Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM) focuses on the collective management of ecosystems to promote human well-being and aims to devolve authority for ecosystem management to the local (community) level. CBNRM therefore requires strong investments in capacity development of local institutions and governance structures. CBNRM has come under strong criticism for its failures to deliver real benefits to communities. In this paper we explore the reasons for the frequent failure of CBNRM. We postulate that good governance buffers CBNRM against unexpected change, notably conflicts, especially in the early stages when income generation, infrastructure development and capacity development have not yet taken place. We assess the key characteristics of CBNRM governance systems that could perform this buffering function, using case study examples from Macubeni, Nqabara, Makuleke and Richtersveld to support our propositions. In our case studies, 11 strategies have been used to increase the incidence of success of CBNRM: understand and describe the social-ecological system; establish and communicate a clear vision; build on local organizations; plan ahead; create rules for resource use and enforce them; communicate the vision, plan and rules; develop management capacity; finance the initial stages of the initiative; work within available legal frameworks; monitor and learn all the time; and create lasting incentives. Despite these strategies there are, however, a number of obstinate implementation challenges, related to governance shortcomings and external factors which management cannot control. We therefore propose seven additional strategies to promote good governance in CBNRM:

1. Develop knowledge networks that draw on the experience and wisdom of a wide range of key individuals.

2. Establish formalised decision-making structures (e.g. multi-level project steering committees) with clear constitutions and codes of conduct.

3. Clearly define and legitimise conflict resolution procedures.

4. Ensure acceptance of the governance structure by community members.

5. Obtain formal commitment to well-defined roles and responsibilities by key individuals.

6. Establish tangible incentives to key individuals for meeting their commitments.

7. Develop the capacity for facilitation to promote communication.

Local communities, government and scientists have important roles to play in maintaining these knowledge and governance networks through adaptive co-management.