Archetypes in support of tailoring land-use policies

Related GLP Member: Christoph Oberlack, Luigi Piemontese, Tomas Vaclavik, Diana Sietz

Many policies in agriculture, forestry and other sectors aim to reduce social or environmental risks and enhance sustainable land use. For example, the European Union (EU) has implemented agri-environmental schemes to support farmers in managing their land in an eco-friendly manner and increasing biodiversity. However, implementing the same policy uniformly in different jurisdictions can undermine its effectiveness (Ostrom et al 2007, Sietz et al 2022). For example, the limited effectiveness of agri-environment schemes (Batary et al 2015) can be attributed to the pronounced variability and non-linearity in relationships between agriculture and farmland biodiversity, e.g. in protecting farmland birds (Whittingham et al 2007, Concepcion et al 2020, Roilo et al 2023). Therefore, land-use policies that are tailored to fit the characteristics of specific land systems are more effective than homogeneously implemented measures (Young 2013, Nolte et al 2017).

We define the tailoring of land-use policies here as a process that seeks to create a fit between instruments and processes of land-use policy on the one hand and properties of land-use systems in a particular place on the other hand (Epstein et al 2015). Tailoring influences policy effectiveness. For example, forest clearing practices in the Brazilian Amazon shifted from large-scale clearing to more extensive small-scale clearing (Assuncão et al 2017). This shift in clearing practices made it more challenging for established policy and associated monitoring mechanisms to govern forest development in a sustainable way. This calls for tailoring policies over time to better address evolving land-use practices (Assuncão et al 2017).

Land system science has made notable progress in recent years to support tailoring of land-use policies (Meyfroidt et al 2022). For example, middle range theories are creating illuminative explanations of land change processes such as agricultural intensification, land-use transitions or spillovers (Meyfroidt et al 2018). The normative foundations and implications of land system science are increasingly reflected (Nielsen et al 2019, Schneider et al 2019). Archetype analysis and other methodological approaches that generate and validate generalized knowledge claims are maturing (Magliocca et al 2018, Oberlack et al 2019, Eisenack et al 2021, Piemontese et al 2022a).

Archetypes of (un)sustainable land use and governance depict patterns of factors and processes that commonly shape the (un)sustainability of land-use systems across cases and contexts. Archetype analysis is a methodological approach to generalize knowledge from cases and case studies in context-sensitive ways and to build middle-range theories of land use systems (Oberlack et al 2016, Magliocca et al 2018). It can draw on a portfolio of methods (Sietz et al 2019) and design criteria (Eisenack et al 2019). Insights into archetypes can help transfer knowledge about solutions for sustainable development across contexts (Vaclavik et al 2016, Sietz et al 2017, Rocha et al 2020).

The Focus Issue on 'Archetypes of sustainable land use and governance' in Environmental Research Letters presents a collection of recent advances in archetype analyses within land system science. The Focus Issue aims to advance archetype analysis in the following ways: (i) enhance our understanding of recurrent patterns of land-use (change) processes such as deforestation or agricultural practices; (ii) promote methodological innovations in archetype analysis; (iii) provide insights into governance strategies for more sustainable land use systems and (iv) inspire change agents to facilitate transformations towards sustainable land use systems. Based on these thematic and methodological advances, this Focus Issue critically reflects on using the notion of 'archetypes of land use' to tailor policies in a context-sensitive way and facilitate cross-context learning.

This editorial provides an overview of the key insights presented in the articles in this Focus Issue (section 2). It then describes three methodological advancements made by contributions to this Focus Issue (section 3). Finally, it explores how archetype analysis can support tailoring of land-use policies to land system properties (section 4), and it concludes with an examination of emerging frontiers, challenges and future research needs of archetype analysis in land system science (section 5).