Co-producing theory of change to operationalize integrated landscape approaches

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Integrated landscape approaches that engage diverse stakeholder groups in landscape governance are increasingly promoted to address linked social–ecological challenges in tropical landscapes. Recent research suggests that a transdisciplinary approach to landscape management can help identify common research needs, enhance knowledge co-production, guide evidence-based policy development, and harmonize cross-sectorial integration. Meanwhile, guiding principles for landscape approaches suggest that identifying common concerns and negotiating a process of change are fundamental to implementation and evaluation efforts. As such, the use of decision support tools such as theory of change models that build ordered sequences of actions towards a desired, and agreed, future state are increasingly advocated. However, the application of the theory of change concept to integrated landscape approaches is limited thus far, particularly within the scientific literature. Here, we address this gap by applying the principles of landscape approaches and knowledge co-production to co-produce a theory of change to address current unsustainable landscape management and associated conflicts in the Kalomo Hills Local Forest Reserve No. P.13 (KFR13) of Zambia. The participatory process engaged a diverse range of stakeholders including village head people, local and international researchers, district councillors, and civil society representatives amongst others. Several pathways, actions, and interventions were developed around the themes of deforestation, biodiversity and wildlife conservation, socio-economic development, access rights, and law enforcement. To make the theory of change actionable, participants identified a need for enhanced cross-sector and multi-level communication, capacity development, and improved governance, while a lack of commitment towards coordinated knowledge exchange and access to information along with poor policy formulation and weak enforcement of rules were among potential impediments to action. Use of theory of change can both inform evidence-based policy design (by revealing place-based challenges and proposing solutions) and support policy mechanisms that promote integration between state and non-state actors (by clarifying actor rights, roles and responsibilities). Co-developing a theory of change for integrated landscape management is inherently context specific, but the process and outcomes of this study should hold relevance across a range of contexts faced with sustainability challenges related to reconciling both conservation and development objectives.

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