Research co-authored by Commonland colleagues offers practice insights into the importance of stakeholder engagement, and explains why long-term landscape restoration initiatives must invest in social alliances.

Landscapes are shaped by the people living within and connected to them. These stakeholders have different worldviews and agendas, varying desires, and, potentially, conflicting ideas about how to act and be within a landscape. Restoring landscapes takes a generation and it’s key to bring stakeholders together to discuss similar and competing landscape interests. Putting stakeholder engagement at the heart of landscape restoration is, therefore, critical to achieving long-term outcomes.

However, according to a paper – Building Bridges for Inspired Action: On Landscape Restoration and Social Alliance – published last year in the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence, not enough consideration is given to stakeholder engagement in landscape restoration. Neither is enough significance placed on how such engagement positions local actors, nor on how different types of landscape restoration programmes engage landscape actors.

“But if we are looking for transformation, for long-term impact”, explains Victoria Gutierrez, Commonland’s Head of Global Policy and lead author of the article, “we need to engage people more meaningfully.”

The article outlines three insights mainly drawn from Commonland and partners’ experiences with the AlVelAl landscape restoration initiative in the Altiplano Estepario in Southern Spain:

  1. Participatory approaches matter to the success of landscape restoration initiatives, but not all participatory approaches are created equal.
  2. The AlVelAl landscape restoration initiative illustrates how social schemes designed to support inclusive stakeholder engagement can cultivate inspiration, trust and hope – all crucial to collective action.
  3. Collective agency and inspiration are essential for activating and sustaining landscape restoration actions and outcomes.

The insights are designed to inspire people to understand the importance of local communities’ involvement in the stewardship of landscape restoration. “The communities are there on the ground to look after the land and monitor progress”, explains co-author Giles Thomson of the Blekinge Institute for Techonology, “and if they can get multiple returns from the land, even better”.

Collective inspiration as a driver and outcome of landscape restoration

The 4 Returns framework places the return of inspiration – an empowering place-based cultural and ecological connection that can activate and maintain collective action – on the same level of importance as natural, financial, and social returns.

Building on the return of inspiration, the authors argue that multi-stakeholder partnerships that speak to human agency, inclusion, and trust between actors can help create a deeper shared meaning. A place-based sense of belonging arises that encourages cohesive landscape stewardship. “It is amazing what attachment to the land does and can bring,” says Gutierrez.

In the case of AlVelAl, promoting inspiration is essential to all landscape restoration activities. AlVelAl leads training events for local farmers, supports local regenerative businesses, creates wildlife corridors, runs cultural walking routes for residents and tourists, and, has been developing a collaborative living sculpture made of local plants.

The focus on inspiration is key to driving the revitalisation of rural areas and reigniting pride in the rural way of life. This is critical because, as Santiaga Sánchez Porcel, farmer and Vice President of AlVelAl, explains to Resilience Food Stories, “the regeneration of a land has to take into account the people of the land.”

Not all stakeholder processes are created equal

The paper also presents a continuum of social engagement (see below), which illustrates that landscape restoration is a complex process and that there are varying degrees of stakeholder engagement across the continuum. From, often, top-down, Stakeholder Consultations, to complex Multi-stakeholder Partnerships that involve cross-sector groups and work to establish trust and dialogue, and Social Alliances that build on the complexity of multi-stakeholder partnerships by recognising the role of human agency in creating deep connections to a landscape.

A social alliance depends on establishing trust between members, fostering dialogue, co-creating group identity, encouraging inspiration, and working collaboratively on something bigger than any one individual or organisation. And remarkable things happen when social alliances are the focus.

AlVelAl was initiated in 2014 when about 30 stakeholders met at a workshop in southeastern Spain to co-initiate a landscape restoration vision for 2034. Just 7 years later in 2021, stakeholders convened – including 21 mayors from across the area – to create an updated, collaborative vision for a Regenerative Territory in 2050.

“The more you work towards social alliances, the more you need to invest,” Gutierrez explains. “It costs money, knowledge, and time. But it’s worth it because the result is resilience. It’s people who can work together towards a shared goal,” she concludes.

Click here to download the article Building Bridges for Inspired Action: On Landscape Restoration and Social Alliance.

We would like to acknowledge and thank the co-authors, Victoria Gutierez and Pieter Ploeg (Commonland), Florentina Bajraktari (Presencing Institute), Giles Thomson (Blekinge Institute for Technology), Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers (Radboud University) and the late Dietmar Roth (AlVelAl).