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Creating a landscape plan

A landscape plan is the landscape’s strategy and plan for the coming 20 years. It includes an identification of the 3 zones and planned activities for each of the zones.

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

A clear picture of the 4 Returns

The Landscape Plan is used to communicate essential details of the landscape to external stakeholders. In doing so, it helps build effective working relationships. It summarises the landscape’s stakeholders, its context, and challenges, and what needs to be prioritised to restore the landscape.

The Landscape Plan is around 30 pages long, excluding tables, graphs, and images. It includes a description of the landscape, partnerships and key stakeholders, and the planned activities to support 4 returns landscape restoration over a 20-year timeframe.

It should be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances while retaining the long-term goal of positively impacting all stakeholders in the landscape.

Facilitating effective conversations

Creating an impact on a landscape requires the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders.  From a funding angle, philanthropists, investors, and governments all need a clear and consistent picture of the 4 Returns to work in your landscape based on the framework. A landscape plan shows what you are doing and how it relates to funders’ objectives.

A Landscape Plan cuts through the mass of documentation to give external stakeholders the essentials of what they need to know. It, therefore, facilitates effective conversations with policymakers, funders, and investors. It shows how they can be involved now and in the future.

A Landscape Plan is also a source document for collaborating organisations involved in fund mobilisation, marketing & communication, policy influence, and monitoring, evaluation & learning (MEL).

It aims to reflect the perspectives of all stakeholders in a landscape. However, early versions are often written from the perspective of a limited number of landscape organisations for expediency. As more stakeholders become involved in the landscape, the Landscape Plan evolves. It is never fully finalised and will always be a living, breathing resource.

Allocating roles

Clearly defined roles are essential in developing your Landscape Plan. When allocating roles, consider how different partners are represented, their available time, and the knowledge they need to contribute.

For example, you may choose to assign the following roles:

Project coordinator Creates steps and timeline; communicates between contributors; organises and facilitates meetings; and manages the feedback process.

Lead contributors Co-create, write, edit and review the Landscape Plan. They are typically drawn from the landscape partnership. Landscape stakeholders, advisors, or external partners may also join this team.

Supporting contributors Read along and offer an opinion. Often drawn from landscape partners, external organisations, or members of particular stakeholder groups.

Timing the plan

Landscape Plans start to become needed when you want to form relationships with potential external stakeholders. They may be triggered by a funder’s request, a new long-term strategy or a fundraising need. While a Landscape Plan may feel an urgent necessity, we recommend starting the process only once you have in place a:

  • Landscape vision based on a collective visioning process
  • Theory of Change
  • Long-term strategy

Each of these steps requires thorough attention on its own. Please read the relevant modules to understand what the reason for each step is, and what undertaking it involves.

Once the decision to develop a Landscape Plan is taken, contributors kick off with developing a common understanding and clear roles and responsibilities for its development (see Timeline and processes below).

Bringing it all together

Getting started

  • Decide whether a landscape plan is needed. Organise a workshop with landscape partners, contributors, and relevant landscape stakeholders using Theory U. Hold open dialogue on the purpose and added value of a landscape plan and the role of contributors.
  • Kick off by meeting those directly involved in the development of the Plan. Address the “why”, “what”, “when”, and “who” of developing it.
  • Co-create from the start. Split chapters based on core competencies and available information or organise ongoing reviews and editing by the landscape partnership and other lead contributors.

Compile resources

Make use of resources already available. The more you can compile, the easier the job of writing the plan. For example, you may already have built up the:

  1. Progress reports annual or impact reports
  2. Landscape assessments research papers, articles, theses, etc.
  3. Strategy documents built up during your strategy development process
  4. Short, medium, and long-term action plans
  5. Monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) data
  6. Partnership agreements and other contracts
  7. External communications

More is better when compiling information – it can subsequently be edited. Ensure that all Landscape Plan co-creators have access to relevant resources through shared databases and drives.

Guidance on content

This outline template provides a starting point for your Landscape Plan. The uniqueness of your landscape will mean you adapt it to your circumstances. Please use it so far as it is useful.

This template helps you get started on writing your Landscape Plan

That said, the following information should ideally be present in all Landscape Plans:

  1. Landscape partnership and relevant stakeholders
    • Overview of local partnerships and other key landscape stakeholders include brief descriptions, their roles and responsibilities, and relationships between them.
  1. Landscape description and analysis
    • Assessment of the physical characteristics (geology, hydrology, fauna, flora, etc.)
    • Assessment of the socioeconomic characteristics (demographics, political structure, trends), and economic characteristics of the landscape (most significant income streams and analysis thereof).
    • Assessment of land degradation issues
    • What are the most significant challenges?
    • What are the biggest opportunities?
  1. Landscape vision
    • Briefly describe the vision for the landscape among the key stakeholders (landowners, landscape partnership, funders, government, etc.)
    • What does the landscape look like in 5, 10, and 20 years (also related to the 4 Returns)?
  1. 4 Returns strategy
    • Describe the landscape strategy based on the 4 Returns Framework for Landscape Restoration, as applied to the unique circumstances of each landscape. I.e., 4 returns (and losses), 5 process elements, and 3 zones. What is the strategy to accomplish this?
  1. Achievements to-date
    • Outline what has been accomplished in the landscape and the initiative’s stage. This will provide context to the status of activities and experiences to date. Connect this to impact metrics and descriptions where available.
  2. Roadmap
    • 5-year-, 10-year-, and 20-year- outline of what will be done, in what timeframe, and by whom. Include expected results and links between planned activities, details of the scale of activities, data collection process, and expected impact. Watch this video for inspiration for a 5, 10, and a 20-year vision.
  1. Funding requirements
    • Overview and description of funding needs, inventory of the required funding, and investable opportunities. What is the funding required to implement the roadmap?

Timelines and process

 The time taken to complete your Landscape Plan will vary due to:

a) capacity
b) financial resources
c) availability of information
d) contributors’ “buy-in”
e) seasonality (e.g., holidays and cyclical work)

Build these variations into your timeline, the below serves as a guiding estimate. Landscapes in their early stages, for example, would extend the below timeline to compile the necessary information.

Week 0The need for a Landscape Plan is agreed
Week 1Stakeholder-alignment workshop

The aim of the workshops is to form high-level agreement on:

  • the vision for the landscape
  • division of roles and responsibilities
  • what value a landscape plan will add
Week 2-3Planning workshop.

Workshop or meeting involving contributors to the landscape plan to reach an agreement on a common understanding of its purpose and objectives, and clear division of roles and responsibilities (“why”, “what”, “when”, “who”)

Week 3-4Compilation of available resources

see “Relevant resources…” section further below in this document

Week 4-6Research and gap analysis

Gathering data, spotting what effort and resources are needed to complete the Plan

Week 6-10First draft of most if not all chapters in the landscape plan. Including as much documentation as possible
Week 10-12Review and feedback by all contributors
Week 12-20Second draft

including complete versions of all chapters in the landscape plan, including a detailed roadmap and budget/funding requirements

Week 20-22Second round of reviews and feedback
Week 22-24Finalisation and circulation of Landscape Plan
with contributors and partners
Week 24+Meeting with landscape partner and contributors on next steps
including a) whom to share the landscape plan with,
b) guidelines on how to share it, and
c) when to update the landscape plan next, in terms of dates and event triggers

Updating your landscape plan

As working documents, Landscape Plans need to be updated. For example, when

  • the vision and strategy changes
  • roadmap and planned activities evolve
  • funding requirements change
  • a major event must be reviewed

you will need to update your Landscape Plan.

Lessons learned

Commonland and its partners’ experience in Haiti, South Africa, the Netherlands, and Spain have provided the following lessons:

  • Common understanding and agreement are critical. Work on the Plan is time and energy intensive. A common agreement is needed to prioritise it. Ensure it does not become a top-down request from funders or investors without landscape partners agreeing to its need, value, and purpose.
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities. Agree and communicate the roles and responsibilities of landscape partners and contributing organisations before starting work on the development process. This is what the stakeholder alignment and planning workshops are for. See Allocating roles above
  • Build trust. When contributors and organisations trust each other the landscape plan is more pleasant, effective, and efficient. Trust is built when commitments are kept, differences are appreciated, and humour is enjoyed.

Further reading:

Find below version 1 of a Landscape Plan for the Dutch peat meadow landscape which Wij.land is generously sharing as an inspiration. It is a living document which is updated annually to reflect changing challenges, opportunities and needs in the landscape. If you have any questions/suggestions around the plan, feel free to always reach out to the Wij.land team via contact@wij.land and/or the Commonland team via info@commonland.com.

Example: read the Landscape Plan for the Dutch peat meadow landscape

Does your landscape initiative already have a landscape plan? What process did you follow to get there? Let us know in the comments!

This chapter has been written by Alejandro Diaz and Roos van der Deijl, in collaboration with various commonland colleagues.

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