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European Policy Event: stakeholder engagement essential in adaptation planning

Wednesday, 29 March 2017 Posted in Events, News, BeWater News


Engaging stakeholders in adaptation planning is widely considered to enhance the degree of acceptance and political relevance of environmental policy measures. Yet significant room exists for improvement in the design and implementation of stakeholder participation in environmental and climate change-related decision-making processes.

A European Policy Event entitled ‘Implementing COP22 agreements: River basin adaptation planning through stakeholder engagement’ was organised by Ecologic Institute within the EU-funded BeWater project. 

The event, which was held in Brussels on 9 February 2017, aimed to foster adaptation planning at river basin level by demonstrating the critical value of stakeholder engagement and to articulate politically relevant recommendations to inform ongoing work in the aftermath of the COP 21 and 22. A set of key policy recommendations formulated within the BeWater project and experiences from other European projects served as the foundation for the event.

Key outcomes

Adaptation should be understood as a political and social process. If diverse stakeholders are involved, adaptation processes can contribute to societal vision building, increase collaboration between sectors and societal groups, and develop more robust and suitable solutions to a range of societal challenges.

Small-scale, replicable interventions should be funded and supported at EU, national and regional level. Decision-making processes for adaptation need participation during various interventions rather than single large-scale events. The key is to design a flexible approach that can be adapted and applied to meet local needs to achieve more widespread impacts in numerous decision-making processes. Small-scale processes have the advantage of being more ad hoc, physically accessible and thus more personal, taking account of power dynamics and local context.

Experiences and information gained across funded projects should be shared to feed into political processes at the European level, outside of the existing EU platforms and tools. For example, DG Clima should reach out to DG Research and the Structural Funds and integrate the experiences gained in BeWater, among other projects, into the revision process of the EU Adaptation Strategy.

Strategic engagement is required concerning participant selection and scale. It is important to distinguish between different societal/stakeholder groups and the desired levels and type of involvement in the adaptation process. Careful assessment of stakeholder needs, priorities and knowledge levels is needed, as well as innovative engagement tools to help stakeholders recognise and believe in the value of participatory processes and develop ‘ownership’. New stakeholders should have the opportunity to engage or join the process throughout.

Increased political will is required for participation within adaptation decision-making processes, and governance process reform. While methods for participation are established, the political will to use them is often lacking. Where participation has been institutionalised, e.g. public consultation in the Water Framework Directive, the approach remains passive and makes it difficult to influence decision-making. Reformed governance processes and (intersectoral) structures for collaboration and the implementation of adaptation actions are needed to support longer-term, facilitated participation and increased ownership.

Defining clear goals about what ‘participation’ means is crucial to ensure legitimacy, political uptake and sustained engagement. Participatory processes need to be designed so that outcomes are considered legitimate, credible and relevant by decision-makers and stakeholders alike. For decision-makers, this could entail solutions to reduce the cost of implementation, increasing the legitimacy of design for interventions, or minimizing conflicts in implementation. Stakeholders, on the other hand, often need a certain level of trust to be established, and need to see that their participation was taken into account in shaping subsequent adaptation decisions. Overall, transparency and accountability about how contributions were gathered and used is essential.

BeWater project “Making society an active participant in water adaptation to global change” receives funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration. The project, coordinated by CREAF, developed River Basin Adaptation Plans in four Mediterranean basins through citizen participation.

Photos: Ecologic Institute

More information:
Anabel Sánchez: ; tel: +34 93 581 4675