Financial incentives are used by natural resource management organisations to encourage landholders to adopt sustainable practices where the outcomes on a farm scale may be negative or marginal. There is a growing body of research aimed at understanding why landholders do or do not agree to participate in financial incentive programs, however research that considers when and how financial incentives work to bring about long-term behaviour change is relatively immature. The purpose of this review is to answer the question ‘What factors influence the effectiveness of financial incentives on long-term natural resource management practice change?’ In synthesising the evidence, it was found that there are numerous characteristics of the practice change itself, along with the program design and implementation, which are important to understand long-term behaviour change. These include whether inexpensive maintenance or long-term funding is available; whether the changes are relatively simple to sustain; whether the program involves structural changes; whether there is land use rigidity; and whether the changes have resulting environmental benefits that are highly observable. Additionally, it is advisable for programs that use financial incentives to include the following program features: ongoing extension support and a focus on building relationship and trust; flexibility in how the practice change is applied; active landholder involvement from planning to evaluation; and contract length that is appropriate for the complexity of the NRM practice. These characteristics can be used to guide policy makers in their natural resource management investment decisions. There is a clear need for greatly increased monitoring and evaluation of existing programs, both during the program and after its conclusion, in order to more fully understand its long-term impacts and ultimate effectiveness. Finally, landholders undertaking a practice change generally benefit from ongoing support from government natural resource management extension officers.
Australia and New Zealand School of Government 2016