September 13, 2013

Drawing, Role-Playing, and 3D Maps

The Landscapes Blog often explores research and technical experience on integrated landscapes, but sometimes accounting for different components and interactions within a landscapes really requires some visualization and participation by community stakeholders. A recent blog post shared a story of using role-playing games in conservation and development planning in Laos. This brought in the 10 key principles of a landscape approach articulated in a recent journal article, and about which co-author Louise Buck (EcoAgriculture Partners) wrote previouslyThe excerpt below is part of the story – Drawing, role-playing and 3D maps: How a landscape approach can work on the ground– originally posted to the Global Landscapes Forum blog. 

Jean-Christophe Castella often asks Laotian villagers to play the role of developers, conservationists, investors, or farmers as they huddle around a table-top virtual village elegantly crafted from plaster bandage strips and cardboard.

Villagers move bits of string back and forth, negotiating where to clear forests to expand farmland, or where a proposed road would best traverse the landscape. Sometimes a foreign investor, played by Castella steps in and makes a generous offer for a land concession – which is not easy to refuse, the villagers admit.

The game is based on a “landscape approach” designed to balance competing demands for food, income, biodiversity and ecosystem services (such as clean water and carbon sequestration) to integrate development and conservation needs.

It’s not a new concept, but it is one that is gaining attention as experts call for a holistic approach to rural development to better balance resource extraction with conservation, food security and improved local livelihoods. The approach will be the subject of international attention when more than 1,000 people gather to attend the inaugural Global Landscapes Forum on the sidelines of November’s U.N. Climate Change conference in Warsaw.

Scientists have recently proposed a 10-point ‘code of practice’ for managing landscapes, to help policymakers, NGOs, and practitioners working in conservation and development across the world to develop and improve land-use planning policies.

“If you are managing a protected area and are asked to address issues in other parts of the landscape, it is fairly daunting, especially if you are struggling to focus on your own areas of responsibility,” says Terry Sunderland, a principal scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research and co-author of the paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“People do not live in sectors or in departments, they live holistically. It is important that we collectively visualize how a landscape will look, for whom it needs to work and how it needs to function.”

For his part, Castella, a scientist with the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, and his team have been trekking around rural villages in Laos since 2010 with a role-playing game in tow. They call it “PLUP Fiction” (PLUP stands for participatory land use planning) and by acting out different roles on a scale 3D map of their land area, villagers learn how different parts of the landscape function together, and how best to manage them the future.

Like Castella, other conservation and development practitioners are recognizing that they need to manage beyond their own protected areas, community concessions or logging areas.

“We are already seeing conservation organizations reaching out to development partners and vice versa,” Sunderland says. “The challenge is, of course, getting everyone to agree on a shared vision, and then setting out a program of work that reflects that.”

The 10 guiding principles in PNAS, described in an earlier post, are not intended as a checklist, Sunderland says, but as a framework to help practitioners and policy makers adopt a landscape approach.

Take an open-minded view of outcomes
Working at the landscape level inherently changes how practitioners should assess the outcomes of their interventions, Sunderland says.

“There can never be a single “best” outcome for a landscape – interventions are always a process of constant negotiation and straightforward concepts of success or failure become ambiguous when someone’s gain is someone else’s loss.”

Donors and NGOs often focus on the delivery of planned project outputs, he says, such as ‘how many hunters were apprehended’.

“Instead, we need to push for a more open minded view of outcomes such as ‘how well are sustainable hunting methods adopted by local communities’.”

Changing the way institutions have been operating for many hundreds of years will be a challenge, the authors of PNAS paper acknowledge, but, Sunderland says, it is time that policy makers consider a much longer-scale perspective and period of investment in these landscapes.

Changes are already afoot in Laos, Castella says.

“Huge investment in development is bringing both opportunities and challenges to many villages. The landscape approach can really empower local people to design their future.”

Read the full post on the Global Landscapes Forum blog.

Image credit:  Agni Klintuni Boedhihartono (IUCN)
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