Making landscape restoration inclusive

People who live and work in a landscape need to be engaged in its restoration because they are the land’s long-term custodians and are most affected by what happens in their landscape. Ensuring that landscape restoration is inclusive and participatory can be challenging. It requires balancing the complex priorities and needs of everyone from farmers to land managers, environmentalists to local nature organisations, community leaders to governmental bodies, and many others. Navigating complex challenges like these requires engaging processes that facilitate mutual understanding and co-visioning between people with very different interests.

Our processes

Commonland, engages partners and stakeholders in different processes, depending on what needs to change in a landscape or region to further the restoration agenda.

Landscape partnerships: a shared vision

When we work within a single landscape, or within our landscape partnerships, we follow a five-element process to reach a shared understanding and vision for the landscape.  

Participants commit to a long-term process of finding ways collectively to contribute to landscape restoration. We introduce the 4 Returns framework and the notion of separating landscapes into three zones to help stakeholders adjust their activities according to the needs and values of each specific area. The aim is to create an integrated and holistic plan for the landscape for decades to come.

4 Returns Labs: creating systems change at scale

Within a landscape, there may be barriers created by the wider system that the landscape is part of. Laws may restrict single landscape initiatives from scaling up, for example. We have learnt that to create long-lasting and meaningful impact, we often need to tackle systemic barriers in a wider region. That’s why our 4 Returns Labs are about guiding stakeholders within a region, rather than a single landscape. It involves stakeholders of a whole system – farmers, banks, policymakers, and others – and focuses on mutual learning and creating system change. 

4 Returns Labs are a series of workshops that bring stakeholders together to learn from and alongside each other. The emphasis is on learning as a mutual experience as all participants explore the underlying causes of land degradation, create a shared vision and formulate action plans for their landscapes together.

System-wide collaboration to tackle complexity

Landscape degradation has multiple causes, many interdependencies and various stakeholders who each hold a different understanding of what the problem is and who should fix it. To achieve large-scale holistic landscape restoration goals, efforts must tackle the complex nature of ecological, social, economic and political landscapes in an integrated manner. 

Often, each of the players is trying to solve the piece of the puzzle they consider their own from their individual perspective and position in the system, without understanding the ecology and social dynamics of the whole area and the wider system at play. 

When stakeholders shift their perspective from short-term personal gain to shared long-term well-being, awareness-based systemic change can happen. People create a shared intention and the work that is needed becomes clear during the process itself. 

4 Returns Labs

4 Returns Labs combine our practical 4 Returns framework with Theory U, an awareness-based method that enables systems change developed by the Presencing Institute.

Five phases are essential for a diverse group of stakeholders to reconcile competing interests and create synergies that connect people, businesses and organisations towards the joint vision and action plan of a healthy landscape for the long term. A variety of workshops fit each element. This is not a strictly step-by-step process as phases may overlap or be repeated:  

1 Co-initiating

Forging relationships, stakeholders come together to build awareness and trust in each other and create an inspiring shared intention for the landscape based on the 4 Returns  

2 Co-sensing 

Partners exchange information and discuss perspectives to achieve a shared understanding of what is already working and what could be possible if we all worked together 

3 Co-strategising 

Moving on from learning to action, stakeholders create a landscape vision and agree a collaborative action plan  

4 Co-creating 

They start doing small scale actions (prototypes) on the ground, reflecting on those actions and adapting to learn quickly and integrate strategically 

5 Co-evolving 

Having chosen which prototypes from phase 4 are most suitable within the landscape, we work with stakeholders to develop strategic action plans and then continue to support the scaling, adapting and replication of these solutions 

Regional learning networks

Together with our partners, Commonland sets up and hosts regional learning networks all over the world that directly draw upon our labs work. These networks are composed of landscape leaders from every lab we’ve hosted. There, landscape leaders can build long-term collaborations with relevant landscape stakeholders, learn from each other, and overcome systemic barriers to their work, such as lack of financial infrastructure, or limiting policies.

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