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Understanding Stakeholder Participation in Research as Part of Sustainable Development

A paper reporting on the use of Triple Task in participating in research as part of the EU POINT project

Abstract:
Participation is often presented as a ‘good’ thing and a fairer way to represent views and opinions outside narrow confines of interest and expertise. However, the roots of participatory approaches within research contexts are deep and numerous twists and turns demonstrate a confused and possibly confusing morphology with significant gaps and weaknesses.
In this paper ‘via the medium’ of the POINT (Policy Influence of Indicators) research project we trace elements of the recent history of group participation in sustainable development and the emergence of focus on four areas, most significantly how participatory methods are used. In the absence of strong evidence to contrary we suggest that the issue of how participants engage in participation remains a significant weakness for the field. In order to counter the apparent gap we suggest that a certain degree of structure and process can provide the oeuvre of participatory approaches with a higher degree of transparency in the research process and, by focus on the use of a method called Triple Task, group participatory events can be encouraged to yield greater insights into the workings of groups of all kinds.

Science Direct Link

Bell, S., Morse, S. and Shah, R. (2012). Understanding stakeholder participation in research as part of sustainable development. Journal of Environmental Management. 101, pp. 13 – 22.

Policy Influence of Indicators (POINT) EU FP7 Project

The demand for and supply of indicators for environmental and sustainability policies have increased during the last decades. Main drivers behind this trend include a wish from international institutions to compare the environmental or other performance across countries and sectors, a need to satisfy transparency and accountability requirements in policy performance evaluations, and a call for general information and communication with the public on sustainable development and the state of the environment.

But are such indicators actually used in policy processes and do they have any influence on policy outcomes? These were the key questions posed in the EU FP7 project POINT – Policy Influence of Indicators.
The POINT project began in 2008 with the aim of exploring the use and influence of indicators broadly with the area of sustainable development policies as its main focus. A number of case studies were conducted, covering indicators in sector integration, indicators for sustainable development and also composite sustainability indicators, such as the Ecological Footprint (EF).

EU CORDIS Project Description

Project Overview

An Analysis of the Factors Influencing the Use of Indicators in the European Union

Abstract:
Indicators and indices (I&I) have been popular among a section of the policy and science communities for some years and are often promoted as a vehicle to help make sustainable development a reality. One of the claimed strengths of I&I is their ability to present complex data and trends to policy-makers. It is assumed that I&I can help to make policy and, indeed, management more transparently evidence based; yet this assumption has rarely been tested. This paper describes the results of a research project designed to address this assumption. Three main conclusions were arrived at:

  1. I&I are not static measures that are created and remain constant but instead they change with time as a result of a “natural selection” process;
  2. there is value in a move away from the dominance of a limited number of I&I in policy towards a more diverse set of I&I, but there are many obstacles to achieving this; and
  3. the evidence-based rationality of which I&I are meant to be a constituent does not exist. I&I are but one source of influence among many. Indeed, what is meant by “success” with regard to a policy influence of I&I is debatable.

Introduction

The notion of basing intervention upon a body of evidence which predicts changes that would arise from that intervention has been around for some years. The logic is clear. Given that any intervention will require a “spend” of resource and could have a substantial impact (positive and negative) upon groups within a community, it seems reasonable to know what should be done in order to have the best chance of achieving the desired goals (European Commission 2008). This requires knowledge from research and prior experience and also the requirement to test out a planned intervention on a trial basis before scaling up. After all, the alternative is to imply that interventions should not be evidence based, and this is clearly against the current tide of thinking in public adminis- tration. The logic suggests that evidence-based policy should help with problems such as the following (Sorrell 2007):

  • conflict and confusion over key issues among policy-makers,
  • over-reliance on individual studies which may not have a wider applicability,
  • inadequate accumulation and synthesis of research results and
  • wide-ranging but inconclusive literature reviews that pay insufficient attention to methodological quality. Thus, it can be difficult for policy-makers to separate out the wheat from the chaff.

Taylor and Francis Online Link

Bell, S. and Morse, S. (2011). An analysis of the factors influencing the use of indicators in the European Union Local Environment. 16, 3, pp. 281 – 302.

Towards an Understanding of How Policy Making Groups Use Indicators

Abstract:

Towards an Understanding of How Policy Making Groups Use Indicators Simon BellGroupthink is a known weakness leading to a number of problems relating primarily to false senses of consensus. But, positive group ‘wisdom’ is an ideal which many aspire to make happen but few manage to achieve in practice. The mystery of the group comes at a number of levels and raises various issues. What is the relative importance of how groups assemble? How they are motivated? The value of inducement? How can group work be assessed and how is a ‘good’ group identified? How is positive and not negative group working achieved? How is group working linked to what the group achieves? In the area of policy use of indicators the function of the group becomes more critical. In an age of transparency in decision making and calls for more evidence-based policy, the importance of good group work is becoming vital if the project is to succeed. Based on research undertaken around the European Union between 2009 and 2010 this paper explores some of these questions by providing a series of ‘rich pictures’ of indicator use, the meanings ascribed to the pictures by the group members and some insights regarding the dynamics of the groups that rest behind them and how this may have influenced the stories told by the pictures. We argue that in many ways the pictures represent a window to the understanding of the groups use of indicators.

Science Direct Link

Bell, S. and Morse, S. 2013. Towards an understanding of how policy making groups use indicators. Ecological Indicators. 35. pp. 13 – 23.

Towards an Effective Multi-Stakeholder Consultation Process: Applying the Imagine Method in Context of Abu Dhabi’s Education Policy

Abstract:

Towards an Effective Multi-Stakeholder Consultation Process: Applying the Imagine Method in Context of Abu Dhabi’s Education Policy Simon BellThis paper is concerned with the many interleaving issues that emerge when engaging multiple stakeholders in decision-making. Whilst recognising the intrinsic value of group work and keeping in mind the numerous issues that obstruct group work (in- cluding multiple roles for participants, bias due to domination and distortion emerging from uneven group inputs), we applied the Imagine method to propose a new framework— the ‘Multiple Formation Consultation Framework’ (MFCF)—for organising effective multi-stakeholder consultations along the Policy Sciences Framework. Our proposed framework was applied in the context of education policy in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, where 24 small group formations were tasked and assessed in a systemic manner. Evidence from the exercise suggests that: (1) when moving participants from heterogeneous to homogenous groups, the working of the groups became more focused and the outcomes gained greater clarity in terms of the thinking of group members. (2) Yet, when groups moved from homogenous formations to heterogeneous, they became more inquisitive and explored broader aspects of the tasks at hand. (3) A repeat of the process over 2-day period where different members of the groups experience both homogenous and heterogeneous formations back and forth (in order to capture the unique value emerging from each composition) have led to more efficient and effective working and outcomes of the groups.

Springer Link

Mahroum, S., Bell, S., Al-Saleh, Y. and Yassin, N. (2016) Towards an Effective Multi-Stakeholder Consultation Process: Applying the Imagine Method in Context of Abu Dhabi’s Education Policy. Systemic Practice and Action Research. 29, pp. 335 – 353. DOI 10.1007/s11213-016-9367-6