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

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

Triple Task Method: Systemic, Reflective Action Research


Triple Task Method: Systemic, Reflective Action Research Simon Bell

This brief article introduces a new methodology for systemic action research — Triple Task (TT) — and sets out its rationale and initial progress in becoming an embedded method for group working. Arising from the authors previous work with soft systems approaches, the Imagine method for sustainable development assessment and action research in a variety of global locations, TT provides a means for groups to engage together in purposive work and, at the same time, for facilitators to understand how the dynamic of the group influences the groups output. TT is based on an ambitious concept and at the time of writing the results of TT applied in the context of an EU Framework 7 funded project are in their early stages but importantly, significant insights are already arising including the answers to some puzzling questions:

  • Do purposeful groups always produce the most insightful outcomes?
  • Do conflictual groups produce incoherent results?
  • What makes a ‘good’ group?


Triple Task (TT) is a unique form of participatory action research in the sense that not only does it attempt to arrive at answers to research questions but also tries to understand what factors may have been at play in arriving at those answers. This attribute makes TT an advance on many other participatory techniques which are more focussed on delivering outputs (representing an apparent ‘consensus’) and less concerned (if at all) on the dynamic behind that ‘consensus’ and how the process may have influenced what was produced.

Participatory research takes many forms but the underlying philosophy is that all those involved—be they ‘researcher’ or ‘researched’—are involved in the design of a research process as well as the interpretation of findings. Power should be shared rather than being concentrated in the hands of a researcher. As a result the very process of doing the research can provide many insights and help bring about positive change. Hence the term ‘action research’; a research process that catalyses action.

Springer Link

PDF Link

Bell, S. and Morse, S. 2010. Triple Task Method: Systemic, Reflective Action Research. Systemic Practice and Action Research. DOI 10.1007/s11213-010-9171-7

Towards Understanding Problem Structuring and Groups with Triple Task Methodology ‘e’


Towards Understanding Problem Structuring and Groups with Triple Task Methodology ‘e’ Simon BellThe many issues which confront Problem Structuring Groups (PSGs) engaging in applying problem structuring methods (PSMs) are well reported in the literature. Often group problem structuring work is well organised around an array of processes and methods which has received wide-ranging testing in the field however, the assessment of the group in terms of its output, group dynamic and self-assessment tends to be handled piecemeal at best. Triple task methodology (TTM) has been described as a means to manage the three group assessments— group output, dynamic and self-assessment in one frame. In this paper an experimental version of TTM (TTMe) is described in use in an Education project setting in Abu Dhabi. It was intended to make TTM less cumbersome and time consuming and, at the same time, more systemically integrated, a significant objective being to make it easier to use by practitioners who have not used it before or who have only small prior use of group assessment methods. The paper describes the application of TTMe, provides an overall assessment of the value of the exercise, discusses the outputs of the group work and points to the value of TTMe in identifying and clarifying unique group qualities or signatures. The major contribution of the paper is to bring to PSG processes a degree of rapid, non-specialist, empirically comparable assessment on the richness of the group use of PSMs.

Springer Link

Bell, S., Mahroum, S. and Yassin, N. (2016). Towards understanding problem structuring and groups with triple task methodology ‘e’. Journal of the Operational Research Society. doi:10.1057/s41274-016-0017-2