Stakeholders and participation
Stakeholders play a vital role in BeWater and their active participation in the iterative process is key to the project's success. Here Dr. Steven Libbrecht describes the stakeholder identification process for the four Case Study River Basins and the advantages and challenges of the participatory approach employed by the project.
Dr. Libbrecht is a senior consultant in PROSPEX and WP3 Leader in the BeWater Project. He is specialised in corporate development and has wide experience in designing and facilitating participative group processes to assist robust decision-making in multi-stakeholder settings.
Q1 - Who are the stakeholders in BeWater and how were they identified?
Within BeWater, we use the definition that a stakeholder is basically any group or individual who is affected by or can affect the achievement of BeWater's objectives and more specifically the preparation of water adaptation plans in each the four case study river basins. As usual, the identification of these stakeholders started in a structured yet rather creative mode - already during the BeWater kick-off meeting - trying to list stakeholder categories, related e.g. to sectors, to type of organisation, etc. This exploration has been, and continues to be, a process of refining and completing and is done in collaboration between case study leaders, Prospex, as well as interested task and work package leaders. Of course, Case Study Leaders are the ones primarily looking for, and keeping track of, stakeholders.
Within BeWater, the Case Study Leaders use a BeWater stakeholder database, set up by Prospex, to keep an overview of the stakeholders and their profiles. This database is also instrumental to check whether there is sufficient diversity in the stakeholders that have been identified, which again feeds the search for additional stakeholders (groups, or individuals).
Finally, the database is the main tool to select stakeholders for major stakeholder engagement activities - such as the workshops in Work Package 3 and 4. This selection process is based on Prospex' CQI method, in which, prior to a stakeholder event, Criteria (C) are established with respect to the profile of participating stakeholders. Next, Quota (Q) are stipulated, which guide the selection process in order to achieve a balanced group of participating stakeholders i.e. without too much bias because of over- or underrepresentation of certain groups. A typical quotum can be related to gender balance (e.g. targeting 50%/50% female/male, with a minimum of 30% of each gender), to a reasonable representation across sectors etc. Finally, the database is used to select a group of Individuals (I) that match the desired composition of the groups of participants. Subsequently, these people are invited. As the invitations are confirmed or declined, additional individuals might be selected (if needed).
Q2 - What is the BeWater participatory approach?
The general participatory approach for BeWater involves several basic steps:
First, getting to know the stakeholders is an objective in itself - for some river basins this was rather obvious, for others this was really a time consuming and intensive activity. Second, developing a relationship with these stakeholders and understanding their perspectives and objectives. This obviously requires interacting with them, through conversations, interviews, stakeholder events, awareness campaigns, and the formal BeWater workshops (work packages 3 and 4). Through this range of activities, stakeholders could be consulted, could engage in dialogues with the Case Study Leaders, or could actively contribute when participating in the workshops. As a result, this stakeholder pool represents a group of people that are knowledgable on (aspects of) the river basin and motivated to be engaged in the BeWater project.
Furthermore, one crucial aspect of the BeWater participatory approach is related to the alternation between and close integration of science-driven activities and stakeholder participation. For reasons of intercomparability between the river basins, the science-driven activities require consistency of approach across the four river basins, and are handled in a joint effort between the scientific partners (EFI for work package 3, ECOLOGIC for work package 4) and the four Case Study Leaders. Similarly, the participatory activities also require consistency of approach across the four river basins, and are handled in a joint effort between Prospex and the four Case Study Leaders.
Q3 - Why was this method chosen? And, what are the main advantages and disadvantages of it?
One major reason behind the choice of this method is that the integration of science-driven and stakeholder-driven approaches clearly contributes to the societal relevance of the scientific activities. Indeed, stakeholders feed the scientific process with arguments, suggestions, ideas, and challenge the outcome of the scientific approach. Conversely, stakeholders' ideas and assumptions are being tested and sometimes challenged through the scientific approach.
Furthermore, one of the core ideas behind engaging stakeholders in the creation and design of the water adaptation plan, is that momentum is being built in each of the river basins (on the water adaptation plans, on the urgency to act) which will definitely help the implementation process. Rather than working 'for' the stakeholders or 'for' the river basins, the BeWater partners work 'with' the stakeholders. Basically, we mobilise parties and bring elements together, that often have been there for quite some time, but not necessarily in the right setting. 'Putting the pieces together (and creating the missing ones) - together with the stakeholders' is what we hope to achieve with BeWater.
Obviously, this approach comes with some challenges. The settings in the four Case Study River Basins are very different with respect to culture, language, water-related challenges, political and societal context etc. As a consequence, the stakeholder engagement approaches need to be adapted to cope with these differences including the possibility to tune them to the setting at hand - whilst respecting the overall consistency of approach. In fact, the same can be told regarding the scientific methodology - that too needs to be fit for purpose as well as fit for the settings.
Another major challenge lies with the time pressure that is an intrinsic part of any project. The stakeholder engagement processes require time - time to get to know the stakeholders, to engage them, to generate outcome with them, on which the science partners can work. Sometimes, the impression can be that things would move faster without these stakeholder interactions, but then you would miss all the reasons why you are doing this in the first place. Besides, this is not time lost, but time that will be easily regained in the implementation phase.
Q4 - How has this worked in practice (perhaps give an example from one of the CSRBs)?
When trying to put all this into practice, we basically had to learn to work together (case study leaders, scientific partners, Prospex) and to find tools that work in the BeWater setting.
The challenge of running workshops in the local language has been taken care of by making use of professional interpreters, and by adopting specific participatory process approaches with clear roles for the case study leaders. Also cultural and local habits are integrated in the workshop designs, which is reflected in starting and ending times, lunch breaks, etc. The same can be said of the scientific approaches like the fuzzy cognitive mapping, the multicriteria analysis: they have been selected as they allow for stakeholder engagement and at the same time have the flexibility to cope with different settings.As an example, at some point, it was felt that the technology initially used for the stakeholder database was unfit for BeWater purposes, even if the same technology has been used for other projects. So we changed to a technology that is better suited, to put Case Study Leaders in the position they needed to be in.
All BeWaters partners involved spend a lot of time on thinking and preparing for these stakeholder events. But even then, and to paraphrase Forrest Gump: a workshop is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get... The argument that surprises, the outcome you hadn't expected but that turns out to be quite interesting: it's part of the beauty of working together with stakeholders.