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 welcomes student from Ireland to review latest Swedish research on multifunctionality

The coordinating subproject (SP1) of LANDPATHS welcomed Laoise Ní Mharcaigh, third-year BSc student in Sustainability with Social Sciences, Policy and Law at University College Dublin (UCD), Ireland this summer to contribute to a review of academic literature on the barriers and opportunities for multifunctional biodiverse landscapes in Sweden.

LANDPATHS attracts student from Dublin for an internship

 Laoise’s particular interests in biodiversity conservation, environmental education and citizen science and her connection to Sweden, where she has family living on Gotland, led her to discover the LANDPATHS research programme. After securing an academic scholarship from UCD’s Ad Astra Academy to cover the costs of her trip and stay in Sweden, Laoise proactively got in touch with LANDPATHS project coordinator Malgorzata (Gosia) Blicharska to explore options for a short internship within the programme.

Laoise standing at Geocentrum at Uppsala university

Laoise at Geocentrum, Uppsala University

My task was to read and review a set of academic articles about various aspects of multifunctionality in Sweden’s landscapes. I started reviewing the articles in early July, picking out relevant information for the work in LANDPATHS.

Barriers and opportunities for multifunctionality reported in academic literature

 Jayne Glass, a researcher in the LANDPATHS team, supported Laoise through regular advice and discussion. When Laoise came to Uppsala in early August, she continued her work in the Department of Earth Sciences, identifying the potential barriers and opportunities for multifunctionality that were evident in the papers she reviewed. She then presented and discussed her work with Gosia and Jayne, to identify recurrent themes and contribute to their plans for upcoming work on multifunctionality in LANDPATHS.

 We asked Laoise what she had learned about multifunctional landscapes through her work.

Throughout my degree programme, my main focus has predominantly been situated in the realm of climate justice and environmental governance. In terms of my initial understanding of multifunctionality, I had not had much exposure other than what I had learned during a module on land-use and its environmental impact. However, coming from a rural background, I have always been aware of the ability of landscapes to provide several functions, namely the ecological, cultural and economic values of agricultural farmland. As such, I found the opportunity to delve into articles based on multifunctionality in the Swedish landscape to be hugely insightful. Most notably, the importance of forests as multifunctional landscapes and the range of roles that they play in Sweden was particularly interesting, as it is something that is not as prominent in the Irish landscape.

Potential for more public involvement in Swedish landscape policy-making?

Several of the articles Laoise reviewed referred to the importance of engaging stakeholders and citizens in decision-making about multifunctional landscapes. This raised questions in Laoise’s mind about the extent to which the public can influence land use decisions and policy in Sweden. This resonates well with the co-creation approach to stakeholder and citizen engagement in the LANDPATHS research.

Reviewing the articles has been hugely beneficial for me in that I was also able to get a strong insight into Swedish policy surrounding land-use and multi-actor governance. Following the recent nationally-led Citizen’s Assembly on Biodiversity Loss in Ireland, it was interesting to note a lack of public involvement in Swedish landscape policy-making. A Swedish Citizen’s Assembly Model could perhaps be looked at in the future.

Geocentrum from the outside and Uppsala university flags

Picture credit: Laoise Ní Mharcaigh

Literature synthesis on multifunctionality in Sweden

Laoise’s work will contribute to the ongoing research by the LANDPATHS team into the barriers to multifunctionality and the potential opportunities that exist for the future in the different landscapes that they are working in – forest, agricultural, urban, marine and coast, and mountain landscapes. In the coming months, Gosia and Jayne will be working with others in the team on an academic paper about multifunctionality in Sweden. The work Laoise did over the summer will be used in this article and we hope to remain in contact with Laoise as the paper develops. Laoise plans to bring the insights she gained about sustainable land-use from the Swedish perspective into the remainder of her degree at UCD.

Sunflowers, picture taken by Laoise during her stay in Uppsala

Picture credit: Laoise Ní Mharcaigh

Experiencing Sweden and Uppsala

This internship, created by Laoise’s own initiative and hosted by LANDPATHS, has also been a great opportunity for Laoise to discover Sweden. She describes her experience working at a Swedish university and discussing with researchers and students as insightful and she is hoping to undertake an Erasmus exchange with Lund University in January 2024.

 My recent trip to Sweden and in particular to Uppsala University has been amazing. Having only been to Gotland on previous trips, I was unsure of what to expect. However, travelling by myself to Uppsala, I felt very safe in my surroundings. It was very encouraging to visit a city where bike travel seemed to be the way to go, something that I can definitely take back with me to Ireland. I loved the feeling of walking around the city, with lots of green spaces and mature trees at every turn. My experience with visiting the University has been more than I could have asked for – I felt very welcome during my stay. Everyone that I met was very friendly and interested in hearing about my experience in Uppsala – all I can say is how I look forward to coming back!

We are delighted to have met Laoise and we are grateful for her hard work and helpful contributions to the LANDPATHS programme. We wish her all the best with her studies and hope to see her in Uppsala again soon!

Nämdö archipelago – A new Swedish Biosphere Reserve ?

Portrait of Charles Westerberg
Charles Westerberg, SH

LANDPATHS subproject “Marine and coastal landscapes” focusses on the management of conflicts in coastal/marine biosphere reserves linked to the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme. Researchers in this subproject study how biospheres interact with wider multi-level and multi-sector governance arrangements such as marine spatial planning. Researchers in this subproject have recently selected Nämdo archipelago as one of the areas for their case study. PhD student Charles Westerberg reports about their first visit to the largest island.

Passenger boat on the way to Nämdö
Boattrip from Stavsnäs to Nämdö


Nämdö archipelago, which consists of hundreds of islands, is located a few hours away from Stockholm and is part of Värmdö municipality. Approximately 30 of the islands are inhabited, with Nämdö being the largest. Nämdö is highly valued by both residents and visitors due to its natural and cultural significance. The archipelago is also home to several nature reserves that are part of the European network Natura 2000, areas containing high biodiversity and exceptional beauty.

Preparation to become a new Biosphere Reserve

As part of LANDPATHS subproject Coastal and marine landscapes, the archipelago will serve as a case study in their preparation process of a new Biosphere Reserve. The goal is to explore how conflicts can be identified and resolved through proposed measures and compromises. Additionally, we are considering collaborating with subproject Barriers and opportunities for change to conduct a citizen mini-public or jury. This engagement approach has been shown to successfully raise awareness and acquire informed feedback from local citizens.

Visiting Nämdö

On April 25th, researchers from both subprojects travelled to Stavsnäs and met with members from the Nämdö Green Archipelago (NGA) group. NGA was founded in 2020 to facilitate sustainable rural development in the archipelago. They are currently working on a pilot study to nominate Nämdö archipelago as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a process that involves extensive mapping and stakeholder consultations.

Farm owner Stina Molander talking to Landpaths researchers
Stina Molander, farmer and owner of Östanvik farm tells us about her business and how her animals help maintain the open and thriving landscapes of Nämdö and its surrounding islands. From left to right: Fanny Moeckel (LANDPATHS), Karin Heeroma (NGA), Tim Daw (LANDPATHS), Tomas Kjellqvist (Södertörn university), Stina Molander (Nämdö farmer and owner of Östanviks gård), Ann Aldeheim (NGA)

Cows in the stable at Östanvik farm on Nämdö
Cows at Östanvik farm


After a scenic boat ride from Stavsnäs, we arrived on Nämdö island and had the opportunity to meet with residents and visit local hotspots and businesses. Throughout the day, we were introduced to some of the challenges facing Nämdö and its people, such as a declining and aging population, the costs of nature conservations, concerns regarding land ownership, and limited livelihood options. These are just a few of the issues that NGA is hoping to address.

Our work with Nämdö will be ongoing throughout the LANDPATHS project, and we are excited to see how the Biosphere Reserve process will develop.

Person walking on a peer with boats on Nämdö

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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