November 5, 2014, by Blue-Green team
Enhancing impact through effective stakeholder engagement; an ARCC event for early career researchers
On the 9th October I headed up to York to participate in a workshop on stakeholder engagement. The event was hosted by the Adaptation and Resilience to a Changing Climate (ARCC) network and was aimed at improving the skills of early career researchers and imparting ideas on how to increase the impact of our research through effective stakeholder engagement. The workshop was facilitated by Pete Walton (Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow at UKCIP), Kay Jenkinson (Communications Specialist, ARCC network) and Roger Street (Director, UKCIP).
What is a stakeholder?
The workshop began by exploring what we mean by “stakeholder”. Does this include everyone that comes in to contact with our research or can we be more specific and narrow it down to people who have a vested interest in the output from the research, or those that have the ability to act? Stakeholders can be defined at a range of scales and could include both those included in the research, and those impacted by the research. Stakeholders can have multiple interests and come at an issue from a range of background perspectives and thus have a different driver behind their interest in the research. Different approaches will be suited to different stakeholders and we need to be aware of those “mystery” stakeholders that suddenly emerge. We also explored the difference between a stakeholder and a customer/client; with the latter there is predominantly a one-way exchange of knowledge while stakeholder engagement necessitates a two-way knowledge exchange and opportunity for all voices to be heard. The groups drew diagrams to represent their idea of a stakeholder (not an easy concept!) and some of this artwork can be viewed on the ARCC online summary from the event…”how to engage with those elusive stakeholders”
Maximising impact through stakeholder engagement
Determining why researchers want to engage and why stakeholders would want to be engaged is a valuable first step in planning a stakeholder engagement strategy and maximising impact. The workshop groups looked at mapping stakeholders and the different roles that they can play over the lifetime of the project, e.g. supporters, informants, recipients. We then developed a stakeholder engagement plan for an example infrastructure project. Key messages include;
- Have realistic goals
- Have focused, concise, regular contact – but not just meetings for the sake of a meeting!
- Use multiple engagement mechanisms – face to face, email, phone calls, social media, letters, postcards, fliers, newspaper articles, radio and other media, free gifts…these will be appropriate for different stakeholders at different times
- Revisit expectations – these may change as the project progresses
- Have a key contact point or coordinator
- Bear in mind that stakeholders are most likely to be interested in the research outputs, not the methodology
The led us to the end of the first session. The group adjourned and met later in the evening for dinner and were treated to an after-dinner speech by Anne Liddon (RELU (Royal Economy and Land Use programme) and LWEC (Living With Environmental Change)), reflecting on her experience with engaging with different stakeholders and how she achieved impact. This was an inspiring talk and promoted the idea of story-telling as an effective strategy. Wacky ideas for engagement may also work, e.g. games, X-factor style competitions and video messaging!
A stakeholder view – addressing the barriers to engagement (Kate Cochrane, Newcastle City Council)
The second day of the event began with a presentation from Kate Cochrane, a stakeholder in numerous projects in the field of community resilience and business continuity, on the barriers that she perceives (from the other side of the fence) may limit the success of stakeholder engagement. Importantly, researchers need to be aware of the time and resource constraints of those we approach to be potential stakeholders, and need to find a way to make our project stand out and explain exactly what they stakeholder could gain from working with us – this may break through the background noise.
Strategies for engagement – a mock presentation to an expert panel
The workshop groups then put this learning into practice and developed a stakeholder engagement strategy for a new research project, and subsequently pitched this to a mock panel of research council experts. Key points were that plans need to indicate a clear management structure and anticipate the difficult questions that the panel may ask (and have an answer prepared), consider the types of communities that are to be engaged with and what barriers may exist, such as languages, and show that cost has been considered – innovative strategies for stakeholder engagement can be expensive!
Read more about this event on the ARCC website.