Human-nature transformations at the Sustainability Science Days

Sara Zaman & Eugenia Castellazzi

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E– Hi Sara! You presented at the SSD, how did it go and what did you learn from this experience? 

S- …It’s amazing to see SSD making a name for itself, and growing into the challenges that are inherent to sustainability science. We have a long way to go in terms of politicizing sustainability, and the consequences of a perception that sustainability shouldn’t be political., But there was no shortage of critical perspectives to economic growth and global extractivist socio-economic structures. 

My presentation went pretty well, considering it was a first exploration into how to speak to other researchers about embodiment. It is an explanation best done in practice, so that’s what I had set up; an embodiment exercise to get some fruitful ideas about how we relate to artificial intelligence. Even though the presentation wasn’t recorded, you can actually do the exercise on your own whenever you like, and it doesn’t have to be about AI! The point is that you allow yourself to experiment with different positionalities, switching roles in order to understand what other beings might experience, and how you relate to those roles in your everyday experience. Try it with a seagull, a birch tree, or a snail sometime!

S- The conversation on interdisciplinarity was so interesting! Taking a look at SSD, our research careers, our research questions… what do you think needs to change about interdisciplinary research, if anything?

E- I have quite strong opinions on interdisciplinarity – I am afraid of the risk of making research superficial and during my masters I often thought “Thanks god I can say I have a specific background”. I would like my vision to be challenged. Do we need to be educated interdisciplinarily or would it be more beneficial to grow in established fields and then join forces and learn to work interdisciplinarily? Do we need to be better facilitators? I think we should talk more openly about impostor syndrome, which I believe is quite common among interdisciplinary researchers. 

S- Do early career researchers need to hold tightly to ideas like “sustainability” and “hope”? Or can we see beyond

E- I am a huge fan of dismantling words, criticising them and taking long walks in our minds – but at the end of the day, this is also something that brought me away from philosophy. There is always something beyond, behind, around the corner. I support scepticism and continuous doubt, if this doesn’t paralyse us. Sustainability became a panacea for everything, it has been filled with so many meanings that, per se, it is not useful anymore. We should clarify firstly to ourselves what does it mean to us – what is sustainability, for me? According to which values? What’s my worldview? And state it out!

As for hope – I hope tomorrow will be sunny, I hope the 3kaveria ice cream is not sold out…this is the individualistic and alienating hope that I don’t see useful to us (in research, don’t take away my hope of sun in June). The only kind of hope I see related to the sustainability world is based on a continuous effort in building communities where people feel integrated and motivated to participate and live in. Hope as a deus ex machina, not my thing.

S- What do you think is the future of death in sustainability research, Eugenia?! What are the possibilities and generative friction that may come from holding death and sustainability(?) together?

E- The death taboo is very present in our society, we refrain from talking or even thinking about dying. When researching “sustainability” we need to deal with loss and death, even from a personal perspective. I might be a bit biased, because I have always been interested in death. I would suggest to dive deep into biophilosophy and reflect on death (and life) from an ethico-political perspective. Ok, Foucault, we got it. But the sustainability research is bringing something else to the table. New imaginaries and new ways of living. We should also think about new ways of dying and dealing with death. I’ve been skimming the book “Life as We Don’t know” (collab Bioart Society and Aalto) and got inspired by how art can trace and play with the natural cycle of life and death. Radomska and Åsberg (2020) introduce the concept of non-living to rethink the binary division of life and death and to shift the attention on processes, the human definitions of “life”, “killing”, “corpses” and “sacredness”. Let’s talk about it.

S- I was really pleased with how new-old ideas like death, embodiment, care, and degrowth have started to come to the fore, and it was amazing to see the positive response that came out of sessions focused on these topics. On the subject of death especially, my head is spinning about lines of inquiry like how people experience the spiritual presence of (soon-to-be) extinct species, how much humans are conscious of building our cities on the bones of the dead (human and nonhuman), and in general about people’s fear of dying as linked to our modern need for control. While this sounds all very dark, I feel oddly optimistic, and that’s more the point 🙂

E- We talked about death and what comes to my mind is another topic that was mentioned in many sessions, care or philosophy of care. A million dollar question for you, how do you think care dialogues with death and with our fragility on an individual, collective and planetary level? 

S- My (two-cent) answer: I was recently handed the book Who Dies? An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying (1988). It’s a useful, compassionate book to read slowly and when you need it. It also deals very much with care and death- Stephen and Ondrea Levine coached those who were in the process of death, their friends, and family, and opened up many blockages around the fear of death and “what comes next”. From what I can understand so far, this fear is a societal problem that is handled at the individual  rather than planetary level. Some of the fears that people suffer around pain, loneliness, deterioration, loss, death are the result of past pains that we have stifled in the name of “getting on with life” and “pushing forward”. Without saying anything definite about religion or spirituality, death is certainly not an ending. But fear of age and death can probably only be dealt with on the human level before understanding what it means on the multispecies level. I thought my next sentence would be “I hope we have enough time to figure it out societally”. But we have all the time in the world to understand this stuff. It will be done by engaging care-fully with those painful parts of ourselves and others. 

E- Let’s keep this last one short – what next? What’s cooking? Other than the much needed summer vacations! 

S- Oh man, cooking- I’ve signed up to try out OmaMaa for the next few months, looking forward to receiving some fresh summer veg! I also made a great gallette with some rhubarb from my grandma’s garden last night. Summer is a full-body experience!

If anyone reading this wants to talk more about care, relationality, and the life and death of earthly bodies, please reach out to us! We are manifesting some fresh projects involving these ideas, and they take time and collaboration. We’d love to hear from you!

— Check the Learning Cafè at SSD –

Taking up sustainability transformation in Finnish cities: The ‘Transformative Cities’ project

by Francesco Venuti

The University of Helsinki recently joined forces with the University of Eastern Finland, Aalto University, University of Oulu, and Turku University to embark on ‘Transformative Cities’ (TC), a project that seeks to provide a series of research tools that can be utilised by decision-makers to promote sustainability transformations in Finnish municipalities. The project is led by Professor Christopher Raymond from the University of Helsinki and is funded by the Academy of Finland.

TC is working with the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Lahti, and Oulu to unlock transformative pathways that would help contribute to meeting the goal of a carbon-neutral Finland by 2035. With a competence cluster that includes more than fifteen business partners, two fellow international academic institutions, and multiple representatives from each of the case-study cities, TC represents a unique opportunity to synthesise expertise from different societal actors and develop synergies able to go beyond siloed thinking and practices.

TC’s most innovative aspect is the variety of approaches used and the way they are combined, which highlight the project’s interdisciplinarity and the intent to embrace a systemic perspective in investigating urban transformations. Such a perspective is operationalised through research conducted in three main sectors, namely biodiversity conservation and restoration, smooth mobility and sustainable lifestyles, and law and policy. These themes are addressed through a variety of methods, including passive and active sensing, surveys, doctrinal and empirical legal research, and gamification.

TC examines citizen mobility choices and correlates them with the set of actions and strategies that the cities under scrutiny aim to realise to promote sustainable mobility and carbon neutrality. Furthermore, TC suggests measures that integrate municipal carbon mitigation goals with biodiversity conservation and restoration, emphasising the need to uptake green infrastructure such as nature-based solutions. To account for feasibility and be able to make a tangible impact on urban green infrastructure, the project also employs legal experts who analyse the legal and policy context to unpack the barriers and trade-offs impeding sustainable interventions.

By combining the data obtained through these processes, future desirable scenarios are developed and embedded in a serious game that will be played by experts involved in municipal planning and administration. The gamification gives the opportunity to address in a controlled environment the complex problems stemming from the coexistence of multiple interests at the urban level. In doing so, the serious game sheds light on what decisions need to be taken at the municipal level to accelerate the transformation towards urban sustainability.

In conclusion, the project will yield results that take into account different aspects of urban governance and, concurrently, encourage sustainable choices for human and ecosystem wellbeing. This innovative approach allows TC to consider the overarching themes of sustainability transformation, and climate change adaptation and mitigation in conjunction, designing scenarios in which adaptation and mitigation are intertwined and mutually reinforcing.

About the Author

Francesco is a PhD candidate at the University of Eastern Finland. His PhD project focuses on the legal feasibility of implementing urban nature-based solutions across European cities. The main research areas addressed by his project are conservation of urban biodiversity and improvement of climate change adaptation. Francesco is interested in analyzing the main legal challenges that hinder nature-based solutions implementation and scaling-up within the European Union. He received his LLM in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development in 2021 from the University of the West of England.

Multi-sensory Public Participation GIS method integrates soundscape research and landscape values mapping

by Silviya Korpilo

Public participation GIS methodology has been mainly used to map the social values and behaviour patterns of users in city and neighbourhood levels. However, very little attention is paid to the role of different sensory systems in the perception and the embodied experience of place. The new paper by Korpilo et al. (2023) addresses this gap by integrating the soundscapes and landscape values of urban green infrastructure in two neighbourhoods in Helsinki, Finland.

The paper develops, tests and validates a Multi-sensory Public Participation GIS (MSPPGIS) method combining the qualities of soundscape research and landscape values mapping. The analysis consisted of hotspot mapping, spatial overlap assessment and compatibility analysis showing the level of spatial compatibility between positive landscape values and positive and negative soundscapes (figure below). Results indicated very low to low spatial overlap between the different landscape values and pleasant/unpleasant sound hotspots, suggesting that landscape values do not necessarily reflect sonic perception of urban green and blue spaces. Pleasant and unpleasant sounds were located closer to home than landscape values, indicating that respondents’ soundscape ‘cognitive map’ is smaller in spatial range.

The MSPPGIS method enables the elicitation of a more dynamic and diverse set of sounds compared to previous soundscape mapping which tend to focus on ‘noise’ instead of multiple experiences of different sounds. Also, the combination of landscape values and soundscapes in MSPPGIS provides for a more integrated assessment of ‘where’ and ‘how’ to design urban green infrastructure.

Korpilo, S., Nyberg, E., Vierikko, K., Nieminen, H., Arciniegas, G., & Raymond, C. M. (2023). Developing a Multi-sensory Public Participation GIS (MSPPGIS) method for integrating landscape values and soundscapes of urban green infrastructure. Landscape and Urban Planning, 230.


PhD Silviya Korpilo studies human-nature connections in cities from a socio-ecological-technological systems perspective and particularly how participatory GIS methods can support planning and management of urban green spaces. My research interests also include multisensory methods for studying human experiences in urban nature, environmental justice and using new technologies to capture and analyse urban green space use. I am currently working on the Smarter Greener Cities project examining the links between landscape and soundscape quality and psychological restoration.

How to foster hope among university students in sustainability education

by Sanna Stålhammar

A sense of hopelessness and eco-anxiety has spread amongst youth in recent years. Increased information and dystopian scenarios related to the climate and ecological crisis paired with no immediate solution leads to feelings of grief, anxiety, stress, and despair about the future. These negative emotions do not systematically translate into positive collective actions. In a recently published paper, we investigate the idea of hope as a generative force for pro-environmental action, and uncover strategies for fostering constructive hope amongst university students.

The idea of hope as a motivator is an understudied topic, and has been subject to criticism among environmental activists, like Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, given their motto: “Hope dies, action begins”. While this criticism refers to hope as a source of inaction, or a type of blind optimism, the study instead draws on the idea of ‘constructive hope’, defined as a form of hope leading to sustained emotional stability and proactive engagement through both individual and collective actions. The study examines, through interviews, how students enrolled in university programs related to global environmental challenges perceive and experience the role of education for fostering constructive hope.

The findings are presented according to four characteristics of constructive hope: goal setting, pathway thinking, agency thinking, and emotional reinforcement. The study shows how students perceive the importance of: collaboratively constructing and empowering locally grounded objectives in education; reinforcing trust in the collective potential and external (private and public organisations) actors; raising students’ perceived self-efficacy through practical applications; teaching different coping strategies related to the emotional consequences of education on students’ well-being.

We provide practical recommendations to encourage and develop constructive hope at multiple levels of university education (see table below), including structures, programs, courses and among students’ interactions. Practitioners should strive to connect theoretical learning and curriculum content with practice, provide space for emotional expressions, release the pressure from climate anxiety, and to foster a stronger sense of community among students. Overall, higher education institutions need to take actions to prevent hopelessness amongst students, and to engage with emotional and proactive aspects of sustainability in order to support a sense of hope that leads to action.

Recommended approaches to foster constructive hope and proactive engagement in university programs related to global environmental problems

Vandaele, M., & Stålhammar, S. (2022). “Hope dies, action begins?” The role of hope for proactive sustainability engagement among university students. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 23(8), 272–289.


Sanna is a post-doctoral researcher at SLU, working in the VIVA-Plan project. She is an interdisciplinary sustainability scientist interested in the social dimension of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Her doctoral research (Lund University) draws on critical social science perspectives and examines approaches for values and valuation of ecosystem services and biodiversity. She is passionate about exploring plural ways of knowing nature and strives to develop inclusive approaches for knowledge integration and transformative governance beyond anthropocentrism.

The relationship between values and knowledge in visioning for landscape management: relevance for a collaborative approach

by Andra Milcu

In conflict prone environments, such as multifunctional landscapes, where people with different stakes do not necessarily agree on how to manage their relationships with nature, it is challenging how participation in decision-making is organized to achieve better sustainable outcomes. The scholarship is currently divided into two strands: 1) the scientific advancement of concepts and frameworks for explaining how diverse knowledge systems inform more inclusive environmental decisions and 2) the advancement of diverse conceptualizations of values of nature to inform shared resource management futures. While both strands focus on embracing plurality, little theory has been developed for clarifying the interactions between values and knowledge in inclusive decision-making processes. In this context, we originally thought of our study as collecting individual baseline information on knowledge and values, and also as a way to prepare participants for future facilitated group interactions. In addition, our manuscript is drawing on the relational perspective in sustainability science to also explore the relationships between values and knowledge in the ‘controlled’ situation of envisioning ideal landscape visions. We collected information about the individuals’ core values, what values they assign to the landscape, their knowledge, and their visions for integrated landscape management. To prepare the individuals for future participatory settings we also asked about participants’ expectations of such settings, and encouraged reflexivity regarding their values and knowledge. We asked reflexive question about their values and the vision they created, about the knowledge they drew upon for creating the vision, and about how they see the relationship between own knowledge and values. The study unfolds three modalities in terms of how values and knowledge relate to form visions of nature: linked and not necessarily connected (modality I); mutually reinforcing (modality II); intertwined (modality III).

The paper aspires to contribute to the understanding and organisation of pluralistic and collaborative decision-making settings by acknowledging the importance of different forms of knowledge, as well as of different types of values. Recognising the interlinkages between values and knowledge may assist in creating more fair decision-making spaces. When striving for inclusive decision-making spaces, it is helpful to keep in mind that values and knowledge may be seen by participants as inseparable. Surfacing individuals’ values (including core ones) and knowledge prior to deliberation may lead to more inclusive decision-making settings, by balancing the representability of different value orientations or knowledge systems. We also found out that in the view of participants, consensus should not be the sole end point of collaboration and it is important to build social spaces for addressing differences and tensions in constructive ways. Based on participants’ feedback, reflecting on one’s knowledge and values, including one’s core values, although difficult, increases the depth of decisions.

Bio: Andra-Ioana Horcea-Milcu is a sustainability scientist and thinker. With a background in exploring social-ecological systems and experience in place-based transdisciplinary research, she is interested in leveraging the potential of knowledge co-creation to co-generate change in real-world contexts. Within this process, her main focus is on the role of core human values as leverage points for sustainability transformation. Through her boundary work, she aspires to contribute to managing the science|society interface, and to reframing sustainability in terms of core human values and empathetic relationships. Andra completed a PhD at Leuphana University of Lueneburg, and a postdoc at Helsus, the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science. Andra is a lead author for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) values assessment and transformative change assessment.

The epistemic dimension of human-nature connections: What and why?

Viola Hakkarainen

Knowledge processes such as creation, exchange and application are in many ways central to transformations towards sustainability. They create the baseline for organizing research and ecosystem governance. Knowledge processes manifest in interactions between and within different people such as researchers, policy makers and residents in diverse contexts and scales. However, perceptions of what is valid knowledge, how it should be produced and who is a credible knower vary between different people. These epistemic (knowledge and belief related) views are linked to different worldviews and reflect different ways of being in the world.

I define the epistemic dimension of human-nature connections as follows:

i. the ways our knowledges and perceptions of different knowledges shape our relationships, motivations and actions toward nature including decision-making concerning it

ii. the ways in which knowledges and perceptions of knowledges are shaped by nature

iii. the processes behind how different knowledge claims related to decision-making about nature are being justified at and across different scales and interfaces in knowledge interactions (Hakkarainen, 2022 p. 25)

The epistemic dimension enables recognizing the epistemic plurality that is inherent to what it is it to be a human in this world and interact with other people. It draws on the relational and situated views of knowledges.

Knowledges are shaped by being in the world. Our knowledges shape the world.

Why is it important to consider the epistemic dimension in sustainability science and ecosystem governance?

One of the key questions in sustainability science is how to reconcile diverse ways of knowing in planning and implementing sustainable futures. Sustainability science has adopted many approaches to collaborative knowledge production. What they hold in common to succeed is the need to recognize epistemic plurality to be able to navigate power dynamics in such knowledge processes.

If the epistemic plurality is not recognized and navigated in different knowledge processes, they can lead to conflicts or exclusion of some ways of knowing and epistemic domination of some views. Just sustainability transformations require including many voices and views to ecosystem governance. This also requires being attuned to political nature of knowledge processes.

To conclude, we need to find ways to foster inclusivity in both in sustainability science and ecosystem governance to be able to foster processes towards more just and sustainable futures. The epistemic dimension of human-nature connections adds to recognition of the plurality which ideally contributes to collaboration, understanding and communication. The focus on the epistemic dimension helps shed light on subtle beliefs and perspectives and point out missing and marginalized voices.


Viola is a postdoctoral researcher at the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS) where she studies sustainability education in higher education institutes. Having a background in sustainability science, Viola’s focus is on knowledge processes, collaboration and inclusivity that can support just sustainability transformations.


Hakkarainen, V. (2022). Towards inclusivity in ecosystem governance: The epistemic dimension of human-nature connections and its implications for sustainability science. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Helsinki]

Learning to be reflexive

Katri Mäkinen-Rostedt

Critical consciousness and enhanced mutual understanding (Armitage, 2011) are built through social learning, i.e., deliberative learning in collaborative or participatory settings. Inclusivity and reflexivity are key tightly coupled elements of this kind of learning process. Inclusivity embraces greater plurality in how we conceptualize and understand the world, and reflexivity implies critically assessing our own assumptions and positions as part of the world. This means that inclusivity as an aim in organizations, projects and governance requires questioning of normative beliefs, positions, and power relations. Similarly, associating a demand to ‘be reflexive’ in research projects insinuates that people become aware especially via social interaction with others, either fellow researchers or non-academics, of their own and other’s assimilated beliefs and values.

Our recent study on the “real-world” learning pathways that occurred during the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services IPBES Values Assessment process revealed how individual’s understandings change in transdisciplinary processes due to social interactions and increased reflexivity. We learned that one of the main catalysts for any learning path towards reflexivity in the IPBES context was the experienced diversity of perspectives. Diversity appeared in different ways during the process: diversity was experienced in contexts (political, organizational, historical, cultural) and in the expressed values, worldviews, disciplines, and knowledge. Whether individuals had gained new knowledge, better cooperating skills, changed their understanding or received better awareness of other’s thinking, it was all enabled through social interactions.

Hence, organizations which want to support inclusive knowledge creation processes should invest in developing their mechanisms for both individual and group -level learning. Organizational practices that can support learning pathways to reflexivity can include, for example, systematic evaluations of different learning outcomes and various cooperative practices such as guided questions, active listening, or real-world labs. Because inclusivity adds a plurality of views and meanings during the process and of the process, it is equally important to keep the learning processes open. Open processes embrace the process rather than the outcome, accepting that some of the outcomes of the process might also be negative and unpredictable (Hakkarainen et al., 2020).


This writing is based on the manuscript currently under review.

About the Author

In spring 2021 Katri Mäkinen-Rostedt spent four months in the Human-Nature Transformations Group as a Senior Project Manager. She worked, e.g. with IBPES-related research project on expert’s understandings on multiple values of nature and supporting the group with project planning activities. She is a Ph.D. Candidate at Tampere University. Her PhD project concerns the use and construction of expert knowledge in global environmental governance. Her current interests include social network analysis and various knowledge creation practices (such as co-production of knowledge) used in different international and regional science-policy interfaces. You can follow Katri on Twitter or ResearchGate.


Dale, A., Armitage, D., 2011. Marine mammal co-management in Canada’s Arctic: Knowledge co-production for learning and adaptive capacity. Marine Policy, 35(4), 440–449. DOI:

Hakkarainen, V., et al., 2020. The other end of research: exploring community-level exchanges in small-scale fisheries in Zanzibar. Sustainability Science, 15(1), 281–295. DOI:

Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Implementing Nature-based Solutions in the EU: opportunities and obstacles

Francesco Venuti

Green wall in Turin, Italy. Credits: Eugenia Castellazzi

In the last few years, the term ‘Nature-based Solutions’ (NbS) gained momentum in sustainability literature as an ‘umbrella’ concept encompassing measures able to address many issues related to both climate change mitigation and adaptation (e.g., enlarging carbon sinks, enhancing biodiversity, protecting from extreme weather events consequences etc.). NbS even attained a formal acknowledgement from several institutions, with the European Commission defining them as ‘actions inspired, copied or supported by nature’.

Notwithstanding these endorsements and the mounting evidence of NbS’ positive benefits in tackling various environmental challenges, the implementation of these solutions in the European Union (EU) is still relatively limited, as national and local decision-makers seem to prefer business-as-usual approaches. The reasons lying behind this fact can be grouped into two broad categories, namely legal and non-legal.

The latter range from the erroneous perception of NbS as prohibitively expensive interventions to the lack of a longer-term perspective on the part of the political establishment. Moreover, in the field of NbS, adopting a one-size-fits-all approach is not desirable. As a matter of fact, NbS must be adapted to the local social context and tailored to the site’s morphological conditions in order to deliver their whole range of ecosystem services.

From a legal perspective, one can observe a certain degree of misalignment between the indications given by the EU and the opportunities provided by the majority of Member States’ legal systems. For instance, NbS are mentioned 20 times within the new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change (SACC) and an entire section is dedicated to their promotion. NbS represent one of the three priorities of the EU systemic approach to climate change adaptation, hence the Union’s support is primary and explicit.

On the other hand, national legal systems often do not incorporate the regulatory preconditions necessary for NbS scaling up. For instance, limitations in building codes combined with the lack of provisions for the sustainable utilisation of stormwater can reduce the opportunities for building green roofs. Bureaucracy combined with low environmental standards impedes the dynamic recovery of green areas. Unclear provisions on the allocation of responsibility in public projects that affect property rights hamper green and blue infrastructure development.

These are just some examples of practical issues that national and local authorities face when implementing NbS. The EU endorsement of NbS is certainly an important step and will help to change the attitude towards these actions. However, Member States must strive to adjust their regulations in order to facilitate NbS employment. Only then it will be possible to maximise NbS benefits, realise the objectives of the SACC and thus accelerate the transition towards sustainable development.

About the Author

Francesco is a PhD candidate at the University of Eastern Finland. His PhD project focuses on the legal feasibility of implementing urban nature-based solutions across European cities. The main research areas addressed by his project are conservation of urban biodiversity and improvement of climate change adaptation. Francesco is interested in analyzing the main legal challenges that hinder nature-based solutions implementation and scaling-up within the European Union. He received his LLM in Environmental Law and Sustainable Development in 2021 from the University of the West of England.


European Commission (2015) Towards an EU Research and Innovation policy agenda for Nature-Based Solutions and Re-Naturing Cities: Final Report of the Horizon 2020 Expert Group on Nature-Based Solutions and Re-Naturing Cities. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

European Commission (2021) Forging a climate-resilient Europe: the new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change. COM (2021) 82 final <>

Notes from the field: researching the stability of visions and values for protected area management during the global COVID-19 pandemic

Veronica Lo

Photo: Veronica Lo

Two years ago, colleagues and I were corresponding about the exciting work we were undertaking in the beautiful Sierra de Guadarrama National Park, Spain. Under the ENVISION project, we had completed a first round of interviews with community stakeholders to understand perceptions of landscape changes and their drivers, and how they might be integrated into protected areas management to deal with current and future change. Little did we know that a seismic change was coming – a global pandemic would put a monkey wrench into all of our respective research plans and thwart any future attempts for our international team to meet in person.

Of course, research meetings seemed like frivolous concerns in the overall picture as the pandemic has carved its devasting path across the world, measured in deaths, severe illness, and impacted livelihoods and economies. We were lucky to have our lives and livelihoods intact, but the same could not be said for the community we were targeting. The mountainous Sierra de Guadarrama National Park stretches across the two autonomous provinces of Madrid and Castilla y León. Madrid, the location of the nation’s capital and the most populous province in Spain, was the most affected area in one of the countries hardest-hit by the first wave of the pandemic.

Still, we thought it was worth asking: what happens to a vision for management when a wildcard event like a pandemic occurs? Scores of literatures now demonstrate the contribution of green spaces and protected areas to our physical and mental health and well-being. There is growing evidence of how people have valued green spaces during the pandemic for outdoor recreation and social bonds (e.g. Day 2020; Ugolini et al. 2020; Xie et al. 2020; Korpilo et al. 2021). Understanding how patterns of use, values for nature, and visions for management shift for protected areas when faced with global shocks can help policymakers and stakeholders learn from these events and create adaptive management plans.

Our research design also required adaptive management, and rather than follow-up with in-person interviews as planned, we conducted a virtual workshop one year later, in the midst of the second wave of the pandemic, to elicit stakeholder values, perceptions of landscape change and visions for park management. In a region scarred by the pandemic, we had to carefully choose how to pose our questions in order to prevent further trauma. We did this via posing sensitive questions in an individual follow-up survey rather than in an open deliberative setting.[1]

Our research yielded interesting results. Pre-pandemic, we found that stakeholder values and perceptions of landscape changes were strikingly similar across different types of visions. Differences in stakeholder visions for management were instead largely shaped by the varying importance placed on different drivers of change.  Mid-pandemic, those values and visions for management were largely stable, with values being re-affirmed in some cases. Where values changed, they shifted towards an appreciation of the park as a means to realize values of outdoor recreation and social bonds during periods of lockdown which restricted activities in enclosed spaces outside of homes. There were more pronounced changes regarding perceived drivers of change in the national park. These varied with different phases of the lockdown period, including the observed recovery of nature from tourism when visits to the park were restricted, and, on the other end of the spectrum, mass tourism and mountain recreation when lockdown policies were lifted.

Our findings reinforce the importance of adaptive and inclusive management of protected areas. Integrating local and traditional knowledge and stakeholder perceptions of changes and drivers can enhance management strategies, such as using local knowledge of controlled grazing practices to reduce the risk of wildfires. As it becomes clear that the pandemic is far from over and continues to restrict indoor gatherings and re-introduce lockdown policies, it would be prudent to more strongly consider how to manage parks with varying fluxes of visitors and their resultant impacts on biodiversity and natural and cultural features.

Lo, V. B. P. G., López-Rodríguez, M. D., Metzger, M. J., Oteros-Rozas, E., Cebrián-Piqueras, M. A., Ruiz-Mallén, I., March, H., & Raymond, C. M. (2022) How stable are visions for protected area management? Stakeholder perspectives before and during a pandemic. People and Nature.

[1] See Santana et al. 2021 for insights on qualitative sustainability research during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers María D. López-Rodríguez, Miguel A. Cebrián Piqueres, and Veronica B.P.G Lo (L-R) enjoying a walk in the gardens of the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso, at the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains.

About the Author

Veronica Lo is a researcher at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden. From January 2022, she will be a post-doctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. She will also continue as a valued adjunct in the Human-Nature Transformations Research Group, University of Helsinki.


This research was funded through the 2017-2018 Belmont Forum and BiodivERsA joint call for research proposals, under the BiodivScen ERA-Net COFUND programme, and with the funding organizations the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (FORMAS), University of Helsinki, and PCI2018-092958/Spanish Research Agency (AEI), in addition to the financial support of the Spanish Research Agency (RYC-2015-17676) and Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities (IJCI-2017-34334).


Day, B. H. The Value of Greenspace Under Pandemic Lockdown. Environ Resource Econ 76, 1161–1185 (2020).

Korpilo, S. et al. Coping With Crisis: Green Space Use in Helsinki Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in Sustainable Cities 3, 99 (2021).

Santana, F. N. et al. A path forward for qualitative research on sustainability in the COVID-19 pandemic. Sustain Sci (2021) doi:10.1007/s11625-020-00894-8.

Ugolini, F. et al. Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the use and perceptions of urban green space: An international exploratory study. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 56, 126888 (2020).

Xie, J., Luo, S., Furuya, K. & Sun, D. Urban Parks as Green Buffers During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Sustainability 12, 6751 (2020).

Reflections on urban sustainability and transformations from npj Urban Sustainability

Upon recent appointment as a editor of npj Urban Sustainability, Professor of Sustainability Science Christopher M. Raymond contributed to a blog post on urban sustainability and transformations. Coming after the close of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, the piece focuses on how to address interconnected issues of climate change, biodiversity loss, pandemics and social inequality. As Prof. Raymond and co-editor Prof. Vanesa Castán Broto write, “supporting inclusive conservation in cities, resilience, and just transformations toward sustainability will require scientific advances at the interface of plural valuation, environmental justice and intersectional critiques of inequality.”

See the full blog post at: