Policy influencing

Policymaking underpins our ability to protect and restore the Earth. Collaboration with policymakers can drive forward integrated, multi-level policy frameworks that support holistic landscape restoration and create more climate-resilient societies.

In this chapter

  • Many policies and trade agreements favour the conditions that lead to land degradation, the loss of biodiversity, social and economic inequalities, and the exploitation of natural resources to maximise profits per hectare.
  • Fortunately, anyone who is actively influencing a policy or decision-making process has the potential to influence policy outcomes. Landscape partnerships with a diverse base of members are well-positioned to influence policy.
  • This chapter illustrates some of the approaches and actions you can take to influence policy as part of a subnational, national, regional, or international network.

What policy does for people

We all use formal and informal rules to organise ourselves in communities and as societies. All of us are affected by policy to the extent that these rules regulate behaviour and affect many areas of life. For example, rules in the form of legislation define what constitutes a crime, who can inherit land and how communities can use natural resources.

Many policies and trade agreements favour the conditions that lead to land degradation, the loss of biodiversity, social and economic inequalities, and the exploitation of natural resources to maximise profits per hectare.

What is policy influence?

In this chapter, ‘policy’ refers to public policies – laws, regulations, plans, processes, and actions that are undertaken to achieve relevant policy goals – whether supranational, federal, state, or local. The private sector and other organisations also use policy and decision-making, but these will not be our focus. We refer to policy influence as a deliberate effort to bring change to public policy decisions and processes based on a particular agenda.

In democratic societies, people can influence policy as they interact with policy decision-making processes. This could be by responding to consultations, joining protests, voting, or writing to political representatives. Non-governmental organisations, networks and associations can play a significant role in policy influence when they make it part of their mission or goal.

Public policy has an impact on land and water management, and on how people access natural resources and interact with nature. These policies may be decided at various levels of government in different countries depending on the extent of decentralisation. While not all government administrations create or amend the policy, governments at all scales oversee policy implementation and are, therefore, important policy actors. National and supranational governments might also provide the funding, tax relief and legislation to support land restoration and regenerative agriculture.

Governments can create an enabling or disabling environment for holistic landscape restoration. For example, supportive policies may focus on providing clear and secure rights to, and tenure of, land and natural resources. More broadly, enabling policies also address governance structures and processes of decision-making that shape power relations and interactions between different stakeholders. Policies that ensure inter-institutional coordination and inclusive decision-making are important because these will facilitate locally led initiatives. Of particular importance for holistic landscape restoration are policies that support integrated and systemic landscape approaches, such as the 4 Returns.

Who can influence policy?

Anyone who is actively influencing a policy or decision-making process has the potential to influence policy outcomes. Given the amount of work and variety of skills that policy influencing takes, landscape partnerships with a diverse base of members are well-positioned to influence policy. Their direct experience, knowledge, and ability to produce evidence endow them with credibility and legitimacy.

Approaches to policy influence

Policy influence requires clarity on what it is that you want to achieve and the most suitable approach to pursue it. It can take many forms and be applied not only to legislation but also to non-legislative elements such as regulation (for example, setting standards), budgetary and resource allocation (for example, subsidies), and decisions about representation in decision-making (for example, consulting specific groups in the process of policymaking).

Policy influence strategies vary depending on the types of policy instruments we seek to target. For example, we can attempt to decrease the costs of transitioning to regenerative agriculture by targeting economic instruments, such as subsidies that set the incentive for land use. OECD’s table of policy instruments (below) shows examples that address climate change and ecosystem degradation in the agriculture and forestry sectors.

Policy influence can be sought through formal and informal channels. Engaging with formal channels may include responding to consultation processes, formally submitting to committees, or providing advisory services. Informal channels can involve events or discussions and include protests or activism.

How to influence policy

Influencing public policy takes time and commitment. There are no assurances that your efforts will lead to policy change or that any changes will be those expected. This should not discourage you because governments must be made aware of the issues people are facing. If successful, policy influence can be one of the most effective ways to create vast change, at a scale that is far greater than any intervention on the ground.

There are many existing guidelines and resources on how to go about policy influencing in general rather than specifically about landscape restoration. Regardless of whether you work at local, national, or supranational levels, there are four widely accepted strategies that, if used consistently, will increase the likelihood of policy-influencing success.

  1. Develop deep knowledge about the policy subsystems.

Such as those related to relevant issues (for example, climate, environment, agriculture), the macro-political system that shapes decisions in policy subsystems (rules of the game) – and the processes that lead to change (for example, events, negotiations).

There are excellent reports that can help you understand issues better at the global level, for example, the UNCCD’s Global land outlook. At regional and national levels, for example, the UNCCD holds 197 country profiles that include national programmes and plans.

  1. Build networks and interact with policy actors.

Being part of formal or informal networks provides opportunities for learning, resource exchange and collaboration. It is vital for creating consensus. Working with others with similar goals can improve access to other actors, reduce costs and build a stronger case for policy change. This requires identifying the right people and collectives to engage with, whether lawmakers, policy or scientific experts, or politicians. It involves work at multiple levels – on the ground, with partner organisations, with decision-makers and regional or national governments. Usually, larger organisations and networks engage in this kind of activity as part of a policy advocacy strategy, which is why we recommend being part of a network. Your experience can contribute to building momentum for change.

A good example is the IPBES stakeholder network Onet and IIBES set up for Indigenous peoples. These networks offer access to knowledge and discussions affecting stakeholder groups and entry points to influencing processes (for example, reviewing IPBES assessment drafts).

  1. Participate for extended periods.

Developing deep knowledge and building networks takes time. In addition, policy processes can take years. When the goal is to create new policy or policy reform, reaching adoption is not the end as policy implementation will need to be put into operation.

  1. Use evidence.

Well-designed policymaking requires sound evidence. Scientific research, both quantitative and qualitative, is critical to understanding problems, informing solutions, and evaluating policy responses. Collecting relevant scientific data in the field can be done directly by researchers or in collaboration with them and can involve the local community, for example when using citizen science, see box below.

In addition to modern science, indigenous and traditional knowledge is recognised and used to inform policy platforms. For example, IPBES, set up to promote the science-policy interface for biodiversity and ecosystem services and to protect the sustainable use of biodiversity and safeguard human well-being, systematically relies on indigenous and traditional knowledge for reviewing and contributing to its reports. One example is the 2023 report on alien invasive species. There are multiple ways in which Indigenous peoples and local communities can participate. Learn more here.

Citizen science involves any activity that engages the public in scientific research. It has the potential to bring together science, policymakers, and society in an impactful way. Citizen science is a collaborative approach that can help foster environmental awareness, a sense of environmental stewardship and project ownership. It can produce robust and locally relevant evidence by involving ordinary people in data collection and analysis. This evidence can be instrumental in shaping policies and advocating for policy change.

For specific steps and tips about policy change in organisations and communities:

Credibility as a policy actor

To attract policy actors’ attention, they must understand who you are and whether you are a reliable voice in your field. You build credibility in multiple ways.

Understanding: presenting a proper policy analysis. This means identifying how relevant policies impact the landscape. How are you solving local and national policy goals? A lot of this has to do with language and experience in the field. That’s why it’s a great idea to link what you do to the 4 Returns – it’s expressly made for this purpose. Learn more about public policy analysis here.

Legitimacy: The work that you do needs to be legitimate. What is your experience that lends credibility to your voice? What is your track record? Case studies that rely on sound impact monitoring are a good way to begin to build legitimacy because they formalise your story in a way that can be tailored to policy priorities.

Vision: having clear ideas about your direction of travel. This will be outlined in your landscape plan and theory of change. Make policymakers aware of your long-term vision and how it feeds into their priorities.

Visibility working with others, getting in the news, and local and national papers, all drive your agenda. Think about where you can tell your story to get other people’s attention. Visibility also includes links to local and expert communities, so on-site conferences and events that attract voluntary participation all help you get seen.

Influencing holistic landscape restoration policy: local, subnational, national, or global scales?

Holistic landscape restoration is shaped by policies from multiple sectors including land use, water, agriculture and fisheries, climate, rural development, spatial planning, social and economic development, trade, energy, and mining that show up across different levels or scales – local, subnational, national and global.

Influencing local or subnational policy can be more flexible, adaptable, and responsive to the unique challenges and opportunities of restoration initiatives than influencing national or global scales. Engaging with local communities, governments, and stakeholders can foster a sense of ownership and commitment to restoration efforts. It allows for the integration of traditional knowledge and practices, which are often vital for successful landscape restoration. Additionally, by demonstrating tangible benefits at the local level – such as improved livelihoods, enhanced biodiversity, and increased resilience to climate change – grassroots efforts can serve as powerful models and catalysts for driving broader policy change at regional and national levels. Being able to present empirical evidence will be extremely important.

Policy influence at the subnational and local levels can offer many advantages. Local policies, rooted in the specific history, needs and realities of a given landscape, can be better understood by local stakeholders. This richer understanding can inform policy-influencing responses more effectively. Policy influence that begins at the local level is also more direct because it can engage policy actors who are closer to the action. Depending on your goals, a strategic blend of local and higher-level policy advocacy is often the most effective approach to advance holistic landscape restoration initiatives.

You can find an example of a powerful local policy initiative in the case study on AlVelAl’s manifest initiative below. To learn more about influencing at the local level read the Toolkit Influencing policy development’ by the University of Kansas.

At the national and subnational scales, policy influence needs to be tailored to national ministerial and subnational administrative arrangements. This involves understanding where and how relevant decisions are being made, bearing in mind that working across ministries, agencies and administrations is most likely necessary.

Although major policies are determined at the national level, they include policy responses to international commitments and treaties. For example, countries committed to implementing the Drought resilience, adaptation and management policy framework  developed by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) need to develop national drought plans aligning with national and subnational policies. Also, countries that ratify the legally binding Paris Agreement will need to ensure that any new national legislation is in line with the international agreement.

At the global scale, several inter-governmental organisations coordinate and motivate national governments to act in favour of biodiversity, reverse land degradation and attenuate climate change. Significant breakthroughs were the 2022 Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework that was adopted at the COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, as a landmark commitment in this area, and the UN-led legally binding marine biodiversity agreement, The High Seas Treaty (June 2023), to protect the ocean, promote equity and fairness, tackle environmental degradation, fight climate change, and prevent biodiversity loss in the high seas.

Other major intergovernmental policy mechanisms and instruments that affect holistic landscape restoration include:

  • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and particularly the Paris Climate Agreement. Read more here.
  • The UNCCD set a land degradation neutrality target.
  • The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), https://www.cbd.int
  • The European Union’s Green Deal is a broad policy package that aims to achieve zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050 and economic growth that is decoupled from resource use while creating a fairer society. To achieve this, it has developed new legislation (for example, climate law) and is developing new legislation in 2024 (for example, nature restoration law), and reforming existing legislation (for example, common agricultural policy reform).

Regardless of the scale you choose to influence, it will be key to understand the multiple policy sectors that affect holistic landscape restoration in your region and to work towards increasing policy coherence. Not doing so jeopardises the integrity of holistic and systemic approaches such as the 4 Returns. For example, focusing on promoting regenerative agriculture enabling policies outside the context of nature restoration and conservation may lead to the loss of protected nature which ultimately affects water and pollinators needed for agriculture. Similarly, focusing on nature restoration without reference to regenerative agriculture leads to fewer biodiversity stepping stones outside protected areas. In preparing to bring policy change, contextualising any return in relation to the other returns is vital for supporting 4 Returns landscapes.

Barriers to holistic landscape restoration

Recent years have seen an increase in both national and international policy attention towards land restoration. However, progress is slow. Only a fifth of land pledged to be restored by 2020 had been brought under restoration by 2019 and countries are off track for meeting restoration targets set for 2030. Barriers standing in the way of landscape restoration include those affecting restoration in general. While it may make for gloomy reading, it can sharpen our understanding and responses while we engage in land restoration work.

  • Finance. Finance is a fundamental barrier to meeting global targets. The quantity available, the accessibility, and the models employed are all inadequate. Subsidies are often unsuited to landscape restoration. The private sector is under-involved and lacks perspective on returns available.
  • Policy and governance. Political priority for restoration is low. Policies are often unsuitable for integrated approaches and there is a lack of enabling policy instruments. Existing policies are inadequately implemented, with restoration policies often shared between siloed departments. In addition, landscape restoration requires governance at the landscape scale which remains mostly unsupported
  • Legal and tenure issues. Difficulty in obtaining legal rights, lack of integrated land use planning, complexity of legal framework, perceived complexity of implementing restoration.
  • Socio-cultural. The interests of different stakeholders can conflict. A lack of understanding and collaboration across different components of restoration – such as ecology, social sciences, engineering – contributes to a lack of collaboration. Knowledge is exchanged ineffectively, often because of different languages that exist between disciplines. Societal awareness and engagement are lacking, with less identity and attachment to the landscape.
  • Management, planning and implementation. Evaluation, monitoring and documentation are often lacking. Also, the timing of restoration projects does not correspond to ecological and social timescales. Projects often have unrealistic or unclear project goals; they also have a lack of standards against which progress can be measured.

How you can be an advocate for policy

Policy influence is massively boosted by evidence of positive and negative change. These are ways you can help provide it.

Be proactive in a network in and outside the restoration bubble.

Networks are the ideal funnel for many projects to have their needs represented to policymakers. The network can be a valuable source of advice, funding and influence. Because policy takes so much work, only larger organisations or groups of projects engage in it. Your network may be able to put a policy advisor at your disposal if policy barriers are an issue. The main benefit, however, is feeding developments in your landscape up to the policy level.

These networks related to the field of landscape restoration may be of interest:

  • The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is building a strong, broad-based global movement to build political momentum for restoration initiatives on the ground. Find out how to get involved.
  • 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People is developing the tools, finance and connections needed to accelerate the work of landscape partnerships. Its online events offer the opportunity to meet with like-minded practitioners.
  • Regen10 is a multi-stakeholder collaborative platform aimed at scaling regenerative food systems globally within a decade.
  • The Global Regeneration Co-lab is an online learning and connection space for regeneration changemakers. There are weekly meetings, special events, and projects you can get involved in.
  • The Global Landscape Forum is the world’s largest knowledge-led platform on sustainable landscapes. On its community platform GLFx you can join a local chapter or Community of Practice. It also organises a yearly conference.
  • The 4 Returns community offers many online and offline learning and networking opportunities. A great first step is to publish your landscape story from a 4 Returns perspective with the template provided.

If a network has yet to develop in your region, you can build one from the ground up. Contact other projects – even at the supranational level. Where you have shared needs, such as in policy, it may be possible to hire a policy expert to represent you.

Research financing models

Find ways to mix subsidies with patient (concessional or non-commercial) capital and develop business models that can invite private capital. See the chapter, Landscape finance to get up to speed on what might be available.

Link work with local and international commitments

Get policymakers behind you by showing how your work relates to international policy commitments; whether it’s the UN sustainable development goals, Convention on Biodiversity, or climate accords, make it clear how your work is helping governments meet their agreements. You can do this light touch through communication on your website, or by meeting your local politicians.

Use 4 Returns in your communication

The more of us moving in the same direction, the more powerful we are. Policy actors often can’t see the amount of 4 Returns work occurring because it’s not labelled as such. By using its language as well as its methods, you tie in with a global movement recognised at many different levels. That’s why it’s so important to collaborate and learn from each other and, above all, use the language of 4 Returns so it becomes an automatic association in policy actors’ heads.

Bring community with you

Often people lose motivation for change because they don’t see ways to do it. As part of a landscape partnership, engaging others in the local community is key to your success. You can provide local people with opportunities to volunteer or hold community evenings, so they have a stake in developments in the landscape. Community energy is a massive enabler for all and, cumulatively, it prepares the ground for policy change.

Bring local politicians with you

You can help local politicians be a voice for change by bringing them with you on your journey. You can be a flagship for local social and environmental change – a good news story they want to be seen to get behind. Consider both local and national politicians who may alert you to avenues for subsidy and connect you with local players who can support your change in the landscape. 

Carry out robust monitoring, evaluation, and learning

MEL (see chapter, Monitoring the 4 Returns) is vital for the success of your project. Adjusting a few of the indicators you measure could mean you make a greater impact on policy. For guidance, consult established projects in your area or internationally through the 4 Returns community.

Tell your story

Engaging followers with your story through social media or other platforms is a great way to show that what you’re doing has priority in public consciousness. As we say in the storytelling chapter, this means sharing your challenges as well as your successes; describe what has worked and hasn’t worked and talk about people as well as issues. Use 4 Returns in telling your story, see the chapter, Storytelling.

Volunteer for studies

Landscape restoration is a hot topic. University researchers are often on the lookout for case studies that allow them to study social, environmental, and business change in motion. Being involved in a study can also provide you with insights into your own impact. The researchers may also be able to put you in touch with other similar projects that can support you by sharing their own experiences.

Reach out to country focal points

Intergovernmental agreements and platforms assign national focal points that are valuable sources of information. Find out about your country’s focal points:

Learn more

While policy is a broad area, if this is something you are seriously looking at, you can use the following toolkits to shape and sharpen your policy approach.

  • IPBES supports policy tools to promote the development and use of policy instruments in the field of biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services https://www.ipbes.net/policy-tools-methodologies
  • The Community Organising Toolkit on Ecosystem Restoration from the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration includes tools, knowledge, and resources to activate communities for restoring ecosystems to productive, and healthy spaces. It includes successful examples of community-organised restoration.
  • Policies that support Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) by IUCN describes a range of FLR-supportive policies, complemented by case studies of countries where they have had a positive impact.
  • The knowledge hub of the Global Landscapes Forum is a large database of resources on sustainable landscapes. This is a useful place to find the resources and evidence to help make your policy case stronger.

Landscape story: a policy influencing journey

In 2018, AlvelAl hoped to mobilise both Spanish autonomic and central governments with a view to creating a standard and certification for regenerative agriculture. The idea was that a national certification would improve the recognition and value of regenerative practices and products. With contacts in the Andalucian government and central government, AlvelAl was able to arrange meetings with technical experts and officials at the Ministry of Agriculture. However, several events halted progress. Shortly after the initial meetings came the Covid pandemic, followed by elections and new government departments with new directors and officials. AlvelAl reconsidered its approach to influencing policy. It concluded that it had been overly ambitious in targeting the central government and that it should retrace its steps to build relationships from the bottom up.

A new plan emerged to write a public declaration, or manifest, that could influence local councils in the landscape. Town and village councils represent people and their interests, so are important players. The new ambition became to approach all landscape town and village councils to ask they become signatories of the manifest. Doing this requires no economic or political commitment. The document was drafted by 60 people at a workshop in 2022. Intentions listed in the manifest are uncontroversial and resonate with councillors and mayors.

Even so, engaging councils is a process that takes time – 89 municipalities are represented by 79 municipal administrations representing about 200,000 people. So far, 12 municipal administrations have been involved and three have become signatories of the manifest. AlvelAl’s approach has been to focus on the larger towns first to capture the biggest representation of the population. Although there is plenty of work ahead, there are visible positive outcomes. For example, the council of Benamaurel has created a regenerative agriculture training plan for farmers.

From a political standpoint, having a document signed by representatives of 200,000 people is likely to open doors at regional and national government levels. AlVelAl will be in a stronger political position. The manifest should also add weight to finding additional financial resources for regenerating the landscape. It will serve to mobilise people across the large AlVelAl territory. By creating and supporting several groups of motivated people across the territory in a coordinated way, more regenerative and restorative actions can be implemented, more minds awakened, and hearts inspired.

Find here The Manifesto for a Regenerative Landscape and here a video about it.

Landscape story: new Marine Protected Areas in the Balearic Islands.

Save the Med Foundation is a grassroots organisation, based in Mallorca, Spain, that works to enable the recovery of the rich biodiversity of the Mediterranean Sea. From a traditional marine conservation organisation that focused on marine protection and plastic pollution, it evolved to embrace a wider marine regeneration approach. Their policy-influencing work led to fundamental achievements as the Foundation played a key role in designing and implementing new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Balearic Islands.

Over 10 years ago, a highly experienced and professional team of scientists asked to collaborate with the NGO. The group had worked together and had a clear vision for a network of marine protected areas. Some held jobs in the public administration related to marine protected areas. Together they designed the dossier for a marine protection area for Sa Dragonera. The NGO provided an organisational platform from which to advocate, and the already existing local group of scientists provided a clear agenda. Collaboration, trust, and respect were built within the group. They consider this an essential ingredient that brought them to where they are today. Ultimately, policy influence is about personal relationships

This policy influencing work emerged organically when the group of scientists and the head technician of fisheries (local government) asked to collaborate on the development of a dossier for the local government’s marine protection strategy. The dossier addressed the need to integrate external and coastal waters (under central and autonomous government). It was unpaid work that took over two and a half years. With the support of the local government, the dossier was presented to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Historically, marine protection frameworks in Spain have served the interest of the fishery industry rather than the environment. Marine protection areas were designed to promote the recovery of fish stocks and their habitats on which the local economy relies. In Spain, sea waters are governed by the autonomous communities with coastline (decentralised administration) and the Spanish central government. Most areas have both mainland government input and local government influence. For grassroots organisations, it means working with both governments and engaging with mostly the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, more recently with the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge.

Having direct access to the local government fast-tracked the process and gave the group direct insight into policy processes. Understanding that the local government had no resources for designing the dossier, the group provided an important service. The local government not only accepted the dossier but encouraged the group to engage with the central government to consider including external waters in the mapping of the MPA This was achieved. In 2016 internal or local government-managed waters were declared a marine protected area and in 2020 external waters managed by central government were included.

Read more about the organisation here.

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