The story

Even though we didn’t talk directly about governance in the last Mountain Trail journey, it became clear throughout the sessions that for landscapes to scale, good governance structures need to be in place. Both in and between stakeholders on international, national, regional, and local levels. 

To scale, landscapes need to ensure trust, accountability, fair distribution of resources, and effective participation of all stakeholders, and they need to leave room for innovation to take place. One way to do this is to create strategic, clear, and transparent decision-making processes that are in line with the long-term vision of the stakeholders of the landscape.  

Governance as the foundation for scaling  

In the Mountain Trail sessions on “Scaling the impact of landscape restoration,” we spoke a lot about the ambiguity of the term “scaling”. Scaling can mean a lot of different things, and depending on the meaning, can be measured in various ways. For example, scaling the impact of landscape restoration can mean scaling down the number of hectares used for monoculture and scaling up the number of hectares used for regenerative agriculture. It can also mean scaling down the number (measured in weight) of monocultural yield and scaling up the number (measured in weight) in regenerative agricultural yield. One could also measure scaling in terms of the number of partnerships made, the number of farmers involved in the restoration activities, etc.  

During this Mountain trail, we discussed that often the exact definition of what landscapes mean by scaling is not fully defined yet, nor is the way it can be measured. One of the reasons for this is that deciding to scale something always means deciding not to scale something else and it isn’t always clear how these decisions will be made or who will make them. Hence, to scale the impact (loosely defined here as “scaling positive change“) of landscape restoration clear rules and inclusive and equitable decision-making processes between all stakeholders must be in place.  What clear, inclusive, and equitable decision-making looks like per landscape requires further exploration. 

Tom: “Clear governance is important. It’s not the most glamorous, or gets most attention, but it can really be the tipping point [for scaling]. What is everyone’s role? 

Willemijn: “Paying time and attention to how you organize and set up your team and organization deserves as much attention as the model of scaling you think about or work with.” 

Clear decision-making processes provide structure and clarity of the role stakeholders play in a landscape  

Landscapes are multifaceted by nature. They are made up not only of a diversity of plant or animal species but also of different groups of people, cultural and historical backgrounds, ethnic groups, and expertise. Similarly, the landscapes of AlVelAl, Living Lands, Wij.land, India, and Australia collaborate with local communities, business owners, local NGOs, research institutions, students, or international investors and organizations to restore their landscapes. This complexity can create resilience within the landscape, but it can be difficult to navigate, specifically when it comes to the different roles that stakeholders play in the landscape.  

For example, sometimes it’s not clear if finances, rules, laws, or policies are regulated on a municipality level or a provincial or state level. If a local community has a great idea for a project and would like to get funding, it must be clear who the relevant stakeholders are that can help provide this funding and under what conditions. If these processes are not clear, a beneficial and effective project might never happen. 

Clear decision-making processes are crucial in providing clarity on the roles within a landscape and of each stakeholder and the ways in which they can best participate in the restoration project to achieve a common goal. One tool that is used to achieve common ground in 4 Returns landscapes is the Theory U process. 

Clear decision-making structures provide transparency about power dynamics and ensure equitable decision making 

While inclusivity and diversity might be crucial for a resilient landscape, the reality is that diversity does not always mean equal decision-making abilities. This is especially the case in landscape restoration projects that are based on multi-stakeholder collaborations, including farmers, local people, governmental officials, politicians, etc. However, when clear decision-making processes are in place, power dynamics become transparent and can therefore be managed more easily.   

For example, farmers might be able to decide how they manage their soil, but often they don’t have much decision-making power when it comes to landscape funding or policy changes- on which their work depends. Likewise, NGOs might have the ability to decide what landscape projects they would like to get funding for, but they cannot always decide on the timeframe of these projects or the timeframe of the funding- and long-term funding is a key element in landscape restoration. The problem with unequal power dynamics is not necessarily that they exist, but that people with power can easily make decisions that are in their self-interest and not in the interest of the wider collective or the common goal. Interestingly, abundant research shows that people are more likely to make decisions in line with their cognitive biases when they do not have a clear decision process or strategy in place. However, when clear and strategic decision-making processes exist, power dynamics can become transparent and allow for stakeholders to be kept accountable, and decisions to be made that reflect a common interest. 

Laura: “We need to be clear about expectations and roles to enable trust and patience. This base must be strong. We need clear roles to be aligned and to be strong. “

Clear decision-making processes foster creativity and innovation  

Clear decision-making processes can provide structures, rules, and boundaries in a landscape that is otherwise inherently unstructured and complex. Knowing where one can or cannot go, or what one can or cannot do for a landscape restoration project is crucial when it comes to using the resources or the energy one has in the most efficient way possible. When people know where their power and their limitations are for change, they can organize themselves within their boundaries, start with what is there and find creative solutions to the problems that they face. Allocating energy toward the things one can change can also mean having to let go of those other things one cannot change or cannot influence.  

However, when clear, and transparent strategic decision-making processes are in place that serve the interest of the whole system, it can become much easier to let go of the things one cannot change and allow others in the system to take over some of the control and responsibilities- collaboration is key for scaling.  

Jim: “Scaling is also about letting go, to some degree about losing control of your story. How can one get comfortable with that? When your story is adapted, improved, and taking forwards without you “

What does the governance and decision-making process look like in your landscape?  

In our next Mountain Trail from April-September, we will continue to discuss this issue with landscape partners. Stay tuned for more concrete and valuable lessons about governance in landscape restoration.  

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