This themed issue of Land Use Policy builds on the papers presented at an international symposium entitled Social Dimensions of Market-based Instruments, convened by the Charles Darwin University in Darwin, Australia, in November 2010. The symposium set out to review the extent to which market-based instruments were being employed as social policy tools in various contexts, what challenges achieving relevant social policy objectives posed, what trade-offs arose between environmental, social and economic objectives, and whether and how tensions could be resolved. The contributions to this themed issue provide conceptual-theoretical and empirical takes on the topic. They consider poverty, property rights and equality perspectives of participation and quantify social implications at the program, regional and national levels. They reveal converging messages, e.g. in relation to treatment of poverty, common property rights and nesting across scales. In combination, the papers make a compelling case that social implications of MBIs cannot be ignored and ought to be considered in design and evaluation even if programs do no pursue social objectives, as social dimensions can enhance or affect program effectiveness and efficiency. In doing so, the contributions expand the role that MBIs can play in ensuring sustainable resource use and offer considerations for policy design.