Understanding diversity primer: 4. Power

By Gabriele Bammer

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How can an understanding of diversity in power improve research on complex societal and environmental problems? What are the different ways in which diversity in power plays out?

Simply put, there are currently two common ways in which power is taken into account in research on complex societal and environmental problems:

  1. those working with marginalised stakeholders, or otherwise committed to giving everyone involved in the research an equal voice, often seek to eliminate differences in power
  2. those who seek to use their research to change policy or practice generally attempt to find ways to influence those with the power to make those changes.

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Understanding diversity primer: 3. Perceptions of good research

By Gabriele Bammer

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How do different perceptions arise of what makes for ‘good’ research? How can researchers come to understand such differences and their impacts on how problems are framed, understood and responded to, as well as how they affect the ability of those contributing to the research to work together?

Differences arise because training in a discipline involves inculcating a specific way of investigating the world, including which types of questions are worth addressing; legitimate ways of gathering, analysing and interpreting data; standards for validation; and the role of values in the research process. Educating someone in a discipline aims to make the discipline’s specific approach to research ingrained and tacit.

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Understanding diversity primer: 1. Why diversity?

By Gabriele Bammer

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Why do researchers who tackle complex societal and environmental problems need to understand diversity? What kinds of diversity are relevant? What are some good starting points?

Diversity is critical for:

  • developing a more comprehensive understanding of any complex problem, both what is known and what is not known
  • providing a greater range of ideas about addressing the problem, including what may and may not work
  • providing deeper and more effective insights into how the research can support policy and/or practice action to address the problem by government, business and civil society.

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 10. Advanced skills

By Gabriele Bammer

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Once researchers understand the basics of stakeholder engagement, what else is it useful for them to know? What additional concepts, methods and processes are helpful additions to their skill set so that they can engage more effectively?

Two areas for building additional skills are considered here:

  • Understanding and managing power and control
  • Working effectively with multiple stakeholders.

These areas are ripe for consolidation of existing knowledge and experience, as well as of useful tools. Here only some considerations are sketched out, drawing predominantly on key contributions to the i2Insights blog.

Understanding and managing power and control

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 9. Evaluating engagement

By Gabriele Bammer

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How can the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement be judged? How can the outcomes be assessed? How much effort should go into such evaluation?

How and when to evaluate

In any stakeholder engagement there is no shortage of aspects that could be evaluated. The challenge is aligning the audience for the evaluation, the key issues to be assessed and the available resources.

For example, if a research team is interested in learning from what went wrong in a stakeholder engagement (for instance, if a stakeholder stopped participating or became hostile) and has no money set aside for evaluation, it might rely on self-reflection and anecdotal evidence to figure out what happened.

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 8. Generating ideas and reaching agreement

By Gabriele Bammer

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What skills for generating ideas and reaching agreement should every researcher involved in stakeholder engagement seek to cultivate? What key methods and concepts should they be familiar with?

The focus in this blog post is on generating ideas and reaching agreement, as well as recognising the “groan zone” between these two phases in a group process. Researchers will have diverse attributes and not everyone will be well-placed to cultivate the skills described here. Having an understanding of the skills can help in choosing the researchers best placed to undertake the stakeholder engagement.

Generating ideas: Brainstorming

For brainstorming to work well, it requires rapid-fire contributions, no holding back or self-censoring of ideas, and no discussion or criticism of the ideas proposed. It often involves a group of stakeholders (or stakeholders and researchers) sitting around a flipchart or whiteboard, with one person writing down the ideas as members of the group say them.

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 7. Listening and dialogue

By Gabriele Bammer

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What skills should every researcher involved in stakeholder engagement seek to cultivate? What key tools for engaging stakeholders should they be familiar with?

In the next two blog posts, I present key skills and tools that are essential for engaging with stakeholders. Understanding these skills can help teams decide who would be best among their members to be responsible for stakeholder engagement. Those involved in stakeholder engagement can also work to strengthen these skills to underpin other useful methods such as surveys, interviews, focus groups and participatory modelling.

This blog post presents skills involved in listening and dialogue. The next presents tools for generating ideas and reaching agreement.

Listening to understand

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 6. Making engagement effective

By Gabriele Bammer

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How can researchers ensure that stakeholder contributions ― whether through consultation, involvement or collaboration ― are properly valued? What steps can researchers take to make stakeholder participation as effective as possible? How can damaging pitfalls be avoided?

Researchers can make the stakeholder engagement process maximally effective by paying attention to the following three aspects:

  1. ensuring credibility, relevance and legitimacy of stakeholder contributions
  2. accommodating stakeholder motivations, expertise and ability to participate
  3. avoiding or managing potential pitfalls.

1. Ensuring credibility, relevance and legitimacy of stakeholder participation

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 5. Choosing engagement options

By Gabriele Bammer

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How can researchers decide which engagement options will be most appropriate for which stakeholders? How can they take into account multiple considerations such as the aims of stakeholder engagement, the requirements of the research and available resources?

It can be helpful to think through how each option for stakeholder engagement (described in Primer #4) would be operationalised for each stakeholder, using the questions below. These make explicit what researchers often do intuitively.

By teasing out specifically what is required and matching this with the available resources – time, money and person-power – the aim is to reduce the possibility of a project running out of steam for stakeholder engagement before it is concluded and to maximise the chances that the commitments made by researchers to stakeholders (the ‘promise’ described in Primer #4) for each type of engagement can be fulfilled.

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 4. Options for engagement

By Gabriele Bammer

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What options are available to researchers for including stakeholders in a research project in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the problem, provide ideas about addressing it and help the research to support policy or practice change? Can different stakeholders be included in different ways? Can the same group of stakeholders participate in different ways in various aspects of the research? What obligations do researchers have to participating stakeholders over the course of that project?

It can be useful to consider 5 ways in which researchers can include stakeholders in a project:

1. Inform:
Researchers provide stakeholders with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the research.

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 3. Selecting stakeholders

By Gabriele Bammer

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Given that most research projects will not have the funding or time to involve all stakeholders who have been identified as potential contributors, what criteria are useful for selecting those to be invited to participate? How can those identified be assessed against the criteria?

Four criteria for selecting stakeholders are:

  • their legitimacy
  • their real and potential power
  • the urgency they assign to the problem
  • practical considerations.

Legitimacy

Legitimacy can usefully be examined along the following four dimensions:

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Stakeholder engagement primer: 2. Identifying stakeholders

By Gabriele Bammer

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How can all those who have something relevant to contribute to a research project be identified? In particular, how can we find those who, through their experience of being affected by or dealing with a problem, can provide:

  • a more comprehensive understanding of the problem
  • ideas about ways to address the problem
  • insights into how the research can best support policy and practice change on the problem in government, business and civil society?

A wide-ranging and inclusive initial process of identifying stakeholders ensures that key individuals and groups are not missed and that the broadest range of knowledge and perspectives is found, for both understanding and acting on the problem.

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