Bonus Projects

BONUS GOHERR – Integrated governance of Baltic herring & salmon

This multivoiced and interdisciplinary blog reflects our efforts to combine the health of the Baltic Sea with the health of humans, and the ecosystem dynamics with human values and behavior. We the bloggers are doctoral students representing marine biology, environmental policy and sociology. Our blogs bring you news from the GOHERR project and thoughts about related hot topics. The aim of GOHERR is to develop integrated governance framework for Baltic salmon and herring.
18.03.2016 10:01

4 useful tips for stakeholder engagement in environmental research projects

Mia Pihlajamäki

Engaging stakeholders into environmental research projects has become a bit of a norm over the past decade or two. In its best, stakeholder involvement can improve the relevance, validity and impact of a research project. In its worst, it can turn out to be a waste of time and effort for both the stakeholders and the project. Durham et. al. (2014) have published a handbook for stakeholder engagement in environmental research project, which provides excellent points to consider when you are planning to involve stakeholders in your project.

My idea behind this post is to share four points from the handbook that I found extremely useful in the planning and implementation of stakeholder engagement activity in the BONUS GOHERR project.  

  1. Credibility. Careful planning is a prerequisite for improving the credibility of the stakeholder engagement process. This means that you need to define the objectives of the engagement, identify relevant stakeholders and choose appropriate methods. In February 2016, we organized an international two-day stakeholder workshop on the dioxin problem of Baltic herring. The objective of the workshop was to gain better understanding on how different stakeholders in four Baltic Sea countries perceive the problem and its solution possibilities, and drawing from this, to discuss how the use of Baltic herring for human consumption could be increased. To ensure continuity of the engagement beyond the workshop, the participants are going to be informed of the project outcomes, mainly via email and through the project website. In addition, we might reach out to them for further consultations. 
  2. Relevance. A good stakeholder engagement process is relevant and useful for both the project and the stakeholders.  Although the main purpose of the GOHERR stakeholder workshop was to provide valuable information for our project, we wanted it to be useful for the participants as well. In addition, we suspected that some of the key stakeholders, i.e. the representatives of Baltic herring fishing, are likely to suffer from participation fatigue due to various collaboration and engagement processes we knew they had been involved in the past few years. Thus, we put a lot of effort in defining useful and motivating workshop objectives. Based on our background research we realized that there is relatively little discussion and collaboration between different countries on the use of Baltic herring, and even less discussion between the herring and dioxin experts. That proved to be a fruitful starting point for our workshop discussions.
  3. Legitimacy. The perceived legitimacy of the stakeholder engagement process can be improved by involving multiple relevant stakeholders and treating different interests equally. We aimed to have all four countries and Baltic herring and dioxin experts, namely fishermen, producers, researchers, policy makers and NGOs, equally represented. We were not able to avoid last minute cancellations, but were able to include some of these views in the discussions by asking written comments on the main questions of the workshop prior to the meeting.
  4. Evaluation. Evaluation of stakeholder engagement has many benefits. The project team learns what worked and what did not work, which is useful for future reference. But it also provides evidence of the value as well as pros and cons of the process. After the GOHERR workshop we asked the participants to fill in an anonymous feedback questionnaire in which we asked them, indirectly, about the credibility, relevance and legitimacy of the engagement activity. The questions related to, for example, the selected methods and participants, the topics discussed and whether their views were taken into account. Some of these questions and the responds are shown in the figure below. We also had some open questions such as what worked and what didn’t, and why. And what we could have done better. We received encouraging and constructive feedback, which we are thankful for and will definitely take into consideration in future engagement activities.


Reference:

Durham E., Baker H., Smith M., Moore E. & Morgan V. (2014). The BiodivERsA Stakeholder Engagement Handbook. BiodivERsA, Paris (108 pp). Available at http://www.biodiversa.org/63




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