Most disputes around public policy are fueled by the presence of competing interests and perspectives. Parties advocate for different outcomes based on what will advance their respective interests and support their own views of the problem and how it is best solved. Too often, parties with stakes in environmental disputes find themselves locked in intractable conflict, talking past each other and using the courts and political arenas to advance their individual positions and weaken others.
We believe that conflicts over public policy and resource allocation are best resolved by bringing the various stakeholders together via well-managed engagement processes. It is by getting to know each other and starting to appreciate the various interests at stake, and building a shared understanding of the problem and how it might be solved, that stakeholders can devise creative solutions that meet everyone’s needs. Agencies with regulatory authority can not abdicate their ultimate responsibility, but they can invite stakeholders to collaboratively wrestle with policy and management questions and promise to take broadly supported recommendations seriously as they make decisions.
Unfortunately, poorly managed stakeholder engagement can result in frustration and further entrenchment. Our approach to stakeholder engagement builds on the Consensus Building Approach.
Keys to success include:
- Getting the right people in the room. All stakeholder groups must be represented, and participants must have legitimacy in the eyes of their respective constituencies.
- Helping parties to explore issues and their various interests, and to collectively consider possible solutions. Parties often need help in moving from rehashing positions to considering underlying interests and how they might be addressed by finding innovative solutions.
- Structuring and running meetings for success. Facilitators must make sure that meetings are at the right time, in the right place for participants. Agendas must be clear, acceptable to everyone and designed to advance parties from framing and exploring problems through to jointly crafting solutions. Meetings should have clear and enforced ground rules. After each meeting, clear and broadly validated minutes that outline any agreements and outline next steps and tasks should be distributed.
- Helping parties to disseminate information and collect feedback from their constituencies. Participants at the table must maintain their legitimacy and regularly seek feedback and validation from those they are representing.
- Deploying engagement support tools as appropriate. Project websites and online workspaces, online or keypad polling, surveys, and podcasts are just some of the ways in which technology can assist in stakeholder engagement.
- Stakeholder engagement is a widely used term, yet poor practices can and often do lead to frustration, loss of trust and reduced information sharing, rather than enhanced relationships and new opportunities for collaborative problem solving. The MIT Science Impact Collaborative is a leader in the field, and is committed to advancing both the theory and practice of effective stakeholder engagement.
For more information on stakeholder engagement, see:
- Susskind, L. and J. Cruikshank (1989). Breaking the Impasse: Consensual Approaches to Resolving Public Disputes. New York: Basic Books.
To learn more about how we tackle challenges at the intersection of science, politics and policy, visit our tools and project pages.