions based on the information and technologies they have access to, and the interests and ideas that structure their understanding of the problem and how to solve it. Change is enabled or hindered by institutions at multiple levels of governance, with structural biases on display that work against marginalized groups or preserve inequalities. Shifts in incentives, discourses and power relations are needed to transform the current unsustainable practices into sustainable ones. Identifying how these shifts can be initiated in national policy arenas and multi-stakeholder and international fora is key to understanding how lasting transformational change can be achieved. The right choice of actors is essential.

In this context and given the need to interpret and bridge globally defined climate change and REDD+ policies while targeting effective, efficient and equitable (3E) local actions, our theory of change requires leveraging political economy and governance dynamics at the national and subnational levels.

Theory of climate change policy transformation: CIFOR’s 4Is (institutions, interests, ideas and information) framework for transformational change

Figure 2. Theory of climate change policy transformation: CIFOR’s 4Is (institutions, interests, ideas and information) framework for transformational change.

The new knowledge generated through the GCS REDD+ project helps to: (i) identify options for more equitable and effective incentive structures; (ii) ensure informed decisions based on evidence; and (iii) contribute to rebalancing power by working in partnership with and providing evidence to potential agents of change in developing countries. To achieve this, the project works along a clear impact pathway in our successfully evaluated ‘co-production of science’ model, i.e. our “Theory of Change” (see also Figure 3):

  1. Early engagement and trust building with various collaborating partners from all levels and sectors in developing countries (identifying and understanding needs), e.g. through multi-stakeholder consultations;
  2. Joint definition of relevant research questions (responding to needs);
  3. Co-development of robust, salient, credible and legitimate research (output);
  4. Delivery – directly or through collaborating partners – of knowledge and tools to knowledge-using partners, i.e. national and global policy makers and practitioners within the parameters needed to achieve the required transformational change (e.g. expected policy change) that represents the end-of-program outcomes in national and global policy and practice towards the intended project’s goals (these changes happen within the ‘boundary partners’).


Figure 3. CIFOR’s generic theory of change (ToC) at the global, national and sub-national levels.


We envision a stepwise or spiraling feedback process (Figure 4). First, boundary partners, research partners, policy makers (at the national and international levels, e.g. negotiators) and practitioners (mostly operating at the sub-national level) are contacted and consulted to come to an agreement on relevant research questions (‘targeted engagement’). Early participation will facilitate the internalization of the 3E principles of more efficient, effective and equitable climate policies and practices that are aligned with development and equity considerations. Once the knowledge is available, they then can start to use it in their day-to-day practice and apply it to climate change and REDD+-related policy making and practice.

Co-production of science model.

Figure 4. Co-production of science model.

This is not an uncritical application but a complex process grounded in trust and mediated by debate, interaction and feedback. We will make use of national champions and national research partners that are emboldened through the interaction to operate in the national arena. We will work directly and early on with policy makers in the various levels of administration. As an endpoint, we expect the knowledge generated to be (more) reflected in policy and practice at the subnational, national and international levels. The process encompasses a spiraling engagement with increasing levels of intensity, building on feedback loops, continuous engagement and iterative adaptation.

CIFOR operates in a development environment in parallel with many other actors of change, and we work closely with many of them.

There is evidence that CIFOR knowledge has been taken up at various levels of policy and practice. In 2015, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) conducted an assessment of the GCS REDD+ project and how well it had achieved its aim and how it could be improved. The report outlines the evaluation methodology and results and offers recommendations for CIFOR’s future policy engagement work. The report can be accessed at the ODI website as well as the CIFOR website.

The GCS REDD+ project is supported by proactive, visible and significant communications, outreach and capacity development. It is accompanied by continuous policy analysis to identify current policy trends and anticipate emerging ones. The politics of developing countries are highly dynamic, and anticipating trends helps to prioritize our research agenda and stay relevant to partners. In addition, a degree of flexibility is needed in order to respond to these rapid changes.

In summary, rather than trying to be ‘predictive and prescriptive’, we see CIFOR’s role as honest brokers of knowledge. We are committed to transdisciplinary biophysical, social and economic research with sound problem analysis that provides evidence-based policy options to target users – options that are based on an identification of their needs.

Map of countries where different activities of GCS REDD+ are being or have been carried out.

Figure 5. Map of countries where different activities of GCS REDD+ are being or have been carried out.


Phase 3