Sharing an understanding of the landscape

Every landscape has its unique history and state, including a.o. its people, politics, economy. ecology, and climate. This module will teach you how to investigate and understand this context with a landscape and stakeholder analysis. 

Cover photo by The Way Between

This chapter gives context to the element ‘Shared understanding’. To learn more about this element read the 4 Returns publication, the 1000 Landscape’s Practical Guide to ILM and the accompanying Tools guide.

Understanding challenges and potential

Everything present in the current landscape has come to be there for a reason. Understanding the driving forces is important to know what interventions have a chance of succeeding, and which don’t.

To create local ownership and build on what is already there, we must find out which stakeholders are already working on landscape restoration, what has been tried before, what worked and what didn’t.

All these are reasons we carry out a landscape and stakeholder analysis.

The landscape and stakeholder analysis provides a context of what is happening and has happened in the landscape in terms of geology, climate, culture, economics, policy and more. It identifies past and present initiatives to identify what could be built on and draws lessons from past failures.

It identifies key locations in the landscape. These include areas of high urgency, where land users are already facing significant challenges related to land degradation and are potentially more willing to do something about it.

A good landscape and stakeholder analysis is the cornerstone of our work. It:

  • informs strategy;
  • serves as input for stakeholder workshops;
  • supports shared understanding;
  • provides a baseline study for monitoring; and
  • acts as a source document for communications and fund mobilisation teams.

These kinds of analyses are best done together with a variety of local and international partners. This ensures a good mix of knowledge of local context and networks on one hand, and leveraging experience from other landscapes on the other.

From research to report

While much can be discovered through desk research, some things can only be discovered on the ground. This is particularly true of stakeholder analysis where meeting people face to face yields far higher quality information.

While true cultural understanding takes years, the below process outlines what is needed for a well-written and researched report.

Desk analysis of landscape and stakeholders

Gather as much information as you can to describe the landscape’s relevant history, its current state, and the driving forces that have shaped it. Include an overview of the most important challenges related to land degradation faced by stakeholders in the landscape. Finally, identify potentially interesting stakeholders to talk with during the field trip.

With the desk study, we look at a large breadth of topics. We need to find a balance between being comprehensive and concise. Here is a list of possible topics to investigate, that may help in the search. For each of these topics, we want to know and describe the relevant history, current status/recent developments, and future expected developments.

  • Geology
  • Hydrology
  • Ecology
  • Climate and weather patterns
  • Population
  • Economy
  • Governance
  • Mapping of stakeholders and existing initiatives

The sources you can use for this are varied. You can think of:

  • Strategic documents of partners, where relevant
  • Research and evaluation studies from local & (inter)national knowledge institutes, NGOs, and governments
  • Reports, policy documents, strategy documents, websites, or media outings from local & (inter)national partners, NGOs, governments (ministries/departments, regional governments, water councils, other government agencies)
  • News media
  • Spatial data (GIS): maps and remote sensing data

Recommended tools for desk research

  • Governance | Sustainable Landscapes Rating Tool: enables a rapid assessment of the key conditions for jurisdictional policies and governance that enable sustainable landscapes.
  • Stakeholder mapping | Stakeholder mapping provides an introduction to stakeholder mapping for your landscape. It includes several frameworks and tools that are easy to use in your desk research and workshops. For example, you get to map out who your champions are, who might block your initiative (blockers) and who might still be sitting on the fence, but could become your ally over time (swingers).

Read this guide to understand the basics of stakeholder mapping and find useful frameworks and tools to get started

A quick start guide to stakeholder mapping


governance and stewardship, mobilising people

No reviews

  • Stakeholder mapping | Kumu: makes it easy to organize complex data such as people, systems, or concepts into relationship maps
  • Soil information | iSDAsoil provides soil information at the scale of individual small farms across Africa. This is achieved by generating maps at an unprecedented resolution of 30 meters, encompassing 24 billion unique locations across Africa.
  • Flood risk | Aqueduct Floods measures and maps water-related flood risks around the world. It evaluates current and future risks of riverine and coastal flooding, taking into account the impacts that socioeconomic growth and climate change will have. Aqueduct Floods also allow users to conduct a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to evaluate the value of dike flood protection strategies.
  • Soil information | Soils Revealed is a platform for visualizing how past and future management changes to soil organic carbon stocks globally. It is based on the best, and sometimes only, available soil data, information about the environment and computer simulations over time.
  • Ecological information| Crowther Lab has provided an interactive map with environmental and ecological layers to explore. Each map layer in this tool represents the outputs from various models produced by the scientific community providing key data about our ecosystems. Explore this data by either drawing a polygon (drawing tool) or selecting a country (search button). You can also compare layers to study correlations between different parameters.
  • Ecological information | OpenLandMap is an open-source map displaying the world’s environmental data (land cover, vegetation, soil, climate, water, terrain, and more). Within your web browser, you can explore the different map layers displaying the various environmental themes across the globe and also across time. All of the data is also freely available via download.
  • Ecological information| Nature Map is an integrated global map of biodiversity, carbon storage, and other nature services to support decision-making on national, regional, and global targets. The tool offers freely available global maps of terrestrial biodiversity, carbon stocks and water supply, designed to guide policies that address biodiversity loss and climate change in an integrated manner.
  • Restoration potential | Restor is a science-based open data platform to support and connect the global restoration movement. It allows you to analyse the restoration potential of an area as well as monitor and manage restoration projects.

Field trip plan

Based on the results of the desk study we can draw up a plan of where to go and whom to meet during the field trip. The field trip will test your assumptions. You will investigate what the stakeholders in the landscape need and how they might be inspired and facilitated to restore their landscape. Be sure to plan ahead (scheduling meetings efficiently, especially if the distances in the landscape are great) and reserve time for follow-on interviews as you get introduced to further relevant stakeholders that deepen your insight.

During the preparation for the field trip, there are a few things to pay specific attention to:

  • For expectation management, we will have to think carefully in advance about the ‘storyline’. How will we present ourselves? Why are we there? What do we want to achieve? Why are we interested in these stakeholders and what will we do with the information we get from them?
  • It is important, for building a trusting relationship with stakeholders to be transparent and to give them something in return for their time. We always promise to send them a copy of our analysis/insights/report after the field trip. This is a double-edged sword; not only does it show them we are not just taking information for ourselves, but the interview and the report may also stimulate them to think about their landscape differently. We promise to contact them again after a few weeks for feedback on our report and visit, and for discussion on what could be the way forward.
  • We will always travel with two people or more because two hear more than one.
  • It can be useful to prepare a short mission briefing, summarising
    • Main facts we already know
    • Main questions that are still open
    • Hypotheses and assumptions we already have that we want to test

Field trip

During the field trip, you will interview relevant stakeholders and experts and visit relevant locations and initiatives. You will take a lot of pictures and videos and capture all your conversations. Try to expand your network during the trip.

We are doing this to collect more information but also to test our assumptions. It is important to listen well, beyond ‘downloading’ or trying to (re)confirm our ideas. Have a look at the ‘4 levels of listening‘ and the Listening Assessment tool from Theory U.

Examples of potentially interesting stakeholders to interview during the field trip:

  • Farmers and farmer groups/collectives
  • Local government
  • Regional government
  • Conservation NGOs
  • Community development NGOs
  • Community leaders or community-led initiatives/organisations
  • Entrepreneurs and local businesses working on coastal protection, infrastructure, value chains/sourcing natural produce (from agriculture, forestry, fisheries, mining, and water)
  • Research institutes (universities and others)
  • Relevant ministries/departments of the national government

Presencing Institute offers a valuable guide for stakeholder interviews

Stakeholder interviews


co-design tool, communication tool

mobilising people

No reviews

Small workshops can be part of the field trip. For shared visioning, check out the tool Appreciative Inquiry (see this description). For mapping stakeholders, check out the Stakeholder mapping Introduction for mapping out networks and power relations in the landscape either with your own team or with partners in the landscape through a workshop by following 4 key steps:

  1. Identify key stakeholders
  2. Do a power analysis
  3. Start engaging with stakeholders
  4. Loopback and follow through

Needs-opportunity analysis

You can now compile a list of needs and opportunities for possible partners, projects and interventions. Needs are current obstacles stakeholders face or gaps that exist, both standing in the way of landscape restoration, such as a siloed way of working, or distrust and lack of alignment between stakeholders. Opportunities are ideas of projects that can contribute to solving the challenges related to land degradation stakeholders in the landscape face, such as building trust and relationships for collaboration or creating a farmer-to-farmer network. These can be ideas that stakeholders came up with, concepts that we’ve already seen working in other landscapes, or of course brand-new ideas that you come up with.

Write-up of the report and opportunity analysis

Now write up the ‘baseline’ report: a document summarising the current state of the landscape, and the driving forces that shaped it. Also write an ‘opportunity analysis’: your take on what viable partnerships could be initiated and what activities can be developed to start shifting the system from degradation to restoration.

Find here an example chapter layout of the report. Adding maps and pictures with good detail and descriptions, including location (GPS tag) and credits (source) if possible, will help ‘ground’ the analysis (an image says more than a thousand words). Keep in mind, the report on the analysis can double as a baseline report for MEL and communication purposes later and can eventually be developed into a ‘landscape plan’ (see the Module Creating a Landscape Plan).

Moving forward

Once this report is completed, we have done ‘our homework’ to first get a good understanding of the landscape and how the 4 returns could work in that landscape. It’s then time to gather partners and stakeholders to see how what you’ve learned in the stakeholder analysis can be used to build relationships and develop plans to transform the landscape.

Have you already done a landscape and stakeholder analysis in your landscape? What have you learned from this, and do you have any useful tools to share? Please let us know in the comments!

This chapter has been written by Bas van Dijk, in cooperation with various Commonland colleagues.

Previous chapter

Defining the landscape

This module helps you select and define the boundaries of your landscape; whether you have or have not already selected your landscape. It also guides you through the scouting process, in case this is required.  ...
View module

Next chapter

Partnership building

Time to put words into action. Where do you start? How do you build a coalition of like-minded organisations?  This chapter gives some pointers on how to do this.  This chapter was heavily inspired by the books Team of Teams...
View module
← Back to overview

Tag a friend?