On 13 and 22 October the ARUA Centre of Excellence in Climate & Development as part of a ARUA-UKRI Partnership and Network (SPaN) project hosted a two day event centered on the Special Issue on “Collaboration and Multi-Stakeholder Engagement in Landscape Governance and Management in Africa: Lessons from Practice”, published in the Land I in 2020.

The severity of interconnected socio-economic and environmental impacts on landscapes and people across Africa are exacerbating as a result of land degradation, conflict, poor governance, competition for land, inequality and climate change. In pursuing pathways towards a more resilient future, collaborative and multi-stakeholder governance and management of landscapes have been promoted by government agencies, NGOs and conservation organisations as a possible solution. However, there is no single way to achieve effective collaboration, and different landscape projects have experimented with different entry points and engagement processes.

The Special Issue presents a global systematic review of the incorporation of indigenous knowledge in landscape approaches, and case study research from five African countries (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Kenya, and Madagascar), written by 56 authors from 29 organisations (including universities, research institutes, non-governmental and international organisations, and the private sector). Drawing on presentations of three selected papers, the aim of this webinar was to describe and collate key lessons from practice for supporting more resilient and equitable landscapes.

Participants were asked to provide 1-3 words that personally described “collaboration in the landscape” which were then used to create a striking Mentimeter word cloud reflecting feeling about collaboration.

Reflections from the webinar

The webinar commenced with short presentations of three case studies from the special issue. Each of the presenters highlighted the key lessons for collaboration from their work. Jessica Cockburn used the fitting analogy of ‘thinking like a gardener’ to underscore what is needed to nurture relationships and collaboration, how this needs to be rooted in history and grounded in local context, and the importance of connecting through building common knowledge (see below). Other important lessons from the other speakers included clarity about goals and expectations, engaging the private sector, connecting to policy processes, being explicit about interests and values, understanding the dynamics within the collaboration network, ensuring transparency, and thinking carefully about establishing new arrangements for engagement versus building on existing institutions, processes, and forums.

Breakaway sessions focused on adding to these lessons drawing on participants’ own experiences. This was followed by some initial conversations regarding what might be included in a short course. The discussions were rich and insightful, and impossible to summarise here. But here are a few gems!

We have to adapt to each landscape.

Two areas that are very important – being present and embedded in the landscape, having a common or community crafted agenda.

Communication, listening and being open and honest is essential.

Funding of less than 10 years provides limited impacts.

Agency in government is also important and we need to be aware of overlapping mandates.

Nicola Favretto, one of the organisers had this to say: “Engaging with some of the authors of the Special Issue during their presentations and having the chance to exchange ideas among all the participants was inspiring… what strikes me, is that what made this webinar a ‘success’ are similar factors to the ones identified in ‘successful collaboration in a landscape’: sharing, listening, learning together, relationships, togetherness, and people”.

Hosting a follow up workshop

Recognising that the complex socio-economic and environmental challenges faced across African landscapes require the integration of several types of knowledge, which can only be achieved through effective engagement amongst multiple stakeholders, there is a need for landscape researchers and practitioners to achieve new levels of engagement with stakeholders. Stakeholders need to be empowered to co-identify and take actions to support more resilient and equitable landscapes. The follow up workshop therefore aimed to identify knowledge gaps and priority needs for the development of a short course that builds the capacity for facilitating effective stakeholder engagement and knowledge co-production.

Reflections from the workshop

The need for capacity building and training on collaboration in landscape approaches was strongly supported by all participants – particularly the importance of learning from practice and developing the essential soft skills needed to do this type of relational work. The importance of drawing on an understanding from psychology was emphasised as critical to understanding different value systems, personalities, and world views, as was the need for self-reflection on this. This theoretical background is seldom given priority in stakeholder engagement training.

When you look practically at it everything boils down to values – we all take decision based on our values and world view.

Also, what emerged strongly was the need for a balance between theory, soft skills and practical tools and methods, with learning from practice and from practitioners’ own experiences being critical. The course needs to include stories of what has worked but also what hasn’t. It is essential to not just learn from success but also failure.

Makes sense to have a little bit of academic understanding and then go into the practical”.

This workshop made clear that there is a strong interest in, and need for, a course that enables participants to map, analyse and engage multiple landscape actors. There is a lot that we can learn from each other, and both parties – teachers and learners – have valuable experiences that can be brought to the table. I’d love to see all these fruitful discussions being channelled into the full development of the course,” said Nicola Favretto.

Sheona Shackleton adds, “through this workshop I believe we have set up the process to co-develop at short course that meets a range of needs and that builds on extensive existing experience and wisdom. I really do hope we can go forward on this together as a group of researchers and practitioners working in landscapes in Africa to design something that is fitting to our contexts and progresses us towards more resilient landscapes.

Our next steps will be to consolidate the discussions from the workshop and start developing an outline for a short course. We would like to do this in partnership with you and so will keep everyone who signed up in the loop. Also, if you did not manage to attend the two sessions, please do contact us or visit our website for more details.

Click here to read the Land Special Issue book

Read more about the CRAL project


By: Dr Michelle Blanckenberg