Integrated Spatial Planning

In this Massive Open Online Course, you will learn how countries can use spatial data to achieve nature, climate, and sustainable development ambitions simultaneously.




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 Start date: 17 October 2022

 End date: 18 November 2022
Duration: 5 weeks
 Course type: Massive Open Online Course
 Languages: English
 Estimated effort: 3-5 hours per module
Organizers: Learning for Nature, PacMARA, UN Biodiversity Lab, and the United Nations Development Programme
Donors: One Earth, The Global Environment Facility (The GEF), The Gordon and Betty Moore foundation, and Sida
Contributors: Alexander von Humboldt Biological Resources Research Institute, Central Region of Colombia (RAP-E), Department of Forests, Fisheries, and the Environment of South Africa (DFFE), Department of Geospatial Information Service of Cambodia (DGIS), Government of Costa Rica, Government of Uganda, Ministry of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica (MINAE), Impact Observatory, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of the Dominican Republic (MIMARENA), Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia, Ministry of Environment of Cambodia (MoE), Ministry of Environment of Chile (MMA), Ministry of Environment of Peru (MINAM), Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Haiti, Ministry of Environment, Water, and Ecological Transition of Ecuador (MAATE), National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), National Center of Geospatial Information of Haiti (CNIGS), National Service for Natural Areas Protected by the State of Peru (SERNAP), and South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)

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This decade is humanity’s last best chance to address the ongoing nature and climate crises. We must transform traditional land use planning into integrated, coherent, and cohesive all-of-society approaches that help governments place nature at the heart of their sustainable development goals. Transformation will only be possible by harnessing the power of spatial data tools to support data-informed planning.

Are you interested in learning how to apply a data-driven approach to integrated planning for biodiversity, climate, and sustainable development planning? Do you want to be at the forefront of mainstreaming biodiversity in national climate and development policies? The United Nations Development Programme and PacMARA are pleased to offer a FREE Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Integrated Spatial Planning. With generous support from the GEF and Sida, this five-week course draws on the Essential Life Support Areas (ELSA) methodology, pioneered by UNDP and partners for using spatial data to identify areas where nature-based actions can support in halting biodiversity loss, addressing climate change, and fostering sustainable development based on the experiences of 12 pilot countries. In this course, you’ll discover how this integrated spatial planning methodology is helping countries create their own ‘Maps of Hope’ to chart a course for action on nature, climate, and sustainable development.

Course structure

The course will cover the following topics:

  • Week 1: Introduction to 'Mapping Hope'
  • Week 2: Creating a national 'Map of Hope' vision
  • Week 3: Co-creating a 'Map of Hope'
  • Week 4: Mainstreaming 'Map of Hope' results
  • Week 5: 'Maps of Hope' across the world

Course highlights and outcomes

  • Gain an understanding of the steps in the ELSA process and learn how to lay the groundwork for this process in your country
  • Join a community-of-practice committed to mainstreaming biodiversity in national policy
  • Receive a certificate of completion from the course partners

Learning objectives

By the time the course is completed, you will:

  • Learn how integrated spatial planning is revolutionizing the way that countries are making decisions around nature, climate, and sustainable development
  • Understand how to work with diverse stakeholders to come to a common agreement on national policy priorities
  • Learn about the process to collect and transform data to serve as the basis of a ‘Map of Hope’
  • Learn about the process of customizing a ‘Map of Hope’ that indicates how and where action can be taken to achieve national priorities around nature, climate, and sustainable development
  • Become familiar with the steps to review and refine a ‘Map of Hope’ with national experts and mainstream the results into the national policy landscape
  • Be able to effectively communicate integrated spatial planning results to experts and general audiences alike

Course completion requirements

To receive the certificate of course completion, you must:

  • Complete all online lessons
  • Pass five quizzes
  • Complete the course survey

Click “Enroll” to register for the course. If you have any questions, please contact the Learning for Nature team at

Course Content

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Course Includes

  • 8 Modules
  • 20 Activities
  • 5 quizzes
  • Course Certificate

Frequently Asked Questions


Course content

Course certificate


Natasha Ali
Senior Programme Officer, UNEP-WCMC

Natasha is biodiversity policy advisor. Her previous roles include policy advisor at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – working with the UK government, and Programme Officer at IUCN. She advises governments and other stakeholders on the implementation of biodiversity-related MEAs including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). As a Senior Programme Officer at UNEP-WCMC, she leads work on biodiversity indicators, which includes managing a large portfolio of projects to support the use of biodiversity-related indicators, and improved capacity for monitoring and reporting at global and national scale. She also leads the Secretariat to the Biodiversity Indicators Partnership, working with over 70 different organisations.

Peter Arcese
Forest Renewal British Columbia Chair in Conservation Biology, Department of Forest and Conservation Sciences, University of British Columbia

Peter Arceses works on the ecology and genetics of animals and plants, the persistence of small populations, and the design and management of nature reserves. Peter graduated in Zoology from the University of Washington and completed MSc and PhD degrees in Zoology at UBC. He studied as a NATO then NSERC post-doc in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, from 1987-91 with A.R.E. Sinclair, producing the second of five co-edited books on the dynamics and conservation of the Serengeti Ecosystem and many papers on the natural history, behavior and population dynamics of African ungulates and the economics of community conservation and anti-poaching programs. Peter was Asst. Professor in the Department of Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin, from 1992-98, where he won an NSF Young Investigator award. Peter`s labs have included 11 post-doctoral fellows and 28 graduate students, most of whom now teach, conduct research or work in conservation or genetics. Peter is a Fellow and former Councilor of the American Ornithologists Union and an editor of the Journal of Avian Biology. He has published over 100 research papers and books with more than 100 co-authors and currently focuses on the demography and genetics of plant and animal populations of the Pacific Coast, the efficient design of nature reserves, and the conservation and restoration of native ecosystems.

Iván Ávila Pérez
Remote Sensing Researcher, PRIAS Lab, CeNAT

Iván Ávila Pérez has several years of scientific experience in geomatics and geostatistics. He’s a forest engineer with a degree from the Technological Institute of Costa Rica and has a Masters of Science in forestry science with a remote sensing emphasis. Iván has been a researcher for PRIAS Laboratory at Costa Rica´s National Center for High Technology for more than 2 years. He is an expert in land use and land cover studies, landscape ecology, photogrammetry, water bodies studies through remote sensing and the development of government-private projects to develop scientific and technical solutions to problems on a national and international scale.

Luizmar de Assis Barrios
Spatial Data Analyst, UNDP

Luizmar supports the ELSA project in spatial data analysis to provide inputs for policy briefs and management recommendations from ELSA actions (Protect, Manage and Restore) for pilot countries. Among other duties, he processes and modifies national data to produce derivative layers, runs spatial analysis based on the final ELSA map, assists in training and virtual capacity events on ELSA, and supports the Lead Scientist and Spatial Planner in the preparation of scientific manuscripts and white papers.

Scott Consaul Atkinson
Technical Specialist, UNDP

Scott Consaul Atkinson manages, processes and curates data received by countries for the Essential Life Support Areas (ELSA) analysis, filling in gaps with globally consistent data where national data is unavailable. He also provides insight, expertise, and support to the development of the ELSA model, scientific methodology, and tool development, in addition to workshop support and capacity building. Scott manages data and its visualization on UN Biodiversity Lab in congress with carrying out and developing spatial analytics.

Steve Brumby
CEO/CTO and Co-Founder of Impact Observatory

Dr. Steven P. Brumby is the CEO/CTO and Co-Founder of Impact Observatory, Inc., a mission-driven technology company bringing artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms and unique data to sustainability and environmental risk analysis. Steve was the Co-Founder and CTO of Descartes Labs, a venture-backed start-up focused on understanding agriculture, natural resources, and human geography using deep learning technology and satellite imagery. Steve was a Senior Research Scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) working on deep-learning and genetic algorithms for video, image, and signals analysis. A co-inventor of LANL’s GENIE image analysis algorithm (R&D100 Award 2002). He received his Ph.D. in Theoretical Particle Physics at the University of Melbourne (Australia) in 1997 and has over 100 science papers and journal articles.

Jaime Burbano Girón
Adjunct Researcher, Biodiversity Evaluation and Biodiversity, Humboldt Institute

Jaime is an ecologist focused on spatial analysis and modeling applied to conservation and land use planning. Jaime has used spatial prioritization methods framed in the systematic conservation planning approach to identify conservation, restoration, and suitable management areas at national, regional, and local levels in Colombia and the Neotropics, and including multiple sectors (environmental, agricultural, energy and mining) and stakeholders (national and regional environmental authorities, the national integrated protected areas system, the national environmental licensing agency, and the academia). Currently, he is involved in different processes and projects to consolidate the use of spatial prioritization methods for an integrated land-use planning in Colombia.

Neil Burgess
Chief Scientist, UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC)

Neil’s primary role as Chief Scientist is to oversee the scientific and technical work of UNEP-WCMC, to work to develop our profile and collaborations with external partners interested in the conservation of nature, and to promote the role data and analysis plays in effective conservation delivery. He also helps to publish leading scientific work at the science-policy interface, mentors staff in scientific delivery and ensures overall quality and scientific credibility of outputs across UNEP-WCMC.

Jamison Ervin
Manager of Nature for Development Program, UNDP

Jamison Ervin manages the Nature for Development team of UNDP, with the goal of putting nature at the heart of sustainable development. She provides overall project vision and leadership on the Mapping Nature for People and Planet project, including the UN Biodiversity Lab and the mapping of Essential Life Support Areas. Her aim is to help governments and communities use spatial data to transform how they make decisions, and to put nature at the heart of sustainable development.

Javier Fajardo
Programme Officer, Science – UNEP-WCMC

Javier is a conservation biologist currently working as a programme officer at the Science Innovation Area at UNEP-WCMC. His PhD explored area-based conservation planning challenges and opportunities in the tropical Andes in South America, using conservation planning approaches and focusing on enhancing biodiversity representation in conserved networks in the face of climate change. At UNEP-WCMC, Javier contributes with modelling, data and spatial analyses to support a range of conservation projects in the centre. These projects involve analyses of the state of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the context of global change, as well as the exploration of alternative scenarios and pathways that may provide more sustainable futures.

Bex Gottlieb
Data Scientist, Digital Transformation, UNEP-WCMC

As a Data Scientist at UNEP-WCMC and Co-Manager of UN Biodiversity Lab, Bex supports the development, improvement and dissemination of global data and information on biodiversity. Through her work she aims to transform the way data on nature are collected, analyzed, accessed, and used in decision making to better support a nature-positive future. Prior to joining UNEP-WCMC Bex supported conservation at a community level, managing wildlife conservation non-profit organizations in Tanzania and Kenya.

Sam Hyde
Co-Founder, Head of Operations, Impact Observatory

Samantha Hyde is the Head of Operations and Co-Founder of Impact Observatory, Inc. Sam joined Impact Observatory following her time as a Senior Program Manager for Geographic Visualization at National Geographic Society where she co-developed and ran a $6M annual R&D program for conservation technology. Previously she was the Lead Director at Madison River Group, a climate-centric consulting firm providing science based decision support solutions and she served as the Executive Secretariat at the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) where she provided strategic guidance to the White House Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR).

Dan Klaussen
Head of Product, Impact Observatory

Daniel Klaussen is the Head of Product at Impact Observatory, Inc. Prior to joining Impact Observatory Dan was VP of Digital Innovation at Marriott International for over 4 years where he led numerous projects in the Customer Experience and IT Strategy departments. As a consultant, he’s led projects in digital transformation for National Geographic Society (identity management, platform infrastructure and geovisualization), PBS (digital video strategy and mobile applications) and Geico (ipad application.) Daniel has over 20 years as a Group Product Manager leading product teams.

Casandra Llosa Montagne
Stakeholder Engagement Analyst, UNDP

Casandra Llosa works as a stakeholder engagement analyst for the UNDP Global Programme on Nature for Development, supporting implementation of spatial support projects, such as ELSA and NASA Life on Land Project, mainly in Spanish and English speaking countries. Also, she strategically positions UNDP projects within national governments, UNDP Country Offices, and other key stakeholders, and advises on related interactions, policy analyses and dynamics within selected countries. She leads the successful execution of stakeholder consultations in Spanish and English, facilitating consultations and webinars that build stakeholders’ capacity in using spatial data to improve outcomes for biodiversity and sustainable development.

Marion Marigo
Stakeholder Engagement Coordinator for Spatial Planning, UNDP

Marion Marigo is responsible for successfully engaging national stakeholders into spatial planning activities, ensuring efficient and smooth implementation of the project in twelve countries. Working in English, French and Spanish, her responsibilities include: liaising on a daily basis with national counterparts; supervising logistical and administrative aspects of the project; coordinating efforts and activities with the science and policy teams; organizing and facilitating stakeholder consultations and follow-up activities; leading on communication and promotional pieces; and exploring new streams of work to sustain and improve project outcomes and products over time. She also supports the development and use of UN Biodiversity Lab by Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Cornelia Miller Granados
Director, PRIAS Laboratory

With more than 25 years of scientific experience in geomatics focused on earth observation and together with business management, Cornelia has developed an expertise in building bridges between science and administration. Director of the PRIAS Laboratory specializing in the science of geomatics in earth observations at the National Center for High Technology (CeNAT) for 14 years, she is the first and only female scientific director at the center with a STEM training profile. Together with human beings of different professions, generations, and genders, Cornelia leads a high-performance team that works in a triple helix to find scientific-technical solutions to problems on a national scale, positioning the Laboratory as a benchmark in the region for its work.

Claudia Paguaga Trewin
Programme Management Assistant, SCBD

Claudia is a results-oriented professional with nearly 20 years of working experience in project coordination and management, policy analysis and communications at the national and international levels. She has more than 10 years experience working for the United Nations supporting multilateral environmental negotiations at the global level and supporting governments in their capacity development efforts to implement the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. Prior to joining the UN, Claudia gained experience working for international cooperation agencies, non-governmental organizations and national and subnational governments. She holds a Master’s degree in international relations and political science, and has strong analytical, organizational and administrative skills in addition to having solid writing and translation skills.

Enrique Paniagua
Policy Expert, UNDP

Enrique provides policy advice and project support to UNDP’s Nature for Development Programme. For the Essential Life Support Area (ELSA) project, he offers guidance in translating scientific data into actionable policy frameworks at global and national level. Working in English and Spanish, his responsibilities include conducting policy analysis, designing policy methodologies, creating policy briefs, advising national authorities on the development of policies and strategies, and supporting stakeholder engagement and communications.

Genevieve Pence
Conservation Planning, Strategy, and Impact Specialist

Genevieve is leader in South Africa’s biodiversity planning community of practice, where her insights, innovations, and technical and practical guidance have helped put South Africa at the global forefront of applied systematic conservation planning. Recently Gen consulted to UNDP’s Mapping Nature for Planet and People project, identifying where nature-based actions can deliver on national priorities at the nexus of biodiversity, climate, and sustainable development. Gen also works internationally in strategic planning and facilitation, from project conception through monitoring, evaluation, and learning. She is an active member of the global Conservation Coaches Network and consults to the Measuring Impact II project, supporting USAID and implementing partners to apply evidence-based adaptive management.

Lea Phillips
Biodiversity and Spatial Planning Analyst, UNDP

Lea Phillips provides key implementation support for the project, Mapping Nature for People and Planet. Since May 2020, she has worked closely with UNDP Country Offices across the globe to hold high-impact stakeholder consultations on integrated spatial planning. Lea’s contributions to the project include high-quality communications pieces, stakeholder engagement, grant writing, and event coordination. Prior to joining UNDP, Lea Phillips worked as a Youth Development Program Coordinator for Peace Corps, Morocco. During this formative experience, Lea co-created programs around health, gender, and the environment with local leaders. She holds a Masters in International Political Economy and Development from Fordham University with an emphasis on Sustainable Development.

Veronica Recondo
Spatial Planning and Stakeholder Engagement Analyst, UNDP

Veronica provides technical and stakeholder engagement support to nature-based planning and mapping initiatives, including the UN Biodiversity Lab and Essential Life Support Areas (ELSA) mapping. Working in English, Spanish and Portuguese, she supports the preparation of science briefs and technical guides related to the projects, while working with national governments and UNDP Country Offices to identify opportunities to use the best available spatial data to design, implement and monitor national policies on biodiversity, climate change and sustainable development.

Richard Schuster
Lead Scientist and ELSA Model Developer, UNDP

Richard Schuster is the ELSA model developer for the project, Mapping Nature for People and Planet. He leads the development of the ELSA Webtool for ELSA pilot countries using prioritizr and Shiny, two R packages that support Systematic Conservation Planning. In addition to his role at UNDP, he also works as the Director of Spatial Planning and Innovation at the Nature Conservancy of Canada and as an Adjunct Research Professor in the Department of Biology at Carleton University. To date, Richard has contributed to 51 peer-reviewed publications with a focus on discovering how sustainable decision-making in conservation planning can be better supported. Richard Schuster holds a PhD in Forest and Conservation Sciences from the University of British Columbia and a Master’s of Science in Zoology at the University of Graz.

Christina Supples
Senior Advisor on Biodiversity Policy, Projects, and Science, UNDP

Christina is a leader in building the capacity of governments around the globe to use science and data to improve achievement of their global policy commitments for nature, climate, and sustainable development. She has more than 15 years of project management experience with a focus on global scale projects. She currently advises UNDP’s Mapping Nature for People and Planet project, including the UN Biodiversity Lab and the mapping of Essential Life Support Areas around the globe. Her policy expertise focuses on implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, including the development and implementation of national biodiversity strategy and action plans and related monitoring programs using spatial data.

Oscar Venter
Lead Scientist and ELSA Model Developer, UNDP

Oscar supports the mapping of Essential Life Support Areas through his role as lead scientist. He is responsible for developing the general ELSA methodology, as well as tailoring its application for country specific needs. He also heads the Conservation Solutions Lab at the University of Northern British Columbia.

Anne Virnig
Strategic Advisor on Science and Policy, UNDP

Annie manages and provides scientific, technical, and communications expertise to a range of projects focused on conservation, local sustainable development, and spatial planning. She manages the UN Biodiversity Lab spatial data platform and co-leads the development and implementation of UNDP’s work to map essential life support areas (ELSAs) for nature, climate change, and sustainable development. Working in English and Spanish, Annie is responsible for liaising with a diverse team of scientists, policymakers, and implementing partners across her portfolio to facilitate delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals. She has worked with the Global Programme on Nature for Development since 2015.

Di Zhang
Spatial Planning Analyst, UNDP

Di Zhang is working with the ELSA team to support spatial data analysis and communication with pilot countries to locate and curate national level data on biodiversity, climate, and sustainable development. Di also provides support in data and technical requests from UN Biodiversity Lab users, helps countries to create ELSA collections on the UN Biodiversity Lab platform, and contributes to the capacity building events and training materials on UN Biodiversity Lab and the project, Mapping Nature for People and Planet.