A Relational Approach to Landscape Stewardship: Towards a New Perspective for Multi-Actor Collaboration
2. A Relational Approach to Landscape Stewardship: What Is It, Why Does It Matter, and What Does It Mean to Take Such an Approach?
2.1. What Is a Relational Approach to Landscape Stewardship?
- Livestock grazing in rangelands: a relational process which includes relationships between the animal and the grass it eats, relationships between the animal and the herder, relationships between the herder and the land, and relationships between the many livestock owners and herders across the landscape who share the rangeland resources.
- Water licensing for catchment management: a relational process which includes relationships between water users (e.g., farmers) and the government officials mandated to issue licences, between the farmers and the water source (e.g., a river or groundwater), between upstream and downstream users along the same river, and between the government officials and the wider institutional context in which they operate.
2.2. Why Take a Relational Approach?
2.2.1. Making the Case for Relational Practices: Practical and Empirical Insights
2.2.2. Making the Case for Relational Ontology and Epistemology: Philosophical Arguments
2.3. What Does It Mean to Take a Relational Approach in Landscape Stewardship and Sustainability Science?
3. Framing and Methods for Case Study Analysis: Analysing Relational Cross-Boundary Work
3.1. Introduction to the Gardening Tools
|Gardening Tool or Concept||Edwards’ Definition [56,58,61]||Our Re-Worked Definition in the Context of Landscape Stewardship|
|Relational Expertise||The capacity to interpret problems with others; joint problem interpretation which can lead to joint response; “know-who”  i.e., knowing how to know who can help.||‘Knowing how’ and ‘knowing who’ together: i.e., Our shared ‘know-how and know-who’: the different landscape actors appreciating and recognising the value of their own and others’ expertise in being able to understand and address the complex problem; they have a shared understanding of who can help and how they can help with the particular problem in focus.|
|Common Knowledge||Using the common knowledge to guide the taking of action with others; a respectful, shared understanding of different professional motives; a resource to mediate responsive collaborations on complex problems; “transfer, translation and transformation of knowledges across differences”  (p. 381), at sites of intersecting practices.||Knowing together landscape actors develop a shared understanding of what matters in their collaboration, by bringing together their different motivations, values, and understandings of the common problem; they appreciate what matters from each of their perspectives and together build an understanding of what matters and is important for the network/collaboration. Main difference between relational expertise and common knowledge: relational expertise is about who knows how to do things, and who knows who can help; common knowledge is new knowledge developed together about the common problem.|
|Relational Agency||A capacity for working with others to strengthen purposeful responses to complex problems: building a collective strategy or action.||Doing together: landscape actors develop strategies, implement new practices, and act together in ways that they could or would not have acted in isolation from one another.|
- Step 1: Preparation of case material in the form of structured case descriptions (see Box 1 and 2).
- Step 2: Familiarisation with and contextualisation of the analytical framework: re-description of the gardening tools for our context of landscape stewardship (see Table 1).
- Step 3: Application of the gardening tools framework to the cases—Round 1: Drafting an initial set of analysis notes and insights for each of the three gardening tools within each case (first by case experts, then by the team as a whole). Guiding question for Step 3: What do we learn when we think about <insert name of gardening tool> in this case?
- Step 4: Application of the gardening tools framework to the cases—Round 2: Refining analysis notes and insights for each of the gardening tools within each case (Table 2).
- Step 5: Application of the gardening tools framework to the cases—Round 3: Stepping back from the details of each case and analysis of the gardening tools separately to look for cross-cutting insights and learnings, and discuss these in light of the literature on relationality (Section 5.1). Guiding question for Step 5: Across the gardening tools framework as a whole, across both cases, and from this experience as a whole, what has struck you as particularly interesting and insightful? What have you learnt about multi-actor collaboration that you had not seen or thought of before?
4. Case Studies: Applying the Gardening Tools to Analyse the Langkloof and Tsitsa Cases
4.1. Overview of Cases
4.1.1. Case 1: The Langkloof Region: Building Capacity and Collaboration for Integrated Landscape Management through Sustainable Honeybush Tea Cultivation
4.1.2. Case 2: The Tsitsa River Catchment: Striving for Sustainable Landscape Management and Rural Livelihoods Development through Integrated Planning
4.2. Key Findings from the Case Analysis Using the Gardening Tools Framework
4.2.1. Case 1: Langkloof Region
4.2.2. Case 2: Tsitsa River Catchment
5. Discussion: Cross-Cutting Insights and a New Perspective for Multi-Actor Collaboration in Landscape Stewardship Initiatives
5.1. Cross-Cutting Insights on Relationality: What the Gardening Tools Reveal about Boudary-Crossing Work for Landscape Stewardship
- History and context matter. Both our cases have highlighted the importance of understanding the influence of history in creating deep differences and shaping relations among landscape actors. The various differences among actors identified in our cases (e.g., race/ethnicity, language, knowledge system) strongly influence knowledge and power asymmetries between actors. We found that the long history of discrimination in South Africa has caused lasting fragmentation of social groups and power imbalances. In the Langkloof case, Living Lands paid careful attention to power and other differences in constituting the working group, e.g., including farm workers, which took some actors by surprise. In the Tsitsa case, attention to local language and cultural practices was seen as critical to slowly and respectfully build relational expertise among actors. In Australia, Duhn et al.  also noted the difficulties in boundary-crossing work in post-colonial contexts where difference and diversity are often sharply in focus. They recommend the active building of a sense of belonging as a ‘red thread’ in the process of generating relational agency, and we come back to this below in the social-relational practices we recommend to support multi-actor collaboration.
- Boundary-crossing work is difficult. Applying the gardening tools in the analysis of our cases has confirmed what we already know about boundary-crossing work for landscape stewardship [17,31]: it is difficult work, and the difficulties are exacerbated by inequalities and power dynamics. Of course, the challenges of boundary-spanning work are also widely acknowledged in landscape and social ecological research [7,28], and in the organizational and educational research from which we have drawn the gardening tools [56,58,71]. However, applying these tools has helpfully revealed where some of the particular challenges lie in landscape stewardship initiatives (e.g., how the deep social divides slow down the development of relational agency, and how building common knowledge is difficult when some forms of knowledge are seen by some actors as superior to other forms). We find that through this analysis, we can appreciate the many boundaries that are formed or that exist in these multi-actor collaborations, which we may not have seen so clearly without the tools.
- Focused pockets of relational work are helpful. Relational expertise, common knowledge and relational agency can develop within pockets and in an uneven or patchy way within a group or landscape (see also Cockburn et al. ); i.e., they often develop more easily among more similar actors as a starting point, or among actors with a clearly shared interest (e.g., honeybush cultivation in the Langkloof, and landscape planning in the Tsitsa). These pockets need to enable frequent interaction and small scale collective actions among actors, which can help to build common knowledge and eventually relational agency .
5.2. Towards New Perspectives for Multi-Actor Collaboration: A Relational Approach Suggests Three Social-Relational Practices
- Belonging while differing. This practice speaks to the contextual challenges we identified above, which relate to differences between stakeholders which are exacerbated by inequalities and power dynamics. Collaboration for landscape stewardship requires people to build a shared sense of identity and belonging, in spite of these differences. In arguing for this practice, we agree with Duhn et al.’s  assertion that a sense of belonging should be the foundation of building relational agency, and with Lejano’s  description of identity as a relational notion of ‘who I am in relation to others’, i.e., the interdependence of actors . Actors engaged in boundary-crossing work for landscape stewardship come into such processes with their own identities , from different backgrounds, and a key practice should be to build a shared sense of belonging, while acknowledging differences. While Edwards acknowledges difference between actors in her work, she says it is often small . In our cases, we have seen inter-actor differences to be large and difficult to overcome. Rather than seeking to overcome the differences, it is important for actors to be able to feel a sense of belonging, despite their differences, particularly in post-colonial societies where difference has often led to marginalization [17,58]. Recognising relational expertise and building common knowledge can be a powerful way of developing this shared identity and understanding of the collaborative work.
- Growing together by interacting regularly and building common knowledge. Based on the experiences in our cases, we have identified the importance of working in small pockets to do relational work. The practice we recommend here speaks to how one might do that work. Actors collaborating for landscape stewardship need to spend time together to get to know each other, to expand their understanding of the object of activity and to learn to act together, i.e., to develop relational agency, and out of that, to work towards building common knowledge. As Duhn et al. put it , actors need to engage in a common experience or process. This requires an explicit practice of regular interactions to grow together as a group with a shared identity and understanding of the complex problem in focus. We have found that this common knowledge is most effectively built through practical actions like trialing cultivation methods in the Langklooof, and making maps in the Tsitsa. However, as pointed out by Edwards and others [56,58], these actions need to be embedded in carefully designed and managed meeting spaces for regular interactions.
- Learning and adapting together with humility and empathy. This third practice can also be a guide to working relationally in focused pockets in order to realise relational agency. The difficulties in collaboration described above indicate opportunities for learning and adaptation—both at the individual and the collective level (see Cockburn et al.  for further discussion on learning at sites of tension and difficulty among diverse actors). The differences between people also call for an empathetic approach in which people try to ‘walk in each other’s shoes’ despite their differences. Paying attention to the affective or emotional dimensions of social-relational processes is critical, as without it we ignore the most basic of human characteristics [24,53]. Thus, while learning-by-doing and adapting together are widely recognized as important social processes and practices in SES research [7,11], and their relevance is apparent in our cases as well, doing so with an attitude of humility and empathy for the other is less frequently recommended. In order to develop relational expertise, those actors whose knowledge is conventionally considered superior (e.g., scientists or consultants) must be able to humble themselves in light of other forms of knowledge helped by more marginalised actors (e.g., local knowledge, experiential knowledge). The necessity of a position of humility by scientists is recognized in complexity approaches to SES research , and should be adopted by scientists engaged in boundary-crossing spaces to enable social learning and the development of common knowledge. Finally, in order to truly ‘see the other’ as is necessary for developing relational expertise, building common knowledge, and activating relational agency, it is necessary for actors to approach one another with empathy, i.e., to imagine walking in the others’ shoes, and to seek to understand their background and perspective .
5.3. Policy Implications
Conflicts of Interest
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Gardening Tools ↓
|Case 1: Langkloof Region||Case 2: Tsitsa River Catchment|
|Relational Expertise||1. Participants in the working group are realizing that to understand the problem of honeybush cultivation fully requires different interpretations of the problem, and members are becoming more aware of who the other experts are, beyond the ‘usual technical suspects’.|
2. Living Lands created important boundary-crossing opportunities for the emergence of relational expertise by bringing participants together beyond the usual group of technical experts, e.g., they also brought in nursery managers (ex-farm workers) and farm workers.
3. Some forms of expertise were initially marginalised, and power asymmetries made the building of relational expertise difficult (e.g., the nursery managers, who were previously farm workers, were considered to just be there to provide manual labour during field visits, but are now sitting around the table during discussions, thanks to careful facilitation of the process).
|1. After 4 years of interaction around integrated planning for landscape restoration, there is evidence of relational expertise emerging: e.g., scientists recognising the value of local land users’ knowledge in identifying priority sites for restoration; researchers from different disciplines starting to value each others’ expertise; municipal officials asking researchers for input in spatial planning.|
2. There is a growing familiarity of the range and scope of experts working in the catchment adding to ’knowing who can help with what’, along with a growing recognition of the importance of bringing people into a room together to build such relational expertise and a collective sense of belonging.
3. There are however still big disparities and power dynamics in how knowledge is shared, e.g., language barriers; and a lack of engagement by some key actors; scientific knowledge is still treated as superior by some actors.
|Common Knowledge||1. Common knowledge is superficially built on the broader common goal of improving knowledge of honeybush cultivation in order to grow production across the industry as a whole, i.e., everyone knows that they need to combine their knowledge and experience to achieve the goal of increasing honeybush production. This helps to build a shared sense of identity and belonging.|
2. There is still lack of deeper understanding of how different participants will benefit from the working group, and there are different underlying motives at play, i.e., as yet there is not much respectful, shared understanding of different personal or professional motives.
|1. Participatory mapping and integrated planning activities created a platform for building common knowledge around landscape restoration: there is a growing shared recognition of the importance of involving local people in mapping and planning, which helps to develop a shared understanding of what matters in the landscape.|
2. A shared interest in landscape restoration offers a boundary object for developing common knowledge, but different actors still have different underlying motives which have not yet been acknowledged, e.g., Traditional Leaders are looking for jobs for their communities, researchers need to produce research outputs, implementers need to produce measurable outputs, resulting in tensions between different actors .
|Relational Agency||1. Relational agency is not yet evident in the working group: the initiative is still in the early stages and the ‘doing together’ will take time to develop. Trialing cultivation practices together offers some promise in this regard.|
2. The diversity of actors and the differences in race, class, age, level of education, etc. mean that much time needs to be spent on building relational expertise and common knowledge before relational agency can emerge between the diverse actors.
3. If we extend the gaze to Living Lands and how they have been working in the landscape more broadly, we see evidence of relational expertise, and the development of common knowledge between themselves and some of the landscape actors. This has enabled them to take action to establish the working group as a response to the problem of different role players in the catchment not collaborating around the need to expand honeybush cultivation. Their knowledge and understanding of the various stakeholder informed their careful putting-together of working group participants.
|1. Prioritising, mapping, and planning together for the restoration of the catchment is an early form of relational agency. While researchers have started working more meaningfully with some local residents, this has not yet gone far enough as some actors are still not participating (e.g., commercial farmers). Also, this is not yet happening across the whole catchment, i.e., it is happening in localized pockets.|
2. This early stage relational agency is being mediated by researchers who are not from the catchment: it should really be driven by local residents and restoration implementers. Moreover, we are yet to see relational agency emerge in the actual implementation of restoration plans. However, we acknowledge that there may be relational agency present (or emerging) in spaces which we as researchers in the project have not yet explicitly ‘looked into’ e.g., at the level of local restoration implementers and how they work with residents as restoration workers on the ground.
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Cockburn, J.; Rosenberg, E.; Copteros, A.; Cornelius, S.F.; Libala, N.; Metcalfe, L.; van der Waal, B. A Relational Approach to Landscape Stewardship: Towards a New Perspective for Multi-Actor Collaboration. Land 2020, 9, 224. https://doi.org/10.3390/land9070224
Cockburn J, Rosenberg E, Copteros A, Cornelius SF, Libala N, Metcalfe L, van der Waal B. A Relational Approach to Landscape Stewardship: Towards a New Perspective for Multi-Actor Collaboration. Land. 2020; 9(7):224. https://doi.org/10.3390/land9070224Chicago/Turabian Style
Cockburn, Jessica, Eureta Rosenberg, Athina Copteros, Susanna Francina (Ancia) Cornelius, Notiswa Libala, Liz Metcalfe, and Benjamin van der Waal. 2020. "A Relational Approach to Landscape Stewardship: Towards a New Perspective for Multi-Actor Collaboration" Land 9, no. 7: 224. https://doi.org/10.3390/land9070224