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What We Do


Living Lands is a non-profit organisation created for the purpose of restoring living landscapes . We are setting up local learning networks with various stakeholders to create a mutual understanding in working together towards more sustainable land use. This is achieved by listening to everyone’s dreams and empowering landscapes to create sustainable solutions.

Living Lands makes use of various activities such as fieldtrips, learning journeys, process management, stakeholder engagement, one-on-one interactions, information days, and facilitating transformational and sustainable changes as well as workshops and research.

Living Lands operates as a facilitator on a landscape and catchment level. We have developed, tested, refined and applied the Living Landscape Approach which is an integration of awareness-based technologies (Theory U and social learning), transdisciplinary research, and an ecosystem services approach. Our approach links the restoration of natural environments with sustainable development as well as community development. The process is focussed on mobilizing civil society and creating local ownership and learning networks amongst all stakeholders regarding sustainable water and land management.

The aims of the Living Landscapes approach is to:
• Build collective awareness and understanding of the socio-ecological needs, challenges,
values, norms, and behaviours of individuals and organizations on the landscape;
• Create collective intelligence surrounding the socio-ecological and economic opportunities
and constraints present on the landscape;
• Produce collective action to create and mainstream a common vision for a living landscape
and growing a locally-driven learning network.

The Living Landscape Approach

The Living Landscape Approach integrates the “U” methodology alongside transdisciplinary research and an ecosystem approach. It brings bottom-up-driven and top-down-guided processes together to facilitate social change and collaboration between the local stakeholders and regional/national regulators. It builds ownership and willingness within local stakeholders and is supported by an integrated effort of the government and private sector for implementing and mainstreaming policies and programmes. Through this participatory process, a knowledge and evidence base is developed which informs the programmes and policies that arise out of the process. The final objective is to foster partnerships that integrate and catalyse resources and funding for sustainable innovations that facilitate adaptation to climate change.

The first part of the Living Lands Approach is the “U” methodology for leading profound change which is expanded and deepened in Theory U, developed by the Presencing Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Theory U is a change management method to change unproductive patterns of behavior. However, when utilizing the Theory U approach, it is crucial that people’s attitudes are open-minded to innovation, the process, and other people. The process provides opportunities for all stakeholders to engage in the socio-ecological system on a deeper level of inner reflection in order to identify and create viable community-based responses. These will address underlying social problems on an individual, community and institutional level and will change behaviours to better reflect the values encompassed in inclusion, fairness and opportunities. People should not be written-off and categorised as being set in particular ways and incapable of changing. Such labelling prevents bottom-up social change from taking place and instead identifies interventions as coming from the outside – enforcing their need for being imposed from the top. While such top-down approaches can affect change, they usually have many negative and unintended outcomes that arise out of the complex dynamics and responses of all the different elements and agents within the socio-ecological system. To minimise these negative and unintended consequences and to build collaboration and effectiveness, it is critical to adopt a bottom-up approach that facilitates social learning and change. However, this bottom-up approach needs to be based on mutual understanding and respect between the land/water users, regulatory authorities, and local participatory governance institutions.

The second building block involves the ensemble of an evidence- and knowledge-filled base through transdisciplinary and action research. There is a strong focus on creating and gathering collective awareness and understanding of the socio-ecological needs, functioning, challenges, values, norms, and behaviours of individuals and organizations on the landscape. This is done by way of strong collaborations between all stakeholders, and governmental and academic institutes, and will enable the creation of collective intelligence strategies regarding the socio-ecological and economic opportunities, benefits, and constraints of the various innovations.

The final building block involves the Ecosystem Approach: a proactive strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes equitable conservation and sustainable use as part of living landscapes. This approach is focused on the balanced on- and off-site services that an intact ecosystem can deliver to the up- and downstream areas of intervention, and therefore goes a step further than traditional restoration projects by balancing the effects at different landscape and land use scales. It explores the possibilities of a the Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) scheme.


To be able to facilitate the approach described above, Living Lands sees itself as a toolbox on the landscape and acts to fulfil its role as:

Landscape Mobilisor

ToolSocial learning and change processes are enabled and facilitated on the landscape for all stakeholders – landowners, communities, existing and emerging farmers, municipalities, universities, and private and government agencies – to build a collective awareness and understanding of the current challenges, aspirations, and opportunities for action.

Knowledge broker

ToolIdentifying key knowledge gaps in the current understanding and situation will inform the research agenda and partnerships built with universities and research centres on strategies for undertaking transdisciplinary research. This is done in order to improve the knowledge base for restoration and rural innovation of land and water management. 

Network facilitation

ToolPRESENCE (Participatory Restoration of Ecosystem SErvices & Natural Capital in the Eastern Cape) is a collaborative learning network for ecological restoration. It is essential for the success of the program that capacity is built in local organisations, and that continued collective learning is facilitated. 

Landscape ecologist

ToolAs we are working on a landscape level, a spatial approach allowing ‘connecting of the dots’ is essential. By mapping, one can identify and locate the landscape features, ecological patterns and temporal processes, social networks, and challenges and solutions. Representation of the learning process and action plans on maps is an easy-to-understand tool that allows clarity and accurate placing of implementations as well as monitoring of the results.