Plural valuation of nature is key for inclusive and fair sustainability policies. Although there is a growing awareness of the importance of incorporating multiple values of nature in decision making, inclusive processes of this type are rare, limited to consultations, or have little transparency regarding their translation into public policy. Especially in nature conservation schemes such as protected areas, the integration of values from local communities is much needed. In this article, we analyze the experience of the Forest Stewards Network in Xalapa, Mexico, to show how plural valuation and the recognition of the inseparable link between the values of nature and the values that shape social organization can contribute to environmental decision making. We present the method of collective creation of utopias by drawing-telling as a practice to elicit and integrate multiple values in decision-making processes. We applied a participatory art-based plural valuation approach, structured in five stages: (1) a collective diagnosis of the problem(s), (2) creating individual utopias through drawings and narratives, (3) integrating values in collective utopia, (4) strategic planning, and (5) collective action. This method led to significant results in relation to learning, values, decision making, and action, fostering mutual understanding and diversity as principles for a more horizontal organization. We conclude by highlighting the importance of learning and experimenting around inclusive decision-making processes at all levels, as well as the significant contributions of grassroots organizations to this matter.

1. Introduction

Any decision-making process that motivates actions for social-ecological transformation is based on values of nature [1]. Ways of perceiving nature, attributing meanings to it, understanding its processes, and relating to it play a key role in our decisions and actions [1, 2]. Plural valuation refers to a process of knowledge generation that seeks to elicit and integrate the diversity of ways in which people conceptualize and appreciate nature into a coherent and operational scheme for decision making and action that affects human–nature relations [1, 3, 4]. The integration of plural values into decision making encompasses significant challenges, including dealing with invisible and antagonistic values and promoting broad and effective participation [4, 5]. Processes of integration of diverse values often constitute a “black box” with little transparency on how they are elicited and integrated into decision making [5]. Adequate participatory practices could contribute to tackling these challenges and increasing mainstream plural valuation by allowing the recognition and integration of nondominant values that uphold justice and sustainability [2, 4]. Thus, it is important to learn from experiences of plural valuation and create participatory practices that promote the integration of multiple values linked to more just and sustainable futures [1, 6].

In environmental management, conflicts are often a consequence of the confrontation between values [1, 7, 8]. In the Global South, protected areas (PAs) provide an important context for analyzing and promoting plural valuation, as decisions based on certain conservation values often generate conflicts with actors whose values are excluded from consultation and negotiation processes [9]. In Mexico, there are multiple cases where top-down policy delimits PAs and defines rules and management schemes without the integration of diverse values that could be elicited by means of participatory processes [9, 10], often leading to negative outcomes also in terms of conservation [11, 12]. In this sense, the importance of plural valuation arises from its potential to (1) prevent or transform conflicts [1]; (2) promote learning between diverse and antagonistic approaches [1, 2]; (3) act in accordance with the human right to inclusive, representative, and meaningful participation [13]; and (4) promote democracy, transparency, and consensus-based decision making [2, 4].

Valuation methods can be quantitative or qualitative, varying from monetary methods [14], methods to identify individual preferences, ecosystem services analysis [15], biophysical methods, sociocultural assessment methods, and participatory multi-criteria methods [16]. These methods usually imply different purposes, ethical principles, and approaches [3]. Economic valuation methods, for instance, are generally guided by utilitarian values of nature [17]. In contrast, plural valuation is based on the recognition and integration of various types of values. It is not just a method for documenting diverse values of nature but also a process of negotiation and integration that requires collaboration and learning among different social actors [2, 3]. The distinction between different relational models (RMs) permits a better understanding of core drivers of individual and social behavior and values [1]. We here define relational values as the principles, preferences, and virtues associated with responsibilities toward and relationships with nature, which function as significant elements for collective decision making and drivers for action toward sustainability (adapted from [1]).

In this article, we explore an innovative method inspired by the principles of Paulo Freire and Robert Jungk: the creation of utopias by drawings and narratives as a way to elicit diverse values, co-construct knowledge, and integrate values for decision making, strategic planning, and collective action. Utopias can connect people through the construction of a common vision of the future based on their different values [18, 19]. We analyze the creation of a common utopia around the shared management of the PA Archipiélago de Bosques y Selvas by the Forest Stewards Network in Xalapa, Mexico, a multi-actoral organization that aspires to plural and direct participation in territorial co-management.1 We aim to (1) explore how the creation of utopias by drawings and narratives favors the elicitation of plural values of nature, (2) provide insights into the black box of diverse value integration, and (3) analyze the effects of this type of process on grassroots and governmental politics, a separation we make for the purpose of analyzing the complex fabric of actors defining and acting in environmental management.2 We describe the process of creation of a common utopia and analyze the presence of different values in relation to nature, as well as the integration process and its link to decision making. Finally, we conclude that effective participatory processes should be more broadly carried out so that diverse values can be integrated into decision making by civil society groups and government agencies.

2. Utopia and Values

Imagining and designing futures is an elemental engine of human groups. Utopia is a radical form of visions that are conceived as “future objectives” [18] or “mental perceptions” of a “desired future reality” [22]. Utopias emerge when people think beyond the limitations of a current system or situation. Feasibility is not exclusively a question of scientific prediction but also a social and collective matter, in relation to current and future actions. Utopias break mental and real frontiers that go as far as fiction and at the same time present an ideal image of society [23] inspired by the values of their creators. Utopias tend to be criticized as useless because they seem to be unrealistic, or even dangerous. Nevertheless, according to Saage [24], the rejection of utopias is a social impoverishment: “In fact, whoever equates the future with an enlargement of the present, does not require any utopia. Whoever sees the future characterized by open horizons has to define how the world in which we want to live tomorrow can be. How can this question be answered if not by a utopian fiction?” [24: 99; own translation].

In order to characterize utopia among the multiple ways of imagining and designing futures, we compare it in table 1 with Future Scenarios, a commonly used approach in different research fields. Even though both concepts are apparently based on the same motivations and goals, they have important differences in regard to the principles and processes of design and degrees of feasibility, with implications for their plural valuation potential. In relation to the integration of diverse values about nature, Future Scenarios focuses on plausible, consistent descriptions of future developments of a system [25, 26]. The potential of the utopian approach lies in (1) the freedom to dream about novel social realities based on different values, (2) the possibility of including diverse social actors with different types of knowledge and forms of expression, and (3) the links it generates between visions of the future and collective actions.

Table 1.

Overview of Methodological Approaches for the Construction of Visions of the Future.

Future ScenariosUtopias
Approach Analyze drivers for change in the past and present to achieve plausible descriptions of future scenarios by creating new compositions of impact factors in different variations. Create a utopian image of a desired future, liberated from trends and what is considered realistic, encouraging social fantasy and motivation. 
Objective Elaborate a variety of possible futures to visualize and assess the spectrum of possibilities in negotiation and decision making. Quantitative: Analyze future trends, dynamics, and (theoretical) possibilities. Participatory/qualitative: Stimulate creative thinking, facilitate learning. 

Liberate creativity and invention of desirable futures, creating spaces for dialogue and reflection on a desirable world.

Achieve a transition from critique to collective action.

 
Feasibility All consistent combinations of the constitutive factors/drivers are theoretically possible, but often only a few are feasible, which is derived from analysis of the present and/or the past. Being projections, the degree of possible transformation may be limited. Not considered feasible from current point of view since they exist beyond current barriers, but at the same time they create “the possible” by making visible intangible factors for transformation. Feasibility is not the guiding logic. 
Criticism Insufficient strategies for dealing with the unknown, lack of creativity, and little transparency about assumptions underlying the scenario construction. Risk of being extensions of the present. Utopian fantasies are too optimistic and underestimate the power of conventional strategies to create change. Useless because they are impossible to realize. 
Examples Millennium Ecosystem Assessment [27]; Global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services [28  Mainly used by local communities as, for example, Ludwigshafen, Germany, or the Fri&Fro Community, Denmark [36
References Carpenter et al. [26]; Reed et al. [25]; Johnson et al. [29]; Oteros-Rozas et al. [30]; Bennett & Zurek [31]; Börjeson et al. [32]; Raskin [33]; Peterson et al. [34]; Heugens & Van Oosterhout [35Burow [37]; Dürnberger [23]; Jungk & Müllert [38]; Kuhnt & Müllert [39]; Vidal [36
Future ScenariosUtopias
Approach Analyze drivers for change in the past and present to achieve plausible descriptions of future scenarios by creating new compositions of impact factors in different variations. Create a utopian image of a desired future, liberated from trends and what is considered realistic, encouraging social fantasy and motivation. 
Objective Elaborate a variety of possible futures to visualize and assess the spectrum of possibilities in negotiation and decision making. Quantitative: Analyze future trends, dynamics, and (theoretical) possibilities. Participatory/qualitative: Stimulate creative thinking, facilitate learning. 

Liberate creativity and invention of desirable futures, creating spaces for dialogue and reflection on a desirable world.

Achieve a transition from critique to collective action.

 
Feasibility All consistent combinations of the constitutive factors/drivers are theoretically possible, but often only a few are feasible, which is derived from analysis of the present and/or the past. Being projections, the degree of possible transformation may be limited. Not considered feasible from current point of view since they exist beyond current barriers, but at the same time they create “the possible” by making visible intangible factors for transformation. Feasibility is not the guiding logic. 
Criticism Insufficient strategies for dealing with the unknown, lack of creativity, and little transparency about assumptions underlying the scenario construction. Risk of being extensions of the present. Utopian fantasies are too optimistic and underestimate the power of conventional strategies to create change. Useless because they are impossible to realize. 
Examples Millennium Ecosystem Assessment [27]; Global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services [28  Mainly used by local communities as, for example, Ludwigshafen, Germany, or the Fri&Fro Community, Denmark [36
References Carpenter et al. [26]; Reed et al. [25]; Johnson et al. [29]; Oteros-Rozas et al. [30]; Bennett & Zurek [31]; Börjeson et al. [32]; Raskin [33]; Peterson et al. [34]; Heugens & Van Oosterhout [35Burow [37]; Dürnberger [23]; Jungk & Müllert [38]; Kuhnt & Müllert [39]; Vidal [36

An important element of utopia creation in environmental management is the rupture of all the barriers that limit us to be, act, and relate differently, according to our values of nature. Although Future Scenarios tend to be based on a deterministic thought process in which the future is composed of factors/drivers that are derived from past developments and/or present states, with the risk of creating more of the same, utopias try to create “the possible” by a process of breaking with what we consider as reality or realistic, thus opening up social fantasies and extending the possibilities of action [37]. In approaching social-ecological transformation, the horizon of what we consider as possible is usually conditioned by our values of nature. In our capitalist system, for example, values of utilization, detachment, and domination of nature can easily limit imagination. It is thus important to question these limits and create utopias that inspire actions toward a world based on different values of nature [23].

Further, utopias reveal possible strategies for transformation and connect with a desire and motivation for change. In Freire’s words: “There is no true utopia outside the tension between the denunciation of a present that becomes increasingly intolerable and the announcement of a future to be politically, aesthetically and ethically created by all” [40: 116]. In this sense, history is constructed as a possibility and people as subjects capable of transforming the world through their dreams. For the same reason, the desire for freedom and the creation of utopias are for Freire “a motor of history”—a possibility of transformation. As Freire states, “there is no change if there is no dream” [40: 117].

3. The Forest Stewards Network: A Brief Description

The PA Archipiélago de Bosques y Selvas de Xalapa is a multifunctional biological corridor with a surface area of 5,580 ha surrounding the city of Xalapa, in the state of Veracruz, Mexico (figure 1). Its objectives are to preserve and restore areas of great sociocultural and ecological importance, as well as to put a halt to unplanned urban expansion and reduce the unsustainable management of natural resources in the region [41]. The conservation of this area is of great importance due to its tropical montane cloud forest, which is a very diverse ecosystem with a great capacity for water infiltration [42]. Cloud forests are currently endangered, with the highest deforestation rate among tropical forests [43]. In Mexico, it is estimated that more than 50% of cloud forests have disappeared [44]. Exponential urban growth, rural depopulation, and a general devaluation of peasant lifestyles are noticeable trends in the Xalapa region, as in the rest of Latin America and the global south [45]. Shade coffee production is one of the main economic activities in the PA and has contributed significantly to the forests’ conservation [46]. Nevertheless, in the past few years, the devastating economic impact of a pathogenic fungus known as “la roya” (Hemileia vastratrix) that causes coffee leaf rust has led to severe deforestation, sun-grown coffee or lemon monocultures, and urbanization.

Figure 1.

Map of the protected area Archipiélago de Bosques y Selvas de la Región Capital del Estado de Veracruz, Mexico. Source: Forest Stewards Network.

Figure 1.

Map of the protected area Archipiélago de Bosques y Selvas de la Región Capital del Estado de Veracruz, Mexico. Source: Forest Stewards Network.

What the Archipiélago de Bosques y Selvas de Xalapa protects is the common good or nature’s contributions to people, in spite of the fact that its land is owned by a diversity of rural and urban actors (50.21% is private property and 49.79% social property). The PA is inserted in a complex sociopolitical context, with actors holding antagonistic, indifferent, or complementary interests and values [9]. The conflictive panorama set by opposing interests and values can be further intensified by political decisions if no effort is made to generate participatory value negotiation and integration processes.

The Forest Stewards Network3 was created in 2015 in response to the decree that established the PA. It is a platform in which actors of different types of occupation, age, and social sector participate, with approximately 80 active members and hundreds of affiliates. The network’s main objectives are to: (1) function as a citizens’ observatory; (2) collect, generate, and distribute information on socio-ecological problems and efforts to create more livable and sustainable environments; (3) link citizens who are interested in defending the territory and preventing destructive forms of urban growth; and (4) promote concrete actions of social-ecological care toward an improved quality of life. The network operates as a polycentric governance platform formed by commissions, an articulating group, an advisory council, and local groups in the PA’s green islands. It is a self-managed, independent network, open to the participation of any interested person. Its activities include the monitoring of irregular activities in the PA, reforestation and landscape restoration, the promotion of sustainable practices and solidarity economy, and various reflexive multi-actoral processes and critical engagement with public policy.

4. Strategic Planning Through the Elicitation of Diverse Values and the Collective Creation of Common Utopias

As part of a participatory action research (PAR) process with the Forest Stewards Network, we carried out the collective creation of utopias for strategic planning from December 2016 to February 2017.4 The process aimed at (1) reflecting collectively on the network’s activities and relationship with the PA, (2) facilitating a space for the expression of diverse values and the creation of a common utopia for the region, and (3) carrying out strategic planning. The process occurred at a time when the network lacked funding and needed to redefine its objectives, actions, and organization. Moreover, the imposed nature of the PA demanded more inclusive practices that would allow the network to learn more about the different values and interests at stake.5 Inspired by PAR methodologies [47, 48, 49], the principles of Paulo Freire [40, 50, 51], and the proposal for future visions workshops of Robert Jungk and Norbert Müllert [38], we carried out two 1-day workshops and two meetings with small groups, in addition to several collective planning meetings and collective action over a period of 1 year. Forty-two people with diverse backgrounds in terms of occupation, age, and forms of relationship with the PA participated.6 Despite this variety, representatives from industry and real estate developers who oppose the network’s interests did not participate, and the participation of peasants and collective landowners who inhabit the PA was limited.

The methodology is structured in the following stages (figure 2): (0) The preparation phase encompasses a collective diagnosis of the problems as well as activities to free participants from criticism and generate a visionary space for (1) fantasizing about and creating individual utopias using drawings and narratives [52]. (2) The individual utopias are then integrated, negotiated, modified, and recreated in a collective utopia through dialogue as illustrated in figure 3. Finally, (3) collective planning takes place, and the resulting plans are later implemented in a (4) phase of social experimentation and collective action. In this way, the “untold viable” [51]—or that which is dreamt of but not fully known or acted upon—is explored, guiding decisions and actions. Participants are invited to distance themselves from what bothers and saddens them in order to objectify and critically analyze it. They are then asked to break from present conditions, creating “frontier acts” to resist passive attitudes and take a determined position toward the future [51]. A dialogical and reflexive process of collective learning is at the center of this methodology. Participants reflect upon change and what is needed to achieve it, learning from different values about nature and different views on how we want to live.7

Figure 2.

Stages of the creation of collective utopia methodology: from (0) a subjective diagnosis of the problems, (1) creating and (2) integrating utopias through drawings and narratives, to (3) collective strategic planning and (4) collective action.

Figure 2.

Stages of the creation of collective utopia methodology: from (0) a subjective diagnosis of the problems, (1) creating and (2) integrating utopias through drawings and narratives, to (3) collective strategic planning and (4) collective action.

Figure 3.

Presentation and discussion of the common utopias from groups (photo credit: David Donner).

Figure 3.

Presentation and discussion of the common utopias from groups (photo credit: David Donner).

In table 2, we describe the stages, objectives, concrete methods, and corresponding results of this experience. In the right-hand column, we specify which type of analysis and results were presented for each stage and highlight the corresponding result-discussion section. This general outline of the methodology can be adapted for application in other contexts.

Table 2.

Stages of Strategic Planning and Elicitation of Values Through Collective Creation of Utopias.

StageFunctionSpecific MethodsType of Results and Analysis

0. Critical analysis and subjective diagnosis of the problem(s)

 

Creating space of liberation where criticism can be freely expressed

Imagining based on critical recognition of problems and frustrations

Generating the desire to change and free energy toward creative change

 

Four rotating stages for collective analysis in small groups and plenary:

  1. Time line analysis to identify challenges and opportunities

  2. Social actor mapping to identify power relations

  3. Collective analysis of strategic data regarding social dynamics within the territory

  4. Enchantment tree, wailing wall, and proposals’ path to share feelings and criticism

Plenary to share collective learnings

 

(Only very synthetic results presented in this article, in a footnote. Analysis of content)

 

1. Creating individual utopias

 

Creating a visionary space to develop new perspectives on reality

Nourishing the social fantasy, freeing from mental barriers, living the joy of creation, freeing repressed desires, feelings, and values

 

Diverse methods to foster creativity:

Participatory theater: re-significations in pairs and creation of a collective machine that produces dreams (image theater)

Imaginary journey through the territory

Creation of individual utopias, dreams, and ideas through paintings and storytelling

 

Diverse values are elicited through utopia. Content analysis of drawings and narratives (see Section 5.1)

 

2. Integrating values into collective utopia

 

Facilitating a space for mutual listening around values

Experiencing co-creativity and integrating different values in common utopias

Awakening desire for transformation and collective energy to act creatively toward transformative change

 

Collective creation of utopias through dialogue in small groups, connecting individual proposals in the drawings

Plenary: presentation of utopia by each group, collective reflection on common and different aspects, identification of main ideas.

Playback theater for collective self-reflection

 

Integration of plural values. Analysis of participants’ perceptions and participatory observation of the process (see Section 5.2)

 

3. Collective strategic planning

 

Contextualizing the utopia in the present situation and developing strategies to deconstruct barriers

Agreeing on concrete collective actions toward transformation

 

Set the utopia down gradually:

Synthesize key values and ideas in plenary

Propose actions to achieve utopia in groups

Plenary to generate a collective strategic plan with clustered actions

Define action details, deadlines, responsibilities, and forms of evaluation

 

Effects on grassroots organization and policy. Analysis of documents, actions, and participants’ perceptions (see Section 5.3)

 

4. Collective action

 

Social experimentation, collective reflection, and evaluation

 

Meetings to establish forms of organization and collective action

Commissions to analyze and act upon main strategic subjects

Assemblies to coordinate different actions and critically reflect on the process

Gathering to evaluate after 1 year, reflect on practices and readjust plans

 
StageFunctionSpecific MethodsType of Results and Analysis

0. Critical analysis and subjective diagnosis of the problem(s)

 

Creating space of liberation where criticism can be freely expressed

Imagining based on critical recognition of problems and frustrations

Generating the desire to change and free energy toward creative change

 

Four rotating stages for collective analysis in small groups and plenary:

  1. Time line analysis to identify challenges and opportunities

  2. Social actor mapping to identify power relations

  3. Collective analysis of strategic data regarding social dynamics within the territory

  4. Enchantment tree, wailing wall, and proposals’ path to share feelings and criticism

Plenary to share collective learnings

 

(Only very synthetic results presented in this article, in a footnote. Analysis of content)

 

1. Creating individual utopias

 

Creating a visionary space to develop new perspectives on reality

Nourishing the social fantasy, freeing from mental barriers, living the joy of creation, freeing repressed desires, feelings, and values

 

Diverse methods to foster creativity:

Participatory theater: re-significations in pairs and creation of a collective machine that produces dreams (image theater)

Imaginary journey through the territory

Creation of individual utopias, dreams, and ideas through paintings and storytelling

 

Diverse values are elicited through utopia. Content analysis of drawings and narratives (see Section 5.1)

 

2. Integrating values into collective utopia

 

Facilitating a space for mutual listening around values

Experiencing co-creativity and integrating different values in common utopias

Awakening desire for transformation and collective energy to act creatively toward transformative change

 

Collective creation of utopias through dialogue in small groups, connecting individual proposals in the drawings

Plenary: presentation of utopia by each group, collective reflection on common and different aspects, identification of main ideas.

Playback theater for collective self-reflection

 

Integration of plural values. Analysis of participants’ perceptions and participatory observation of the process (see Section 5.2)

 

3. Collective strategic planning

 

Contextualizing the utopia in the present situation and developing strategies to deconstruct barriers

Agreeing on concrete collective actions toward transformation

 

Set the utopia down gradually:

Synthesize key values and ideas in plenary

Propose actions to achieve utopia in groups

Plenary to generate a collective strategic plan with clustered actions

Define action details, deadlines, responsibilities, and forms of evaluation

 

Effects on grassroots organization and policy. Analysis of documents, actions, and participants’ perceptions (see Section 5.3)

 

4. Collective action

 

Social experimentation, collective reflection, and evaluation

 

Meetings to establish forms of organization and collective action

Commissions to analyze and act upon main strategic subjects

Assemblies to coordinate different actions and critically reflect on the process

Gathering to evaluate after 1 year, reflect on practices and readjust plans

 

Source: Own elaboration inspired by Jungk & Müllert [38], Kuhnt & Müllert [39], and Burow [37] as well as principles from Paulo Freire and PAR.

Relational values are highly complex as they describe the principles, preferences, and virtues associated with the responsibilities toward and relationship with nature [1]. There are important differences in diverse cultures in respect to how far society is perceived as part of nature or as a separate entity, on whether nature is considered to have the capacity to act independently (have agency), on how it is positioned in relation to humans, and the orientations of human action and specific practices in relation to nature. For the analysis of the human–nature values, we adapted the analytical approach of RMs from Muradian and Pascual [1] to our experience in a specific Mexican context (table 3).8 Seven different relation models were defined following the previous mentioned categories. We used this categorization to analyze the presence of different human–nature RMs in the drawings and narratives of the participants.

Table 3.

Typology of Human–Nature Relational Models (RMs).

RMClear Society Versus Nature DistinctionNature Entity With AgencyPositioning of Nature Vis-à-Vis HumansGoal OrientationPractices
Devotion No Yes Sacred and superior whole (deity) Please the sacred Rituals and adoration to show respect and care 
Guardianship No Yes Humans are part of nature Identity, respect, and care for our common house Rules and agreements of care and integration for “buen vivir” (good living) 
Conservationism Yes No Nature has intrinsic values Maintain original state, protect nature from humans Delimitation of protected areas and creation of regulations 
Reciprocity No Yes Equality Exchange and seek balance Mutual responsibilities, attribution of human features and rights to nature 
Utilization Yes No Unlimited resources on the service of humans Maximize services and goods Appropriation, commercialization, economic benefits, and rational calculations 
Domination Yes No Menacing and inferior Control threats Appropriation and destruction of nature for survival 
Detachment Yes No Nature as inexistent or lacking significance Technological solutions to human problems Indifference, absence of codified practices, other problems seem to be more important 
RMClear Society Versus Nature DistinctionNature Entity With AgencyPositioning of Nature Vis-à-Vis HumansGoal OrientationPractices
Devotion No Yes Sacred and superior whole (deity) Please the sacred Rituals and adoration to show respect and care 
Guardianship No Yes Humans are part of nature Identity, respect, and care for our common house Rules and agreements of care and integration for “buen vivir” (good living) 
Conservationism Yes No Nature has intrinsic values Maintain original state, protect nature from humans Delimitation of protected areas and creation of regulations 
Reciprocity No Yes Equality Exchange and seek balance Mutual responsibilities, attribution of human features and rights to nature 
Utilization Yes No Unlimited resources on the service of humans Maximize services and goods Appropriation, commercialization, economic benefits, and rational calculations 
Domination Yes No Menacing and inferior Control threats Appropriation and destruction of nature for survival 
Detachment Yes No Nature as inexistent or lacking significance Technological solutions to human problems Indifference, absence of codified practices, other problems seem to be more important 

Source: Adapted from Muradian and Pascual [1].

The experience was recorded in audio, photo, and video, which allowed us to recover the collective analysis of problems, statements on individual drawings, dialogues in the integration process, and the process of co-construction of planning and outcomes. The method followed a “drawing telling” approach [53, 54], where imaginary worlds are depicted on paper, and drawing and talking interact as mutually transformative processes. Participatory art provides here a platform for dialogue where participants can freely express their values, multiple meanings, and important matters that are not easy to verbalize [53, 55]. Painting analysis was used in order to identify personally important and emotionally significant topics [56]. Specifically, we applied a qualitative content analysis [57, 58] of drawings connected to narratives in an inductive manner in order to identify concepts and patterns in the utopia construction in relation to the RMs about nature.

In addition, 22 semi-structured interviews [59] were conducted with a representative sample of the participants, who gave their informed consent before going into further detail about (1) interpretations of their drawings, (2) perceptions of the integration process, and (3) the method in general, as well as on (4) individual and collective transformations in terms of learning, changes in the organization, relations between actors, and territory management. Moreover, two surveys were conducted, one directly after the experience and the other after 1.5 years, in order to register perceptions on the impacts of the experience upon individual, organizational, collective action, and governmental decision-making dimensions. Further, participant observation was held throughout the process, and a collective evaluation using time line analysis complemented the data 1 year later. The breadth of information sources and perspectives follows the strategy of data triangulation [60]. The analysis followed the approach of “systematization of collective experiences” [61] and Grounded Theory [62].

5. Results and Discussion9

5.1. Eliciting Diverse Values Through Utopia

From the human–nature RM analysis, we identified various values that were not clearly visible before. In figure 4, we illustrate this diversity of values with quotes from the interviews or dialogues from the workshop and with drawings made by participants to illustrate the corresponding utopia. There is not always a clear and congruent RM in the verbal and graphical expressions, but there are features of different RMs from which a trend stands out.

Figure 4.

Values and relational models found in narratives and drawings of utopias created by individual participants of the Forest Stewards Network.

Figure 4.

Values and relational models found in narratives and drawings of utopias created by individual participants of the Forest Stewards Network.

The methodology applied for the creation of utopias allows us to elicit multiple values present in the participants’ views. In the analyzed utopias (n = 20),10 we found that the RMs of Conservationism (n = 7), Guardianship (n = 5), and Utilization (n = 3) were most common, but there was also an important presence of the other values, that is, Devotion (n = 2), Reciprocity (n = 2), and Detachment (n = 1). The use of drawings as a form of expression of the desired future has been especially important. The drawings allow to communicate nonverbally expressed or tacit elements of participants’ relationship with nature. For example, the representation of human beings gives us clues about human–nature relations. In the RM Conservationism, humans are clearly absent or separated from nature; in the RMs Guardianship and Reciprocity, they are integrated as a part of nature; while in the RM Devotion, humans have a subordinated presence to nature and in the RM Utilization humans were drawn on top of nature. Likewise, we can identify different positioning of human beings as absent from the perspective of a bird while placed in a superior position or in a relation of integration as part of nature. The distribution of colors can indicate RMs through the presence of nature (green and blue) and human elements (black, yellow, colorful). Also, the drawing that includes more human elements is more realistic, and the others are rather abstract, symbolic. Finally, the shapes that were chosen to represent nature (more circular, with a diversity of elements) and the human elements (more linear or square) display integrated or separated relationships. The participants addressed many of these elements when orally presenting their drawings.

Although expressing values through oral language is difficult for some people, images can communicate beyond speech and illustrate the unconscious and intangible [53, 55]. As one participant expressed when looking at the drawings: “The painting visualizes the most superficial and the deepest parts at the same time. You see the personalities and values of each one with a single stroke, as well as our differences…and how we want to do the same.” As drawing utopias is limited to the skills of each person for this form of expression, it is complemented by dialogue and collective reflection, which provides interpretation and meaning to the images. In this sense, painting as a form of participatory art [55] allows us to express the intangible in the utopia, including relational values to nature, and presents a basis for individual and collective analysis of how we think and what values and principles we hold.

At the same time, creating a utopia was confirmed as a practice that allows participants to freely express how they perceive or want to live in relation with nature. An important factor for generating this freedom was the presence of principles of playfulness, dramatization, and exploration without barriers. In the words of one participant: “We were all playing, flying, dreaming of a desirable future. How great that through these games we allow ourselves, even for a few minutes, to dream! Because that is how we find out that we have similar dreams, and deep desires of how to relate to nature and society. If you decide to participate, you let go of your head, maybe take off your prejudice and accept to play. And, in that way, you give yourself more freedom.”

We noted that there is a close relationship between form and content, that is, between the methodologies and what they elicit. The participatory and creative nature of the methodology to create common utopias allowed the expression of diverse values, and some drawings showed the importance of changing the paths to achieve the desired future. As expressed by a peasant participant: “I drew my utopia as a circle, because when we do things or sit in a circle, we all look at each other, we create together. I wanted it to be different to the common linear way, where some impose their ideas (…).” The way in which a process is conducted is directly linked to its results. Changing our ways of relating and organizing implies changes in the outcomes. Especially in the values of the RM Guardians, Reciprocity, and Devotion, we can identify round forms such as circles and spirals. In addition, a strong presence of networks and interconnections can be observed, especially in the collective utopias. This can be linked to the fact that the network takes up precisely these principles of sitting in a circle, including and circulating participants’ voices, rotating roles, and deciding through consensus.

5.2. Integration of Values in the Creation of Collective Utopias

As individual values guide decision making, strategies, and actions, it is important to understand the processes of integrating utopias (with their corresponding RMs and values), as well as the process of defining strategies and actions. In this experience, there were different ways to connect or integrate the utopias, which are presented in figure 5. Being graphic and artistic forms, they serve as metaphors for the forms of integration.

Figure 5.

Different approaches of how individual utopia images are integrated into collective utopias, and their corresponding degree of integration and change in the four groups. Source: Authors’ own elaboration with pictures from the collective utopias. The images on the top (A & B) present integrating collages and those at the bottom (C & D) present connected views. All groups used collective creation and included words in order to complement, deepen, or specify a common utopia.

Figure 5.

Different approaches of how individual utopia images are integrated into collective utopias, and their corresponding degree of integration and change in the four groups. Source: Authors’ own elaboration with pictures from the collective utopias. The images on the top (A & B) present integrating collages and those at the bottom (C & D) present connected views. All groups used collective creation and included words in order to complement, deepen, or specify a common utopia.

In the group discussions, opposing values present in contrasting RMs became visible. Tensions arose between visions of conservation (RM Conservationism), inhabited spaces with agroforestry (RM Guardianship), and industrial development (RM Utilization). There was also a tendency to disagree with the dominant vision motivated by the decree of the PA (RM Conservationism), since there was a more integrated representation of society and nature in the utopias, without the boundaries set by legal instruments. This discussion gave rise to a process of redefining the identity of the Forest Stewards Network.

The process of connecting the utopias also allowed discussions on values such as “the inclusion of people with different abilities,” “gender equity,” and “living together with mutual respect for nature.” Even though it is not integrated into a uniform utopia, the process contributed to set some common bases and make interests more explicit, such as the concern for water and forests, elements that become key for the integration of diverse values. As pointed out by one participant: “There are many things that harmonized our views, and others showed that there was disparity. There were people who were very focused on the protection of the natural areas only. We don’t need to have the same vision, but we did manage to capture the diversity of interests and visions.”

The integration between utopias and different values was differently perceived by the participants: The majority recognized that some level of integration was achieved, while for some participants, the individual utopias and values were only connected. Greater integration in the collage is noteworthy. A participant described the process of breaking the individual drawings as “destructive, although it allows new things to be born.” The process of integration implies “opening up to the contributions of others and learning from them”; transformations that can become complicated, as one person whose drawing was modified points out: “Life is like that, you can’t always have your world untouchable, sometimes your life is broken by the life of others and the life of someone else breaks with your vision.” In the collective intervention of particular elements, one can re-signify and understand the utopias built on different relational values, thus opening the panorama of the possible and collectively agreeing on commitments. Interventions in the drawing of an educational institution offer an example, as stated by a participant: “There was a drawing of this institution that is conflicting, contradictory. Someone said that we must open its doors, change it. We cut it, painted it and intervened in the drawing: Free, intercultural and sustainable education. I thought it was significant.”

Tensions regarding the dynamics of integration and change were created in this process, showing that power relations play a crucial role in plural valuation. A participant describes a type of attitude that discourages collective utopia creation: “We wanted to dream and play, but [this person] started with his discourse about his experience and studies that showed that things have to be his way.” There were also situations of mockery toward the utopias of others, classifying them as “naïve” or “unrealistic.” It is thus key to consider existing power relations in the planning of the process and find ways of promoting a context of trust, inclusion, and equality. The results confirm the importance of a diversity of methods and forms of expression to include the voices and values of different people, as well as to balance power relations [55]. Above all, this methodology has benefited people who are not used to abstract discourse and reflection. As one participant shares: “Many times I feel external to that world of researchers and the discourses of academia. In the utopia activity, a place was given to our concerns, values and reflections. You feel good when you are taken into account.” At the same time, a few people who tend to be dominant felt disadvantaged, challenged by the experience, and a person even refused to take part in this “ridiculous exercise.” This confirms a general tendency in which art-based methodologies are undermined due to a bias toward verbal expression [53]. In this sense, value integration processes can also be considered platforms for negotiation, learning, and transformation of power relations.

5.3. Effects on Grassroots and Governmental Politics

In order to illustrate the political effects of this experience of plural valuation through utopia, we analyze ideas from collective processes and interviews that have been clustered into four dimensions: (1) individual: focused on learning and attitude outcomes, (2) organizational: changes in grassroots organization and collective decision making, (3) collective action: actions carried out in the territory, and (4) governmental: decision making and action. The main results of this plural valuation process are summarized in table 4.

Table 4.

Effects of Plural Valuation and Strategic Planning Through Utopia on the Individual, Organizational, Collective Action, and Governmental Policy Dimensions Related to the Experience of the Forest Stewards Network.

DimensionEffects

Individual

 

Learnings and attitudinal changes:

motivation, hope, and commitment to the network’s processes

greater clarity in the objectives, activities, and responsibilities

greater identity with the network, connection, and appreciation of the constructed “we”

strengthened bonds of friendship

a deeper understanding of commonalities and differences

recognition of the importance of attentive listening, nonjudgment, and curiosity toward the other person

increased capacity for participatory methods

recognition of the value of utopia

 

Organizational

 

Changes in collective strategies:

inclusion and integration of more diverse voices as priority, especially those of peasants, other inhabitants of the PA and young people

promotion of concrete, continuous, and diverse actions that allow broader participation and strengthen the joy of collective work

more attention to sustainable farming practices

art and celebration as important elements to generate a sense of community and territorial identity

critical relationship with government, demanding rights and actions, in order to generate public commitments and carry them out

self-management and autonomy in terms of funds and decision making

action focus beyond the PA, including all green areas to move toward a network of forests, jungles, rivers, and “good life” (buen vivir)

more stable, organized network with more autonomous nodes guided by a shared horizon

generation of strategies to strengthen participatory methodologies for integration

cultivation of emotional links and ties in the network

 

Collective action

 

Activities and processes:

Landscape Restoration Network focusing on native cloud forest trees

course on Participatory Methods for a Shared Management of the Territory [63] and Transformative Learning Tours [64]

Itinerant Community Film Festival of the Earth (FICCTerra)

Solidarity Economy Network “La Gira”

materials that make local regulations accessible

creation of diverse spaces for dialogue and awareness raising in the local communities

improved will and mobilization capacity in reaction to particular episodes of threat in the territory

 

Governmental decision making and action

 

State level:

a series of workshops was organized in conjunction with the Secretariat of Environment and the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office of Veracruz

collaboration in attending to some complaints—a collaborative process that had been lost with the change of administration

Municipal level:

collaboration in the organization of biocultural and other local festivals

meetings to inform and give feedback on specific projects

presence in citizen committees and financing for network projects

 
DimensionEffects

Individual

 

Learnings and attitudinal changes:

motivation, hope, and commitment to the network’s processes

greater clarity in the objectives, activities, and responsibilities

greater identity with the network, connection, and appreciation of the constructed “we”

strengthened bonds of friendship

a deeper understanding of commonalities and differences

recognition of the importance of attentive listening, nonjudgment, and curiosity toward the other person

increased capacity for participatory methods

recognition of the value of utopia

 

Organizational

 

Changes in collective strategies:

inclusion and integration of more diverse voices as priority, especially those of peasants, other inhabitants of the PA and young people

promotion of concrete, continuous, and diverse actions that allow broader participation and strengthen the joy of collective work

more attention to sustainable farming practices

art and celebration as important elements to generate a sense of community and territorial identity

critical relationship with government, demanding rights and actions, in order to generate public commitments and carry them out

self-management and autonomy in terms of funds and decision making

action focus beyond the PA, including all green areas to move toward a network of forests, jungles, rivers, and “good life” (buen vivir)

more stable, organized network with more autonomous nodes guided by a shared horizon

generation of strategies to strengthen participatory methodologies for integration

cultivation of emotional links and ties in the network

 

Collective action

 

Activities and processes:

Landscape Restoration Network focusing on native cloud forest trees

course on Participatory Methods for a Shared Management of the Territory [63] and Transformative Learning Tours [64]

Itinerant Community Film Festival of the Earth (FICCTerra)

Solidarity Economy Network “La Gira”

materials that make local regulations accessible

creation of diverse spaces for dialogue and awareness raising in the local communities

improved will and mobilization capacity in reaction to particular episodes of threat in the territory

 

Governmental decision making and action

 

State level:

a series of workshops was organized in conjunction with the Secretariat of Environment and the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office of Veracruz

collaboration in attending to some complaints—a collaborative process that had been lost with the change of administration

Municipal level:

collaboration in the organization of biocultural and other local festivals

meetings to inform and give feedback on specific projects

presence in citizen committees and financing for network projects

 

Note: PA = protected area.

The role of learning from and for diversity has proven to be crucial as several people stated that they learnt from the dialogue with different people, which allowed them to open their perspectives and contributed to raise awareness about the importance of certain skills such as attentive listening, nonjudgment, and curiosity toward others. Satisfaction and joy arose when sharing learning outcomes at the end of the process as shown in figure 6. The learning was not only individual, as collective knowledge construction changed values and strategies, contributing, for instance, to a shift in the focus of the network from a Conservationism RM restricted to the PA to a broader approach to the territory and more diverse values.

Figure 6.

Celebrating the conclusion of the strategic planning and our rich learning outcomes (photo credit: David Donner).

Figure 6.

Celebrating the conclusion of the strategic planning and our rich learning outcomes (photo credit: David Donner).

The changes in the collective form of organization and action had concrete impacts on the territory, as shown in table 4. The collective creation of utopia thus promoted significant effects at a grassroots political level, including the sensitization for diverse values, negotiation, strategic planning, and collective action. At the level of governmental politics, the impact has been more diffuse and less clear, reflecting the difficulties of collaboration and integration of the network’s values into government decision-making processes. Although some local government actors participated in the collective creation of utopia, their link with the network is limited to occasional collaborations. The effects were higher at a municipal level, perhaps due to the fact that some network members started to work in the municipality. So far, there is no clear evidence of this process in public policy documents.

The impact of participatory processes facilitated by grassroots initiatives such as the Forest Stewards Network on public policy is often limited by government structures (administrative changes, partisanship, bureaucracy, lack of cooperation between agencies), corruption, paternalism, and the subsequent lack of engagement sought by social organizations. In the words of one person from the state government: “There are inertias to be broken, there are people who hinder the work for their personal and economic interests. If you are subordinate you cannot do much. There are very debilitating situations in this country, and in most of Latin America: we suffer from deviation in public administration. (…) Besides, the norm is so cold, justice must be done as much as possible, but it’s not easy.” These conditions reflect aspects of coloniality of power [65], a situation that can also be observed in the specific case of this PA, where political decisions about the environment are in the hands of those who depend less directly on the territory which they rule [9]. On the other hand, not enough importance is given to the diversity of values, participation, and collective processes that could improve justice in governmental decisions and actions. As another person from the state government points out: “I saw a personal opportunity to do something and collaborate [with the Forest Stewards Network]; because sometimes within the government you can’t do it. There were even directors who told me: you shouldn’t go to that meeting, the network doesn’t do anything.” This illustrates the importance of grassroots organizations in creating spaces for collaboration and change. It also emphasizes that we are people first, not offices or institutions, and that cultivating relationships of affection and trust is crucial for collaboration. On the other hand, there are also elements in social organizations that make it difficult to influence public policy, such as prejudice and distrust of the possibility of real change from the government. Thus, in many cases, little effort is made to exert the necessary bottom-up pressure toward public policy change, which limits these initiatives’ impacts to more local and immediate transformations. This leads to inertia in organizations so they do not always recognize positive projects in terms of sustainability and participation from governments.

5.4. Contributions and Limitations of this Experience

To elicit the diversity of values about nature and integrate them into decision making and actions is crucial in order to transit toward more just and sustainable futures [2, 3]. The presented case study’s analysis of the collective creation of utopias offers insights into one practise for achieving this aim. We found that utopias expressed through a combination of drawings and narratives allowed nondominant values to be elicited, contributing to the challenges of dealing with invisible values [5, 4]. This analysis confirmed that the creation of utopias through participatory arts allows a free exploration of wishes, worldviews, and values [23, 55] and therefore opens a window for questioning hegemonic relationships with nature, as well as announcing a different future to be created [40]. In this case, values of conservationism linked to the PA were questioned, and common utopias based on different values of stewardship and reciprocity became guiding horizons for collective action.

Moreover, the methodology comprised diverse types of interactions, group sizes, forms of expression and dialogue, which allowed different ways of integration based on mutual listening and encounters, thus offering insights into how to design pertinent methods for the integration of multiple values [2, 4]. The analysis suggests that integration is not just a particular step within a method, but a process in which different degrees and forms of integration converge. In this process, medium- or long-term collaboration with social actors may be required for effective value integration and impact on collective action and public policy [2, 66].

Our findings confirm the importance of learning- and consensus-based decision making [1, 2, 4]. The dialogues and interactions between diverse actors allowed the co-creation of knowledge based on their particular experiences and values, generating necessary learnings toward becoming a more horizontal and inclusive network. In this sense, learning with, from, and for diverse values is converted into a methodological principal and practice. This form of collaboration refutes what Freire [51] calls a “banking education”—a type of interaction that assumes that some people know more than others and need to “transfer” knowledge. Co-creating utopias that counter dominant values about nature contributes to learnings, a sense of belonging, and motivation to implement collective actions toward “a world in which many worlds can co-exist” as the Zapatistas inspire us to do.11 We experienced the link between co-creation of knowledge, decisions, and actions through plural valuation for transformation and suggest that effective participation through diversified approaches to value elicitation and integration becomes a key future strategy in the generation of public policy. Future action research on participatory art-based plural valuation approaches is necessary.

All in all, the analysis highlights the importance of experimenting with new methods and practices that go beyond conventional approaches and are based on the principle of inclusiveness of diverse values. At the same time, we faced several challenges that should be addressed in future action research: (1) People do not necessarily have clear values in relation to nature or totally congruent actions. This reflects the complex and contradictory psychology of human beings and reaffirms the importance of generating processes that allow us to critically reflect on our own values and utopias, in the mirror of the other. (2) The integration of people with diverse characteristics implies challenges related to communication, power relations, and collaboration grounded on differences [67] that need to be addressed with different strategies. Participatory methods can contribute to this. In our case, we managed to include people from different sectors and ages but did not include children in the collective creation of utopias, a form of exclusion that was criticized by our younger collaborators in the plenary session. This crucial critique contributed to more effective processes of integration of children into the network [68]. Moreover, there was intention to cooperate with, and a formal invitation to, government institutions, but this was only on a personal basis to allies who work in the government—a fact that may have contributed to the limited link to governmental policy. (3) There was no participation of strongly antagonistic actors, as this process was internal to the Forest Stewards Network and its participants share common interests. The same methodology could be implemented in contexts where opposing values pose severe challenges to the creation of common utopias. The experience suggests that the method may be limited to contexts where there is a disposition to dialogue, which is only possible in the absence of violence.

6. Final Remarks

From the analysis of this experience, it stands out that how people value nature and how people collaborate in territorial management are not unrelated, but deeply connected. All methodology is based on values, so it is important to make them explicit. If the value that guides the method is the inclusion of plural values, it is essential to be explicit about it and to create effective ways to promote this inclusion. In this article, we presented a methodological proposal to foster the collective construction of learning and action, designed for a specific context. The creation of utopias allows values to become visible and explicit and put into dialogue through various methods. With this approach, the imagination of futures goes beyond “the possible” in order to construct “the impossible”—that is, utopias. The utopian horizon that is constructed links the various values with actions and transformations in the present.

While in policy-making processes the inclusion of diverse values is the exception, in several types of grassroots organizations, this procedure is a rule as they work with more inclusive methodologies. For example, in public consultations, participants’ assessments are made explicit, but the way in which these are translated into policy remains nontransparent. In this sense, it is important to recognize that distinct social groups and institutions practice politics differently and that, perhaps, government institutions can learn from grassroots politics and its more horizontal participatory methods.

In order to integrate diverse values into decision making, we cannot follow the same previous, well-worn paths, but must experiment and transform our ways of thinking, listening, participating, and organizing ourselves. Learning is a key element in these processes of change aimed at justice and sustainability. There is much to learn with, from, and for diversity—a task that falls to all of us, especially governments at all levels. Why not dream of just public policy based on utopias co-created by diverse voices and values?

Case Study Questions

  1. How can the creation of collective utopias allow for diverse values to be expressed?

  2. What challenges and tensions can occur in value integration processes?

  3. How do bottom-up or grassroots experiences of plural valuation differ from top-down plural valuation processes?

  4. Imagine that you facilitate a collective process of utopia creation with an activist group in your city or town. What would you change in the methodology? What types of utopia do you think would be created? Could they stimulate collective action? How?

  5. What did you learn from this paper and how could it contribute to your own experience?

Author Contributions

The first and second author developed the methodology, facilitated the experience, and conceptualized the basis for this article. The first author was engaged in data curation, analysis, investigation, visualization, and writing of the original draft. The second author supervised and collaborated in the writing process with review and editing. The third author contributed with revisions.

Acknowledgments

We thank our fellow Forest Stewards Network’s participants for their commitment to transforming our common home into a more just and sustainable place. We also thank them for their wholehearted participation in the experience we analyze in this paper. Moreover, we thank colleagues from the Grupo de Investigación-Acción Socioecológica for their collaboration with the facilitation during the workshop and revision of a manuscript of this article. Special thanks go to Berta Martín López, Ingrid Estrada Paulin, María del Socorro Aguilar Cucurachi, Luisa Paré, Franziska Bart, Gerardo Alatorre, Gialuanna Ayora, and Ines Hensler for their useful feedback. The first author thanks the Graduate Program in Sustainability Sciences, National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Competing Interests

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Funding

The main author received a Conacyt Scholarship for her PhD.

Notes

1.

The co-management (or participatory management) approach refers to processes of inclusion of a diversity of actors and their values, from the analysis of the problems to the decision making and implementation of management practices. It is based on shared responsibility, multilateral communication, and mechanisms for efficient interaction, thus contributing to a redistribution of power and socio-environmental transformations [20].

2.

Public policy also includes decisions and actions by nongovernmental actors; that is, the complex fabric of actors defining and carrying out the management of common goods. There are multiple experiences of shared management promoted by grassroots organizations with great transformative effects and little or no government participation [21]. It is thus important to study these experiences in order to learn from their successes and challenges in integrating plural values into decision making at different scales.

3.

To learn more about the Forest Stewards Network, see www.custodiosanpxalapa.org.

4.

A visual narrative of this experience can be found in the documentary “Saberes en Acción” (Knowledge in Action): https://vimeo.com/463860151.

5.

This protected area’s (PA) decree was issued in 2015 on private and communal property, without adequate consultation with the inhabitants, being an imposition of a conservation scheme focused on the use of nature for ecosystem services for the city [9]. Besides the decree, the decision processes around the management program corresponded to symbolic forms of participation [9]. This type of political procedure shows that the values that prevail in territorial management instruments (delimitation, restrictions of use, and management programs) are those of the social actors who develop them, in this case predominantly government and academic actors [9].

6.

Specifically, the composition in terms of occupations was professionals 19%, academics 14%, community actors 12%, students 12%, children 12%, local and federal government 12%, civil society organizations 12%, and local media and artists 7%. The ages ranged from 8 to 73 years. In relation to the PA, 14% were inhabitants, 16% neighbors, and 48% other types of stakeholders. Moreover, 11 people supported facilitation and registration. The first two authors facilitated the plenary sessions. Although Hensler also facilitated in one subgroup, the creation of the utopias had carried out participant observation in the other dynamics, Merçon engaged as a participant in the subgroups. There were parallel activities for the children—this is why we did not include an age-specific analysis.

7.

We conceptualize learning as a dialogical process of praxis (i.e., reflection on action and action guided by reflection), which is co-constructed by a diversity of people and their perceptions of the world. Learning as praxis constitutes a “practice of freedom” [50]. Understanding the importance of plural values and the power of change that we have as collective subjects in our concrete context is a key learning for praxis. This educational potential depends on various factors, some of which we will discuss later.

8.

We changed “ritualized exchange” to “reciprocity,” “stewardship” to “guardianship,” and “wardship” to “conservationism” as this describes the main stated principles and vocabulary in relation to each relational model (RM). Moreover, we simplified the table and adapted the description to the specific context.

9.

Even though the results of stage 0 were not the focus of this article, we share the following results: In Stage 1, the timeline analysis made visible that the PA was key for the history of the network in the beginning and also highlighted the importance of facilitation, participatory methods, and the existence of a articulation group. In Stage 2, strategic actors were identified, as well as the importance of collaborating more with “campesinos(as)” (peasants). From Stage 3, the core objectives were identified, as well as the importance of collaborating with inhabitants to co-construct alternatives and to walk the territory and listen to people effectively. In Stage 4, participants reflected on their subjective feelings about the process. They expressed the positive elements associated with the network: collective work, solidarity, hope, and enthusiasm in the creation of communities for caretaking. Negative issues mainly concerned the internal organization, the absence of PA inhabitants in the network, a lack of time and resources, and difficulties in the collaboration with authorities.

10.

We only analyzed the utopias of people we interviewed (n = 22) in order to obtain valid explanations of the drawings. The utopia of two persons showed no clear RM, that is why only n = 20 appear in total. Moreover, in some utopias, elements of different RMs appeared, so we referred to the dominant tendency.

11.

Indigenous communities in Mexico.

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