Category: Forests

Forest landscapes – three workshops completed in Voxnadalen Biosphere Reserve

In 2023, LANDPATHS researchers ran a series of three workshops in Voxnadalen Biosphere Reserve. The aim was to bring a wide range of stakeholders together to talk about their future visions of multifunctional forest landscapes.  Sara Holmgren (SLU) and Max Whitman (Uppsala University) tell us more.

Before the workshop series, we had two hopes. Firstly, we wanted to facilitate meaningful discussions about the forest landscape and its future. Secondly, we wanted to have exploratory conversations that would lead to concrete ideas that participants would be willing and able to develop further. By creating a conversational space grounded in respect and curiosity for different perspectives, we laid a solid foundation for both social learning and innovation-promoting processes.

Stakeholders discussing at a workshop
Participants at the first workshop. Photo: Thao Do.

The collaboration between LANDPATHS and the biosphere reserve provides us with a unique opportunity to explore how global challenges related to land use can be addressed locally in a way that benefits biodiversity, builds resilience against climate change, and contributes to social and economic development.

The hope is to take the insights generated through all the conversations and weave them into one or more focused projects that can be implemented locally. Themes that participants have returned to include quality timber production and its value chains, alternative forms of biodiversity-promoting measures, and collaborative planning across property boundaries. These themes have many aspects, but there is potential for many positive synergies among them.

Here are some reflections from some of the participants about their own experiences from the process:

“There have been interesting questions where actors from different areas within forestry can share their views on the forest as a resource, sustainability, and local collaboration. Most importantly for us is that the meetings between people spark creativity and new ways of thinking, which we intend to implement in parts of our own operations, along with the hope for new constellations and collaborations.”

Filip Hedberg, Top Branch Sweden / Björnsafari i Hälsingland

“Participating has given me ample opportunities to meet people with different perspectives on forestry, climate, and biodiversity. I believe it has provided me with new knowledge and, above all, new paths to consensus and understanding.”

Sven HILLERT, försämlingspräst Alfta-Ovanåker

Sara and Max, in tandem with other LANDPATHS researchers in the forest landscapes and future imaginaries projects, will now analyse all of the insights shared at the workshops, before undertaking the next stage of the research.

View from Växbo in Bollnäs municipality. Photo: Max Whitman.

The UNESCO Voxnadalen Biosphere Reserve spans an area of 342,00 ha in Hälsingland and Dalarna. Read more at voxnadalen.org. This article is a summary of ‘På Landsvägar vi möts’, written by Hanna Alfredssom in the magazine ‘Det händer I Biosfärområde Voxnadalen – Information om Biosfärområde Voxnadalen 2023’, p.14.

Future Forestry in Voxnadalen: A Collective Journey towards Multifunctionality

In this interview, Judith shares the scene with Max Whitman, a Uppsala University doctoral student affiliated with the LANDPATHS sub-project “Forest Landscapes” in Voxnadalen, and Hanna Alfredsson, coordinator for the Voxnadalen Biosphere Reserve in Hälsingland. The conversation revolves around LANDPATHS’ research in Voxnadalen, including focus group discussions and workshops with stakeholders, aimed at exploring and promoting multifunctionality within the forest landscape.

Biosphere Reserve Voxnadalen

Hanna explains the concept of biosphere reserves and Voxnadalen’s unique role in combining natural and cultural heritage with human well-being. She emphasizes the area’s focus on sustainable forest resources, vibrant water systems, and an open landscape. Voxnadalen officially became one of the world’s 740 UNESCO biosphere reserves in 2019, and the LANDPATHS project now focuses on gathering data and fostering dialogue for sustainable development. Hanna underscores the importance of supporting research to reduce polarization in forest debates and achieve Agenda 2030 goals.

Hanna adds “Many of us here are very excited to see what this project or Landpaths can lead to and what it will lead to in practical terms for us and how it can contribute to, for example, a reduced polarization in the forestry debate. And how we can share these experiences also within the network of biosphere reserves. We are very happy to be part of this.

View over Voxnadalen
Voxnadalen biosphere reserve

Voxnadalen as a Study Object in LANDPATHS

Voxnadalen was chosen by sub-project forest landscapes in LANDPATHS due to its biosphere reserve status and commitment to sustainable forestry. Max shares insights from his research project, highlighting collaborative efforts with other researchers, such as Forest landscape subproject leader Sara Holmgren, researchers Neil Powell and Thao Do in subproject Future Imaginaries for method development, and practitioners in Voxnadalen. Their co-creative research aims to understand and promote multifunctionality in the forest landscape through open workshops and focus discussions with various stakeholders.

“We don’t really define our study. We do not come in and say that this is what we are looking at specifically, but we will try to come in with a very open mind and listen and talk to people like Hanna and a lot of other actors in the region to understand what the problems are here. What are the opportunities? What is it that is good? How can we find synergies and create innovations to promote sustainable use of the forest? And in that process understand what is a multifunctional forest landscape and how can we promote it simply?”

Creating Common Visions through Co-Creation

During one of the workshops, the research team encouraged participants to create a headline for a fictitious documentary about Voxnadalen in 2050. Examples included ‘Biosphere reserve used but not consumed,’ emphasizing intangible cultural heritage and questions of cultivation, ownership, and the relationship between them. Another headline, ‘Biosphere Reserve Voxnadalen leads the way to sustainable forestry,’ reflects the ambition to use the biosphere reserve designation as an opportunity to lead in sustainable forestry through education and other initiatives. Other headlines like ‘Diversity, multiple use, and multifunctionality’ and ‘Faith in the future grows in Voxnadalen’s’ encompass knowledge elevation beyond economic aspects, emphasizing collaboration and coordination.

“So we had quite a bit of fun with the headlines and had some that were funny as well in what is it we don’t want to see? And then there were things like Voxnadalen is the largest clearcut’. “

New Value Chain Contributes to Innovation and Sustainable Forestry

Both Hanna and Max stress the importance of dialogue among different actors and stakeholders to understand and promote multifunctionality in the forest landscape. They mention examples like Voxkedjan, an economic association connecting the needs of Helsinge farms for quality timber with contributions from private forest owners, supported by sawmills and processed by Voxkedjan members. The initiative demonstrates the possibilities of creating new value chains for more sustainable forestry while fostering collaboration within the sector.

“In Voxnadalen […] there is a willingness to listen to each other to a greater extent. I think that’s very good because when you start going into ‘okay, what do we mean by sustainable forestry? What is the role of forests in promoting regional development?’ That’s where you can start creating meaning and common visions and also look at building collaborations and promoting innovations,” says Max to summarize his impressions in Voxnadalen.

Multifunctionality – a difficult term in practice

In the interview, the concept of “multifunctionality” is also discussed. Max emphasizes that it can be challenging to explain to individual actors, as it is perceived as abstract. He stresses that the work towards multifunctionality does not follow a linear process with a shared vision implemented backwards. Instead, it involves asking questions and promoting innovations beyond traditional forestry, as seen in the example of Voxkedjan.

Hanna agrees and notes that the term “multifunctionality” was not common among Voxnadalen stakeholders before their participation in the project. She shares the view of creating diversity and infrastructure to promote new ideas and innovations as a path towards multifunctionality within the area, including activities like fishing, tourism, and other industries.

Understanding and Openness Foster Sustainable Forestry

Finally, both Max and Hanna emphasize the importance of working towards sustainable solutions and creating understanding and openness between different perspectives within the forestry sector. Voxnadalen serves as a model for how a biosphere reserve can actively engage in research projects to promote a sustainable future. The research team looks forward to continuing collaboration and exploring opportunities for multifunctionality in forestry in Voxnadalen and beyond.

The full interview (in Swedish) can be found below. 

Unlocking imaginaries of future multifunctional landscapes through co-creation

We live in a rapidly changing world with complex challenges. Envisioning future landscapes that harmoniously balance biodiversity with different land uses and the interests of diverse stakeholders is a difficult task that demands creative and collaborative efforts. Researchers in LANDPATHS subproject “Imaginaries” (SP2) are embarking on a journey towards shaping these desirable futures through a co-creation approach. This involves using the collective knowledge of stakeholders and citizens to address multifaceted challenges.

Navigating complexity: challenges and uncertainties

Landscapes are interconnected systems. As a result, even well-intentioned interventions that improve conditions for one group of stakeholders can unexpectedly cause challenges for others. Taking the example of forest landscapes, there are many different stakeholders concerned with the use of those landscapes, including residents, agencies, forest owners, reindeer herders and people using forests for recreation, to name a few. These groups can have different values and ideas about the future of the landscape. At the same time, science-based criteria related to climate change and nature conservation may impose other constraints on how we manage and use forests in the future. Together, these factors can make it difficult to imagine future multifunctional landscapes where the diverse aims and interests of stakeholders can co-exist.

Creating the basis for co-creation

As part of the co-creation process, we need to unravel the perspectives of the various stakeholders and the potential differences between their visions for the future and science-based criteria.

To do this, LANDPATHS researchers have developed an iterative process for co-creating future visions (also called imaginaries) with stakeholders and citizens in different landscapes in Sweden. The process consists of four phases:

  1. Scoping and framing
  2. Developing imaginaries
  3. Iterative revision of imaginaries
  4. Governance learning

In a collaboration with the Forest landscape subproject (SP5), researchers are working with the Voxnadalen Biosphere to explore future imaginaries of multifunctional forests (read more about this case on our blog).

In Voxnadalen, the co-creation process will unfold through a series of workshops with local stakeholders such as municipalities, forest owners, forest companies, nature conservation associations, tourism companies and hunting groups. The aim of the workshops is to shed light on both established and new visions of forest futures, by exploring potential synergies that emerge from the discussions and creating innovations that can support more multifunctional and biodiverse forest landscapes in the future.

Co-creation workshop with Voxnadalen stakeholders in April, 2023. Photo: Thao Do.

Co-creation for transformation

In light with the co-creation approach, participants are seen as co-designers of the future – they contribute to a transformation process with their knowledge, perspectives and values. This fosters an environment of creativity, exploration, and experimentation and unlocks a realm of possibilities. Possible outcomes are stories and visions that embrace the richness and diversity of values and perspectives of participants and challenge traditional power structures.

One method being used in the co-creation process is the co-design of a board game that participants with diverse interests can play together. The game allows them to experiment with different possible futures and to test actions and responses in a playful, inconsequential setting. While competing interests and unequal power relations can make it difficult to reach a solution in real life, the game allows participants to test and evaluate scenarios in a way where diverse forms of knowing and acting are less distorted by power relations. The researchers are also using anticipatory narratology, a technique that is based on stories and storytelling to craft future narratives. Together, these methods help to create a safe space for the participants to talk about alternative futures. They also enable stakeholders to navigate the complexities they are faced with and reflect upon their actions in the face of uncertainty. In this co-learning environment, novel governance arrangements can emerge to support the realization of their landscape imaginaries.

Games allow workshop participants to experiment with different scenarios for their landscape.

Embarking on a journey of transformation

Through this research, SP2 aims to shed light on innovative pathways towards multifunctional biodiverse landscapes. By harnessing the power of co-creation, the aspiration is that stakeholders feel empowered to imagine and design transformations that overcome traditional barriers and sectoral silos. As the work unfolds, it invites us all to become co-designers of alternative futures that reflect a mosaic of perspectives and values.

For more information about the Imaginaries subproject, contact the research team (and link to SP2 page).

We thank Thao Do (subproject Imaginaries) for valuable input into this blogpost. 

LANDPATHS gets underway in the Voxnadalen Biosphere

Sara Holmgren, SLU

In LANDPATHS, we will develop new knowledge and ways forwards for multifunctional landscapes that strengthen biodiversity. LANDPATHS focuses on five types of landscapes: forest, agriculture, sea and coast, city and mountain. Sara Holmgren is a researcher at SLU and leader of the sub-project on forest landscapes. Sara writes about the research currently taking place with the Voxnadalen Unesco Biosphere Reserve.

Forest blåsippor in spring

Our goal with LANDPATHS is to develop knowledge about what needs to change, and how this change can happen in a way that is supported by a broad range of stakeholders. In my sub-project we explore the barriers and drivers for transformation in forest landscapes.

We learned about the Voxnadalen Biosphere Reserve, where there is a strong focus on the forest as a sustainable resource. We quickly got in touch to explore collaboration opportunities and we are delighted to have started. For us, collaboration on the ground is important, and we will work closely with local and regional actors. In this way, we can root the project-wide issues in a local context and learn from ongoing work.

Together with Max Whitman, PhD student at Uppsala University in the Mistra Environmental Communication programme, we are carrying out an initial survey of the diversity of perspectives that exist around current and future forests in the biosphere area. The first interviews with a wide range of local and regional stakeholders have been positive – many of the interviewees think that a project on multifunctional landscapes sounds exciting. Max and I are looking forward to getting to know Voxnadalen, making new contacts and building trust.

The interviews will provide insight into which entry points can open up conversations in an upcoming series of workshops that the project will conduct in the biosphere area. These workshops will aim to co-create different visions around multifunctional forests and mixed land use (in collaboration with the sub-project Future Imaginaries). A wide range of stakeholders will be invited to participate in this process.

We hope that the collaboration with Voxnadalen supports practical rather than abstract outcomes, and leads to the development of a multifunctional forest landscape in Voxnadalen.

The biosphere area covers the two provinces of Hälsingland and Dalarna, as well as the four municipalities of Ovanåker, Ljusdal, Bollnäs and Rättvik. The total area is approximately 342,000 ha and the number of inhabitants in the area is approximately 13,200. Read more at voxnadalen.org.

This article is a summary of Vi är med och visar vägen till framtidens multifunktionella landskap’, written by Hanna Alfredsson in the magazine ‘Det händer i Biosfärområde Voxnadalen – Information om Biosfärområde Voxnadalen 2022’, pp.14–15.

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