Working with stakeholders isn’t an easy task and there is little guidance available on how to do it well.
The British Academy funded Involved project targeted this gap. Researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and the Universities of Newcastle, Leeds, Leuphana (Germany) and Aviero (Portugal) investigated 24 projects in 20 different countries in which researchers worked with stakeholders. Through this investigation, they worked out the most important factors that helped those projects to achieve their goals. Three things emerged from the analysis as being most important:
Make sure views of all the relevant stakeholders are represented;
Work with a professional facilitator to manage the power dynamics between stakeholders; and
Empower stakeholders with information and decision-making influence, so they can meaningfully participate in the decisions.
Groups that got these three things right were more likely to achieve the goals they had established together, and were more likely to learn from and gain trust in the other participants as a result of their experience. The Involved project also found that engaged stakeholders will take away valuable lessons from their experience, and develop new networks and alliances that they can benefit from for many years later.
The research findings show that when you build these important factors into the design of a stakeholder engagement process, it can result in new, creative and well-informed solutions that solve real world problems. The table below shows the full list of recommendations arising from the research.
A well-designed process will help create a sense of trust between the stakeholders involved, and helps them to feel they have a high level of ownership over the problems and the proposed solutions. As a result, decisions are more likely to be accepted and implemented on the ground and additional benefits from involvement in the process can be harnessed even after the process has ended.
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Briefing note: Full text article:
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Full reference: de Vente J, Reed MS, Stringer LC, Valente S, Newig J (2016) How does the context and design of participatory decision-making processes affect their outcomes? Evidence from sustainable land management in global drylands. Ecology & Society