Previous literature encouraged a hybrid institutional approach for REDD + implementation, where clear government policies help reconcile the rules, regulations and interests of external institutions with those of the communities involved. However, it is unclear how such an approach can be designed in the scale necessary to match local, national and international interests in protecting forests. For this reason, the functions of intermediaries deserve explicit recognition by key actors in shaping REDD + policy nationally and internationally. Indonesia is promoting the more localized Forest Management Unit (Kesatuan Pengelolaan Hutan or KPH) as a key element of forest governance reform for embracing REDD + and related initiatives. Using a case study from eastern Indonesia, we analyzed local factors driving deforestation and forest degradation. We then reviewed the work of the local KPH to examine the necessary roles of a potential REDD + intermediary. We argue that progress made by the local KPH in improving forest governance, including partnerships with local communities, is made possible by the KPH fulfilling the role of policy intermediary while taking on transformative roles reshaping internal and external relations. However, for the KPHs to fulfill their mandate as effective REDD + intermediaries, more concerted efforts from the central and provincial governments, as well as from international donors, are still needed. These include greater consistency in government policies and regulations, improved policy communications, and the commitment to strengthening the capacity of individual KPHs.