By Gabriele Bammer
What options are available to researchers for engaging stakeholders in a research project? What responsibilities do researchers have to stakeholders over the course of that project?
Despite increasing inclusion of stakeholders in research, there seems to be little guidance on how to do this effectively. Here I have adapted a framework developed by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2 2018) for examining how the public are engaged in government decision making. The research-modified IAP2 spectrum, written from a researcher perspective, is shown in the figure below. The original IAP2 framework, for comparison, is shown in the figure at the end of this blog post.
- those affected by the problem under investigation (for example, community members or those in specific occupational groups), and
- those in a position to do something about the problem (for example policy makers or service providers).
A major strength of the IAP2 framework is that it recognizes five types of engagement and these also work well in a research context:
Researchers provide stakeholders with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the research.
Researchers obtain stakeholder feedback on the research.
Researchers work directly with stakeholders to ensure that stakeholder concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered in the research.
Researchers partner with stakeholders for salient aspects of the research.
Researchers assist stakeholders in conducting their own research.
Those developing the IAP2 framework suggested that no one type of engagement is privileged above the others. Instead they recognised that “differing levels of participation are legitimate and depend on the goals, time frames, resources, and levels of concern.” This also applies equally well in a research context.
A second major strength of the IAP2 framework, that also translates seamlessly into a research context, is that the engagement is seen as two-way, with an appropriate “promise” made to the stakeholder group for each type of participation. In the research context the promises are:
- Inform promise
We will keep you informed.
- Consult promise
We will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge your concerns and aspirations and provide feedback on how your input influenced the research.
- Involve promise
We will work with you to ensure your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the research and we will provide feedback on how your input influenced the research.
- Collaborate promise
We will look to you for advice and innovation in designing and conducting the research and incorporate your advice and recommendations to the maximum extent possible.
- Empower promise
We will provide advice and assistance as requested in line with your decisions for designing and conducting your research, as well as for implementing the findings.
In moving from ‘inform’ to ‘empower’ stakeholders have increasing influence on the research. The spectrum works for different kinds of stakeholder involvement in different projects, as well as for developing a relationship with the same group of stakeholders over time.
One notable modification was made for the research-modified IAP2 spectrum. The word ‘each’ in the original stakeholder participation goal for ‘collaboration’, was replaced with ‘salient’ as in “Researchers partner with stakeholders for salient aspects of the research.” While full collaboration may be possible on a straight-forward research question (with, for example, few stakeholder groups and one simple form of data collection), it is often not feasible for research on more complex problems, where there are multiple stakeholder groups and forms of data collection. In such cases stakeholders are unlikely to have the time (or even inclination) to be involved in all aspects of the research.
The research-modified IAP2 spectrum has two additional benefits:
- It promotes deep thinking about the engagement
- It provides a rationale for involving stakeholders in different ways in any project.
Encouraging deep thinking about which kind of engagement is most appropriate in any research project is important. Even if “collaboration” is the aim, the framework provides a rationale for thinking about whether collaboration is actually realistic (for example, when resources are very limited) and whether some other kind of engagement is more suitable in the circumstances. This can also help in more accurately describing the engagement that occurs; for example a process may claim to be empowerment, but is actually consultation.
In addition, in any one research project which includes multiple stakeholder groups, the spectrum provides a opening for considering whether different groups (separately or together) could be involved in different ways. Further, over the course of the study or in different aspects of the study, the same stakeholder group can also be involved in different ways. For example one stakeholder group may be consulted, while another group is informed. Further, the same stakeholder group may be involved in one aspect of the research and a collaborator on another.
Does the research-modified IAP2 spectrum look relevant to your research? Would you suggest further additions or changes? Are there other advantages that you can identify? What about disadvantages?
To find out more:
Bammer, G. (2019). Key issues in co-creation with stakeholders when research problems are complex. Evidence and Policy, 15, 3: 423-435. (Online) (DOI – Open Access): https://doi.org/10.1332/174426419X15532579188099
International Association for Public Participation (IAP2). (2018). IAP2’s public participation spectrum. (Online): https://iap2.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/2018_IAP2_Spectrum.pdf (PDF 160KB). The quotation is taken from: https://www.iap2.org.au/About-Us/About-IAP2-Australasia-/Spectrum
Biography: Gabriele Bammer PhD is a professor at The Australian National University in the Research School of Population Health’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health. She is developing the new discipline of Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) to improve research strengths for tackling complex real-world problems through synthesis of disciplinary and stakeholder knowledge, understanding and managing diverse unknowns, and providing integrated research support for policy and practice change.
Gabriele Bammer is a member of blog partner PopulationHealthXchange, which is in the Research School of Population Health at The Australian National University.