Environment and development issues are complex and interdependent. Institutions underpinning state, private sector and civil society actions at various levels must address complexity to ensure social-ecological system integrity. However, responses often operate at only one governance level, with limited interactions with other levels, restricting their ability to support communities who depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. This paper explores institutional factors influencing household entitlements to mangrove system provisioning goods on Vietnam’s northern coast. The environmental entitlements framework is used to identify: (1) current formal and informal institutional structures relating to mangrove systems; (2) the influence of state, private sector and non-governmental organisation actors at various levels; and (3) how actions occurring at and among various levels of governance shape mangrove system entitlements at the local level. Employing a case study approach, this research utilises qualitative methods and a multi-level governance approach to understand prevailing institutional contexts. Results indicate that reforms occurring within weak regulatory frameworks led to the concentration of power at the meso level, reducing the endowments of marginalized households. Market forces facilitated inequality and environmental degradation, negatively impacting household entitlements. Finally, a lack of formally recognised civil society constrained household capabilities to participate in mangrove planning. Mangrove dependent households must be integrated into mangrove planning at the local level, as processes at higher institutional levels affect household environmental entitlements and threaten sustainable outcomes. Ensuring views from the local level feed into the multi-level governance process is vital.
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