From stories to maps: translating participatory scenario narratives into spatially explicit information

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To understand future land use change, and related ecological and social impacts, scenario planning has become increasingly popular. We demonstrate an approach for translating scenario narratives into spatially explicit land use maps. Starting from four previously developed scenarios of land use change in southwestern Ethiopia we developed a baseline land use map, and rules for how to modify the baseline map under each scenario. We used the proximity-based scenario generator of the InVEST software to model the prospective land cover changes to existing forest (53%), arable land (26%), pasture (11%), and wetlands (7%), under the four future scenarios. The model results indicate that forest cover area would remain essentially the same under the “gain over grain” and “biosphere reserve” scenarios. Coffee plantations would cover almost half the landscape (49%) in the “mining green gold” scenario, whereas arable land would expand and cover more than half of the landscape (57%) in the “food first” scenario. The approach presented here integrates future land use mapping with participatory, narrative-based scenario research to assess the social-ecological outcomes of alternative futures. The translation of narratives onto maps can help researchers and stakeholders better understand and communicate potential land use changes, and facilitate a more spatially nuanced approach to managing or adapting to broad scale socioeconomic changes. Our study constitutes a methodological contribution to the management of land use change, as well as a tool to facilitate transparent policy negotiation and communication at local, government, and NGO levels.
Original languageEnglish
Article number13
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number2
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 06.2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback on an earlier version of this paper. We gratefully appreciate funding by the German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the author(s).

    Research areas

  • InVEST, landscape, land use and land cover maps, narrative scenarios, plausible futures, spatially explicit land use scenarios, translation rules
  • Ecosystems Research
  • Biology