The AlVelAl team in a landscape planning meeting, Spain. Photography: Commonland.

From vision to action with a landscape proposition and plan

In this chapter

  • A landscape proposition can offer clear guidance to mobilise resources and stakeholders towards creating a 4 Returns landscape plan.
  • The 4 Returns landscape plan is your strategy for at least 20+ Years. Its development should be based on a stakeholder-driven process, ensuring collaborative engagement with key partners.

Planning for the future

Now that you’ve developed a good understanding of the landscape and its players, and formulated a vision for the next 20+ Years, it’s time to put your plans into action and turn your vision into reality. Who should be involved, what steps are needed, and how will you deal with the uncertainty that comes with long-term planning? The road ahead might feel overwhelming and is likely to present some surprises as more stakeholders join you and other information emerges.

You are navigating uncharted territory, so you need to stay flexible and adjust your plans along the way. Some ideas won’t work out as planned and you’ll need to tweak your strategy accordingly. But others will be successful, and you might want to expand them. There are often multiple pathways to consider taking to reach your goals. Take one step at a time, setting out rough high-level milestones for the long run, but only planning in detail for the near future. It is wise to build a habit of monitoring and evaluating regularly, adjusting as needed, and learning as you go.

"Vision without action is daydreaming. Action without vision is merely passing time. Only when vision and action are combined can we change the world."

Nelson Mandela

A lot of innovation, experimentation, and learning will have to take place. One thing we know for certain: despite our best efforts, it will not be an easy, clearcut linear pathway. Multiple roads can lead to Rome. The best way to deal with this unpredictability is to use an adaptive approach to planning, allowing for repetition, and reflecting and adjusting regularly.

This chapter explains the two key documents that will guide your landscape restoration process. A landscape proposition will move you from vision to action in the short term, while a landscape plan supplies a long-term outlook and eases a stakeholder-driven process. You can also use the tools and guidance in the chapter Strategic planning tools.

Creating a landscape proposition

A landscape proposition is an early stage, action-oriented document of the landscape restoration process. It is a concise report developed from activities with landscape partners and key stakeholders, such as partnership building (see Element 1, Landscape partnership), stakeholder alignment, identification of restoration opportunities (see Element 2, Shared understanding), and the co-creation of a landscape vision (see chapter Creating a shared vision for the landscape). It collates essential information on the landscape and restoration goals, and, based on the landscape vision, sets out steps to develop a more detailed landscape plan at a later stage. The proposition is context-specific and can benefit from the processes for strategic planning as described in the chapter Strategic planning tools. The right moment to develop a landscape proposition depends on context; it could be in a first design cycle, or after a few revisions.

The landscape proposition (above) combines earlier assessments and workshops, such as the 5 Elements Scorecard, the 4 Returns diagnosis, the landscape and stakeholder analysis, a carbon quick scan (if applicable), a description of the 3 Zones, and a stakeholder co-created landscape vision. Central to the landscape proposition is the landscape vision which gives a clear objective for the landscape to partners and stakeholders. Both the vision and the proposition may be revised as a wider group of stakeholders become engaged and more information becomes available, but it is important to have a vision to keep clarity of purpose for the landscape and partners. 

In addition to the landscape vision, other essential components include: high-level information on the landscape context, the partnership, and ongoing initiatives; key restoration challenges and opportunities; and a one-to-two-year roadmap that lists the activities and funding needed to develop a landscape plan.

Key uses of the landscape proposition

The landscape proposition includes a roadmap for developing a landscape plan and identifies what funds are needed or available. So, it can be used to: 

  • Communicate restoration ideas to wider stakeholders, investors, and policymakers to create the 4 Returns impact in a landscape
  • Mobilise resources needed for the next development phase — mainly creating a stakeholder-owned landscape plan
  • Inform an agreement between partners on the coordinated actions needed to create a landscape plan
  • Mobilise more stakeholders to support or join the landscape restoration process
  • Suggest short-term actions (one-to-two years) to develop a landscape plan that delivers a broadly shared landscape vision

Important considerations

It’s important to understand what the proposition is, and what it is not. Here are a few important considerations:

  • The proposition is often written from the perspective of a limited number of key landscape partners and more stakeholders are likely to become involved over time.
  • Early actions can be included in the proposition, but activities might need adjusting as more stakeholders join the planning process.
  • Similarly, any emerging vision for the landscape should be broad at this stage so that more inclusive goals can be set later during the multistakeholder process.
  • Funding to develop a landscape proposition also should be flexible to allow for changes as both the vision and proposition become enriched by new stakeholders.
  • The proposition does not replace the landscape plan but is a useful basis for creating one.

With a landscape proposition in hand, you’re ready to prioritise opportunities, align capabilities with goals, and head towards your envisioned future. You have set the groundwork for an understanding of the landscape and how the 4 Returns could work in that landscape. Next, we’ll delve deeper into creating a landscape plan, taking the next steps towards turning your vision into reality. 

How does a proposition feed into a plan?

Remember, a landscape proposition includes a roadmap for developing a landscape plan and identifies what funds are needed and available. So, the proposition precedes but does not take the place of a more detailed plan. A 4 Returns landscape plan is a document that sets out your restoration activities aligned with the landscape vision. It builds on the landscape proposition and defines activities, targets, budget, and finance sources over the long term. It is important to take time developing a landscape plan to ensure that it is co-created and agreed upon with stakeholders, with roles and responsibilities assigned. Developing a 4 Returns landscape plan from scratch can take between one and three years. 

Thinking long term: the landscape plan

A landscape plan is the strategy for at least the next 20 years. Key landscape details must be communicated well to all stakeholders to unite local people, create awareness of governments, and raise funds. Every landscape plan has the same structure following the narrative of the 5 Elements, 4 Returns, 3 Zones, and 20+ Years. This storyline, combined with a bottom-up stakeholder commitment, is important to facilitate exchanges between different landscape partners worldwide and creates the basis for a holistic landscape industry. 

Developing a 4 Returns landscape plan from scratch can take between one and three years. This is because it should be based on an inclusive and thorough co-creative process. The landscape plan process emphasizes the crucial role of collaboratively developed plans that are endorsed by key partners, to truly get on the same course toward a shared vision. 

Key components of a landscape plan include a comprehensive description of the landscape, its partnerships, stakeholders, planned activities, and required landscape financing to support the 4 Returns landscape restoration over a 20-year timeframe. Another important part of a landscape plan is a 4 Returns monitoring plan that includes the generic key performance indicators (KPIs) per return. Typically, the initial version spans around 30 pages, excluding supporting visuals and data. 

The landscape plan is a living document that evolves with changing circumstances and the ambitions of the landscape partnership, remaining flexible while staying focused on the long-term goal of positively impacting all landscape stakeholders. While the landscape plan strives to incorporate the perspectives of a diverse range of stakeholders in a landscape, early versions often reflect the viewpoint of a limited number of landscape organisations for efficiency. However, as more stakeholders join the landscape, the plan evolves. Thus, while it adapts, it remains a dynamic, never fully finalised resource, always evolving to meet the landscape’s needs. This is one of the ways in which the holistic approach to landscape restoration comes to life.

Facilitating effective conversations

Creating an impact on a landscape requires the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders. From a funding perspective, philanthropists, investors, and governments all require a clear understanding of the 4 Returns to engage effectively with your landscape. Therefore, a landscape plan plays an essential role in demonstrating what activities are being undertaken and how they align with funders’ objectives. 

A landscape plan cuts through complex information and enables effective conversations with policymakers, funders, and investors by providing essential details. It serves as a source document for organisations involved in fund mobilisation, marketing and communication, policy influence, and monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL). Acting as a concise summary for external stakeholders, it fosters meaningful dialogues and partnerships, highlighting opportunities for engagement with policymakers, funders, and investors.

Timing the plan

A landscape plan becomes necessary when you want to form relationships with potential external stakeholders. This need may arise from a funder’s request, the development of a new long-term strategy, or a fundraising need. There might be a sense of urgency around creating the plan, but it’s best to start only after you have:

  • A shared understanding of the landscape and its stakeholders
  • A landscape vision based on a collective visioning process
  • A landscape proposition
  • A Theory of Change (see Chapter Strategic Planning)

Each of these steps requires thorough attention. Read the relevant chapters to understand why each step matters and what it entails. 

Getting started

Once the decision to develop a landscape plan is made, you can begin by developing a common understanding of the purpose and scope of the landscape plan, and defining clear roles and responsibilities for its development. 

Start by determining if a landscape plan is necessary and what its intended purpose is. You can then start by meeting those directly involved in the development of the landscape plan. Address the “why”, “what”, “when”, and “who” of developing it. Organise a workshop with landscape partners, contributors, and potentially other relevant stakeholders. Hold an open dialogue on the purpose and added value of a landscape plan, as well as the roles of each contributor. It is important to co-create from the start. Split chapters based on core competencies and available information, and organise ongoing reviews and editing by the landscape partnership and other lead contributors. 

Defining roles

Clearly defined roles are crucial in the development of your landscape plan. When assigning roles, it’s essential to consider the representation of different partners, their availability, and the expertise they bring to the table. 

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

  • Project coordinator. Creates steps and timelines; communicates between contributors; organises and facilitates meetings; manages the feedback process based on the key performance indicators (KPIs) of the monitoring framework
  • Lead contributors. Co-creates, writes, edits, and reviews the landscape plan; typically drawn from the landscape partnership; landscape stakeholders, advisors, or external partners may also join this team
  • Supporting contributors. Reads along and offers opinions; often drawn from landscape partners, external organisations, or members of specific stakeholder groups

Timelines and process

The time taken to complete your landscape plan will vary, primarily because of its intensive multi-stakeholder nature, which demands ongoing efforts to incorporate diverse perspectives. Landscapes in their early stages, for instance, may need to extend the timeline to gather the necessary information. Additionally, other variables influencing the timeframe include the available capacity, financial resources and information, and the contributors’ “buy-in”. 

When considering these variations, you can draft a timeline that provides a rough estimate to guide you. Here’s a timeline for creating a landscape plan broken down into more general stages that might be helpful.

Stage 1: Initial Agreement

  • Agree upon the need for a landscape plan
  • Host a stakeholder-alignment workshop to establish high-level agreement on the vision, roles, responsibilities, and value of the plan

Stage 2: Planning and Preparation

  • Organise a planning workshop to define the purpose, objectives, and division of roles
  • Compile available resources and initial research for gap analysis

Stage 3: Drafting and Review

  • Collect research and gap analysis to identify required resources
  • The first draft of the landscape plan, including documentation
  • Review feedback from all contributors

Stage 4: Refinement and Finalization

  • Develop second draft of the plan with a detailed roadmap and budget
  • Collect second round of reviews and feedback
  • Finalize and circulate the landscape plan to contributors and partners

Stage 5: Defining next steps

  • Meet with landscape partners and contributors to discuss next steps, and guidelines for sharing and updating the landscape plan

Writing phase

Compile resources

More is better when compiling information — it gives you more to work with, even if it means you’ll need to (re)organize it later. Ensure that all co-creators of the landscape plan can access relevant resources through shared databases and drives. The more information you have upfront, the easier it is to draft the plan. For instance, you may have already collected: 

  • Progress reports annual report, or impact reports
  • Landscape assessments, research papers, articles, theses
  • Strategy documents built up during your strategy development process
  • Short, medium, and long-term action plans
  • Monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) data
  • Partnership agreements and other contracts
  • External communications

Guidance on content

The following content should ideally be present in all landscape plans. Please include it so far as it is useful. The uniqueness of your landscape will mean you adapt it to your circumstances.

  1. Landscape partnership and relevant stakeholders

    • An overview (mapping) of local partnerships and other key landscape stakeholders including brief descriptions, roles and responsibilities, and the relationships between them. Use for example input from the Landscape and Stakeholder Analysis, Landscape Proposition, or stakeholder mapping (all described in the chapter Understanding the Landscape).
  1. Landscape description and analysis

    • Assessment of the physical characteristics (geology, hydrology, ecosystems, and biodiversity, such as fauna, flora, etc.)
    • Assessment of the socioeconomic characteristics (demographics, political structure, socio-cultural and political history, trends), and economic characteristics of the landscape (most significant income streams and analysis thereof)
    • Assessment of land degradation issues Significant short and long-term challenges and developments
    • Significant short and long-term opportunities
    • While collecting this content, use information from the landscape and stakeholder analysis or the 4 Returns diagnosis, both described in the chapter Defining the landscape.
  1. Landscape vision 

    • Briefly describe the vision for the landscape developed by the key stakeholders (landowners, landscape partnership, funders, government, etc.).
    • An imagining of the landscape in five, ten, and 20 years (also in relation to the 4 Returns). You can watch this video for inspiration for a five, ten, and a 20-year vision for inspiration for a 5, 10, and a 20-year vision.
    • See chapter Creating a Shared Vision for the Landscape for more information on this type of content.
  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, such as the 4 Returns (and the 4 Losses), the 5 Elements, and the 3 Zones. Introduce the strategy you would use to accomplish your goals.
    • See chapter Strategic planning tools for more information on this type of content.
  1. Achievements to-date

    • Outline what has been accomplished in the landscape so far based on the MEL. This will provide context to the status of activities and experiences to date. Connect this to impact metrics and descriptions where available. 
    • Use input from the landscape and stakeholder analysis or the landscape proposition to guide you (see chapter Understanding the landscape).
  1. Roadmap

    • A five-year, ten-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. See chapter Strategic planning tools for more information.
    • The 4 Returns KPIs (see chapter Monitoring the 4 Returns) help to create landscape-specific or tailor-made KPIs per return, and thus help to monitor progress.
  1. Funding requirements

    • An overview and description of funding needs and an inventory of the required funding. Address the funding required to implement the landscape plan.
    • An overview of investable opportunities in a blended landscape investment portfolio. Learn more about this in the chapter Landscape Finance.

To get started, you can use the Template for a 4 Returns landscape plan.

Updating your landscape plan

As more stakeholders join the landscape, the plan evolves. Therefore, you will need to update your landscape plan over time, ensuring it remains dynamic and responsive to the evolving perspectives of an increasingly diverse range of stakeholders. This ongoing adaptation ensures that the plan remains a living document. You might need to update your landscape plan when:

  • The vision and strategy changes
  • Roadmap and planned activities evolve
  • Funding requirements change
  • A major event must be reviewed
  • You change the monitoring approach

Lessons learned

Commonland and its partners’ experience developing 4 Returns landscape plans 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 amends do not become top-down requests from funders or investors without landscape partners agreeing to their 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 Defining 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 the first version of a landscape plan for the Dutch Peat Meadow landscape. It is a living document which is updated annually to reflect changing challenges, opportunities, and needs in the landscape. If you have any questions or suggestions about the plan, feel free to always reach out to the Wij.land team at contact@Wij.land or the Commonland team at info@commonland.com.


What’s next?

In this chapter on creating a landscape proposition and landscape plan, we explored the power of these two documents in guiding us towards our long-term visions while fostering unity and facilitating information exchange among global landscape partners. Understanding the prerequisites and ongoing evolvement of these plans ensures their effectiveness, while stakeholder-driven processes are crucial for success. With a comprehensive understanding of the landscape, inclusive partnerships, and a long-term landscape plan, we can move forward. The next chapter will offer hands-on approaches to develop targeted strategies for holistic restoration through strategic planning, thereby bridging the gap between vision and action.

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