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Creating a shared vision for the landscape

Now, let’s dive deeper into the power of an appealing vision in driving collaboration for landscape restoration. This chapter explores what the meaning of a landscape vision, what it embodies, how it stands apart from other visions, who shapes it, and the strategies for its creation.

In this chapter

  • The importance of creating a landscape vision that serves as a guiding light for collective action.
  • Strategies for bringing partners and stakeholders together to develop a shared vision.
  • Crafting a robust vision statement to inspire collaboration that includes the desired future of all stakeholders.
  • A vision remains dynamic and will be updated as your project progresses.
  • Effective methods for communicating your vision.
  • Landscape story: shaping a landscape vision.

Bringing back hope and purpose with a landscape vision

Now, let’s dive deeper into the power of an appealing vision in driving collaboration for landscape restoration. This chapter explores what the meaning of a landscape vision, what it embodies, how it stands apart from other visions, who shapes it, and the strategies for its creation. At the heart of this journey lies the transformative conversation sparked by the return of inspiration. Introducing this concept prompts conversations that aren’t just about goals, but rather an exploration with head, heart, and hands. It unites individuals in a shared purpose. It’s this meaningful connection that sets a 4 Returns approach apart and fuels our collective journey towards a better future for our landscapes.

A landscape vision can:

  • Be a source of purpose and inspiration, a force of motivation, and a call to action for people to join forces for long-term collaboration
  • Provide guidance and direction on priorities and actions and serve as a framework for strategic decision-making for many years to come.

Partnerships that last and create impact have a strong vision accompanied by an ambitious goal. When partnering, you need to let go of some of your individualism for the sake of a greater shared intention. A compelling, strong vision that resonates with everyone involved is required if individual partners are to commit. A strong vision inspires, motivates action, and creates a feeling of togetherness. Every partner needs to believe in the common good or shared vision for the partnership to work.

Using your vision for strategic decision making

The future isn’t set in stone and different ‘futures’ are possible. The illustration of the futures cone (below) shows that the most probable outcome, the one without any action, may not be the most preferable outcome. Shifting the trajectory will require effort. To understand the specific actions needed, we must first clarify our destination – the vision of our desired future.

When time and resources are limited, having a clear vision helps to determine which activities to prioritise. As we travel through this uncharted territory, we need a guiding light to tell keep us on the right track.

Whose landscape vision is it?

The aim is to create a vision for the landscape – what you think it could look like in 20 years or more. At this stage, you are not creating a vision of the landscape that is supported by everyone in the landscape. The message isn’t: “This is where the landscape wants to be in 20 years.” It is: “We think there is a better future for us in this landscape, and we imagine it can be something like this; do you want to join us, and we can find out together?”

The question of who the landscape vision is for follows from the purpose of the vision. It is a rallying cry to bring together all the people with whom you would like to collaborate, and it empowers everyone to assess whether their actions are aligned with the envisioned direction. In that sense, holistic landscape restoration differs from non-holistic restoration because of the number of stakeholders involved. A comprehensive landscape vision engages a wide range of stakeholders, ensuring their meaningful participation in shaping the landscape vision.

"“It is not a group of stakeholders coming together just to decide their vision for the landscape but, rather, given all the observations, data, and sensing that they have been looking at and making together, what is the future vision of the landscape that is beginning to emerge through the collective process that they are going through. This can also reduce the tendency towards top-down gestures in this kind of work."

John Stubley, narrative designer for awareness-based systems change

Landscape story: shaping a landscape vision

A powerful artwork is being used to inspire a vision for the future of the Kabirdham landscape in central India. The landscape covers more than 200,000 hectares from the forested hills in the west, home to Gond and Baiga tribal communities, to the plains in the southeast, where farmers grow mostly paddy rice and sugarcane. Usually, their smallholdings are no bigger than 2 hectares each. Kabirdham’s ecological resilience and community prosperity are under pressure due to a rapidly growing population, overgrazing, forest degradation, soil depletion, water scarcity, and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns. In 2019, Commonland teamed up with the local government, communities, and a diverse group of organisations to implement the 4 Returns framework with a view to improving community well-being, nature conservation and sustainable economic development.

A scoping study of the hills of Kabirdham district described the degradation of the forest and agricultural land and a local artist designed a large artwork depicting the 4 losses and 4 returns in the landscape. This visualisation provides inspiration for visioning and helps the communities’ mobilisers and members to spark conversations about looking ahead and finding restoration options. The questions that arise include: how to move from degradation to regeneration, and how to turn 4 losses into 4 returns at village and landscape level? Each village has a copy of the artwork, measuring 3.5 x 2 metres. On seeing it, some people start dreaming, others start thinking of practical solutions.

Formulating a landscape vision

A future vision is a description of what you think the landscape should look like at a certain point in time. It is not a description of how you think we should get there. We make a distinction between ‘vision’, which is about why, and ‘approach’, which is about how and what. Simon Sinek’s golden circle theory illustrates the importance of differentiating the ‘why’, ‘how’, and ‘what’. For a visionary future state, we usually consider a 20-year period from the present day, in line with the 4 Returns framework. It’s important to note that this is about the desired future state, rather than a predicted one.

A vision needs to be clear, concise, easy to communicate, appealing, and flexible enough for each partner and stakeholder to run with it in their own way. It is less about what the landscape should look like and more about what qualities it should embody. For example, biodiversity, self-determination, and joy in the community are all values you may want to embody in the landscape, and that partners are motivated to promote together. But to be authentic, they must feel true to all the partners involved. The values are not fixed; they might alter over time as knowledge and understanding develop.

Creating a vision statement

The process of formulating a vision statement usually requires repetition of some steps and can be time-consuming, especially when multiple parties are involved. At the outset, all the stakeholders may already have ideas for a vision of the landscape.

To gather more data and interesting perspectives on the landscape, it is helpful to build on element 2, defining the 3 zones (see chapter, Defining the landscape) and doing the landscape and stakeholder analysis (see chapter, Understanding the landscape). The landscape and stakeholder analysis highlights the landscape’s strengths and challenges. Understanding the 3 zones will help you get a balance between the zones and to comprehend fully the potential of a restored landscape. Based on your shared values and understanding of what kinds of futures may be possible, it should be possible to agree which of those futures is preferable. As a next step, a shared vision statement can be developed during a series of meetings or workshops.

One or more people should be appointed to harvest the output of any meetings or workshops and together compose a proposal for a shared vision statement. Allow some months to refine and discuss this proposal. People need time to digest matters of complexity and depth. A landscape vision must remain flexible as new information becomes available; even when you have settled on a vision statement, it may need changing again after a few years.

An example of a vision statement is the manifesto that was co-created and co-written by stakeholder groups at a workshop in the Waterford landscape in Ireland. Will Buckingham, co-director of Wind & Bones, introduced the role of manifestos in history and emphasised the energy and passion they give to readers, adding:

“A manifesto is not a policy document. It is something much more unruly. Manifestos are designed to shake us up, to get us thinking, and to change not just our minds but also our hearts. They are not the summation of how far we have come. Instead, they are the starting points for change. They wake us from complacency. And they help usher in futures we can’t yet imagine.”

A different example of a visioning workshop is the one that took place in the Altiplano, Spain, in 2014. A diverse group of representatives – including farmers, conversationists and government ministers – came together and dreamed about creating a landscape restoration initiative in the Altiplano. They used Theory U to envision the Altiplano in 2034. The diagram that they produced together (below), shows that the initiative set out to act as a lighthouse for other Mediterranean landscapes. A couple of months after that workshop, AlVelAl was founded. Since then, AlVelAl has been building awareness to grow a movement of restoring the Altiplano. Members developed La Almendrehesa as an integrated farming concept and a 4 returns company bearing the same name was launched in 2016 to market regenerative produce. In 2017, the AlVelAl territory was registered. Restoration activities continue to go from strength to strength in the Altiplano. Read more about it on the 4 Returns platform [here]. Find out about Theory U in the chapter, Creating spaces of belonging.

A letter from the future exercise

Another way to explore potential futures for your landscape is to conduct a letter from the future exercise, which is rooted in solution-focused coaching. This hands-on tool helps develop a shared vision and foster collaboration and individual reflection. It guides participants through envisioning their future selves in relation to the landscape and articulates the steps needed to reach those goals. It aims to tap into the solutions you already have, even if subconsciously, for the challenges you face. By delving into personal and shared visions, participants gain insights into their motivations and values, contributing to a deeper understanding of the group’s collective vision. This exercise encourages active participation and sparks meaningful conversations about the path forward. Find guidance on this exercise at the 4 Returns platform.

Envisioning the future with the 3 zones

A 3 zones exercise could also help in envisioning the landscape’s future (see chapter, defining the landscape. Although the exercise focuses mainly on the current spatial configuration of the 3 zones in your landscape, it can also be used to envision them in five, ten or 20 years from now. Looking at the maps where the current positions of the 3 zones are drawn, start thinking about the future. How would the 3 zones ideally be characterised and located 20 years from now? What returns would be provided ideally in 20 years in each zone? Which key interventions or changes would this require? Find guidance on the 3 zones exercise. 

This approach was used to envision the future at the Kabirdham landscape in central India (see Landscape story: shaping a landscape vision). Using the 4 Returns framework and 3 zones exercise, stakeholders created a map revealing a strategic overview of the landscape across two decades that incorporates villages, land use, and protected regions. The initial state (year one) of the landscape is depicted on the left side of the map (below). The right side is a blueprint for potential development, envisioning a balance between economic growth and environmental stewardship in year 20.

Validated by a coalition of civil society organisations, the map is a testament to collaborative planning at a landscape scale. It is a living document, designed to evolve with ongoing contributions from stakeholders, ensuring that the vision for the landscape adapts to the insights and inputs of those investing in its future.

Communicating the landscape vision

When everyone is on board with the vision statement, it’s time to start spreading the word. A robust vision statement is a powerful tool for attracting more support and engagement. But before you communicate, it’s important to consider how you’ll express your own role within that vision. When organisations and coalitions communicate a vision clearly, there’s a risk that people perceive it as a commitment rather than an aspiration. A promise rather than a dream. You must stress that bringing the vision to life requires collective effort. The creation of the vision is only the beginning of a challenging journey. It’s a call to action, not an advertisement.

Landscape story: towards a landscape vision  

The Rufiji Delta in Tanzania is a biodiverse ecosystem vital for local communities and the environment. However, it faces threats such as infrastructure development, destruction of riverside vegetation and climate change. Wetlands International, Kibiti District Council, and the Rufiji Basin Water Board started a stakeholder alignment process to tackle these challenges.

Using the 4 Returns and consensus-building approaches, stakeholders from various sectors collaborated to address conflicting interests and co-create a vision for the landscape. A series of participatory workshops aided constructive dialogue and negotiation and resulted in a visual representation of the output (see below). Diverse voices – from rice farmers advocating for sustainable practices to indigenous Maasai communities championing responsible grazing – contributed to the dialogue, emphasising shared interests in holistic landscape management.

Moving forward, continued stakeholder engagement and inclusive governance will be vital. The outcomes inform a comprehensive landscape proposition, integrating the 3 zones for achieving 4 Returns within the landscape. A longer-term ambition is to create a shared 4 Returns landscape plan. Stakeholders also agreed to set up a platform for ongoing collaboration, ensuring proactive management and addressing challenges that emerge. Anchored in the 4 Returns framework and guided by mutual gains consensus-building, stakeholders have laid the foundation for sustainable landscape management. Ongoing dialogue and inclusive decision making will be key to realising a shared vision for the Rufiji Delta landscape.

What’s next?

We have laid the groundwork for a shared landscape vision and explored strategies for uniting stakeholders behind a common purpose, with insights from experiences in the Rufiji Delta, Tanzania, and Kabirdham, India. The next chapter will guide you towards action, with a landscape proposition and landscape plan.

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