The rise and rise of landscape management

A landscape leadership workshop co-organized by EcoAgriculture Partners and TerrAfrica took TerrAfrica’s sustainable land and water management leaders into the field for collaborative learning. Photo by Lee Gross/EcoAgriculture Partners.

By Sara Scherr. Originally published as ‘Leading integrated landscape partnerships‘ by EcoAgriculture Partners.

The rapid rise of interest and action in integrated landscape management in the last few years has exceeded anything I had anticipated.

While the environmental community was earliest to recognize the necessity of coordinating strategies with other sectors, the agribusiness and food sectors are rapidly innovating towards landscape partnerships; farmer organizations are beginning to take leadership; and social development actors are seeing the value of integrated landscape strategies to address issues of resilience, as well as resource access and empowerment of vulnerable groups.

Stretching mental models

In the enthusiasm to rapidly scale action, it is important to remember that landscape partnerships require a special kind of leadership—way beyond (though including) organizational skills or technical skills. Well-designed logframes are not enough, and can even sometimes be a barrier if too strictly followed. Success requires patient commitment to an inclusive process, even while mobilizing the ‘early wins’ that are critical to sustain partnerships. Landscape transformation is a generational goal, requiring development of long-term trust, investment and support from sectoral institutions for shared multi-sector goals.

For successful collaborative effort, all stakeholders need to stretch their ‘mental models’ beyond their sectoral experience and disciplinary training, to recognize other perspectives and values and incorporate those creatively into new ways of managing the landscape so that diverse objectives are met beyond their individual priority objective. Strong landscape leaders help stakeholders focus on achieving their ultimate objectives rather than push for a particular type of (typically sectoral) intervention.

Key skills

This challenge has profound implications for landscape leadership. There are two core leadership capacities required by these landscape initiatives, usually by a group of leaders from different stakeholder groups who are all committed to the landscape process. The first are critical soft skills: building relationships, managing power dynamics, negotiation, communications, and building and sustaining a common vision. Because the partners in landscape initiatives rarely have ‘control’ over one another, in the way government or corporate hierarchies work, leaders must be prepared to discover and address underlying resentments and hidden agendas so they can find solutions that will be accepted voluntarily.

Secondly, the leaders need a view of the landscape system as a whole, with an understanding of the interactions between different land uses and land users across the landscape and over time. They must be able to help individual stakeholders see where they are positioned within this landscape system, so they can pursue relevant innovations that ‘fit’ landscape goals.

Leadership can be taught

The most successful landscape leaders demonstrate these capacities. But they have rarely received formal training to deepen their skills in these two areas, nor do they have access to ongoing advisory input to discuss the kinds of knotty problems that always arise.  If we want to develop landscape partnerships widely, many of the technical skills and tools required can eventually be taught on-line or through specialized courses. But these two core capacities cannot be learned online; they need face-to-face and individualized input. So how can this be done?

EcoAgriculture Partners has developed leadership workshops that share these skills, and that draw upon the great experience and wisdom participants themselves have, to share with one another. Other tools greatly valued by landscape leaders include learning networks with other leaders, face-to-face meetings, cross-visits to one another’s landscapes, interactive webinars, and learning dialogues.

These are most effective when they involve leaders from diverse stakeholder groups, including local farmers and land managers, so they model the coordination and communication challenges actually faced in the field and provide a well-facilitated ‘safe space’ for raising tough questions. Leaders especially value follow-up activities in the landscape where they can apply new strategies and tools, and get feedback along the way from experienced resource persons, including fellow landscape leaders.

I encourage governments, donors, businesses and large NGOs who are now promoting integrated landscape management to support this leadership model, and begin investing systematically to develop and support landscape leaders.