How to foster multistakeholder engagement
From public understanding to publicly engaged science
The practice and politics of multistakeholder engagement, or public engagement (PE), with science has been evolving over the last two decades. It started with a willingness to promote public understanding of science through one-way communication of scientific findings. This followed a deficit model that assumed an ignorant public had to be educated about science. Within the new paradigm of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), PE is becoming more ambitious; it is embracing an idea of publicly engaged science and innovation in which PE is integrated in open and inclusive R&I processes that allow input from relevant participants. In this process, experts’ opinions will still be crucial in decision making, but citizens’ input (normally from the affected community) will become more and more relevant. At the same time, public engagement will still be coupled with one-way public outreach activities that contribute to making science more open and transparent.
Besides the reasons explained in the What is RRI? section of this Toolkit, there are different purposes for engaging the public in R&I. Some of these are summarized in the Engage2020 project’s eAnthology:
gauging public opinion on a particular science project/issue or a new technology;
assessing a new technological application;
helping researchers gather data for a given project;
having a representative sample of people make judgments or decisions that might inform policy making;
getting the public and experts to co-create knowledge or co-produce innovation.
Who should be engaged?
Researchers, research institutions and public authorities have traditionally led PE activities. However, the third sector, or social sector, has been increasingly involved at different levels of R&I and policy making, giving access to their interests, viewpoints and experiential knowledge. The current trend is to also engage the fourth sector, an emerging sector composed of actors or groups of societal actors that cooperate through hybrid networking. Depending on whether PE focuses on the third or fourth sector, it is often labelled as stakeholder engagement or citizen engagement, respectively. In either case, PE activities are evolving from linear and bilateral collaborations towards dynamic, networked, multi-collaborative innovation ecosystems. Engage2020’s eAnthology offers different methods for selecting public participants according to the purposes of the engagement process.
When to conduct PE
Depending on the goals, PE can be applied at multiple phases of the R&I process. However, to guarantee that engagement truly influences R&I, PE should be conducted iteratively, with feedback loops. Engage2020 provides brief descriptions of PE at different places in the R&I process:
Before starting the R&I process
Program definition: Setting the R&I agenda
How to Set Up a Participatory Research Agenda describes experiences where collaborative deliberation techniques have helped different stakeholders integrate and prioritize R&I topics to collaboratively set the agenda of R&I programmes.
During the R&I process
Project definition: Defining the R&I process with permanent adjustments
Engagement activities should be designed to give citizens the opportunity to contribute their specific knowledge through deliberative processes. Citizen panels, such as SUGAR or CAC, promote this sort of engagement. Stakeholders can contribute their practical knowledge to improve technologies or products through methods such as open innovation and structures such as living labs.
Project execution: Co-developing R&I
In this phase, the R&I itself is conducted through a collaborative approach that equitably involves diverse partners. This sort of process often starts with a problem important to a community, civil service organization or other group (e.g., minorities, associations). The problem is then developed and framed as a research question by combining/constructing knowledge from the scientists or innovators and the different partners. Examples of engagement processes within this phase include community based research and citizen science projects where the involvement is not restricted to data collection.
After implementing the R&I process
Supporting participatory policy development
There is a growing trend in science and technology policy to accompany decisions with democratic practices and broad precondition and foresight analyses. These practices and analyses are aimed at gauging the risks, benefits, and ethical, legal, environmental and socio-economic impacts of new technologies. Different communities in Europe are working in this direction (see the PACITA project for an example of technology assessment).
How to conduct PE
PE2020's report Innovative Public Engagement describes five main categories of public engagement (listed in the table below), three of which involve one-way communication. In its eAnthology, Engage2020 states that one-way communication processes should not be considered public engagement. To them, public engagement is about two-way communication. The literature also describes different engagement categories based on the level of participation. Among others, it differentiates between:
consultation (obtaining public feedback);
involvement (working with the public and considering its input);
collaboration (partnering with the public in each aspect of decision making);
delegated power (letting the public decide).
|PE category||Description||Information exchange||Method examples*|
|Public communication||One-way communication to inform and educate citizens. No mechanisms for handling public feedback.||From sponsors to public|
|Public consultation||One-way communication to inform decision makers of public opinions on certain topics. No dialogue. Decision makers may or may not act upon the information.||Opinions sought by sponsors|
|Public deliberation||Two-way communication to facilitate group deliberation on policy issues. Outcomes may have an impact on decision making. Dialogue is facilitated.||Between sponsors and public representatives|
|Public participation||Two-way communication to assign part or full decision-making power to citizens. Dialogue is facilitated.||Between sponsors and public representatives|
|Public activism||One-way communication to inform decision makers and create awareness in order to influence decision-making processes.||From citizens (initiators) to sponsors|
How to set up a participatory research agenda
Setting up a participatory research agenda has multiple advantages: apart from helping to identify stakeholders’ unmet needs and what matters to end users, it also helps researchers include new perspectives in research, prepare stakeholders for the research process, structure the process for broader collaboration between stakeholder groups, and enable and empower stakeholders to develop their own voice.
Examples of participatory research agenda setting methodologies
In setting up a participatory research agenda, lessons can be drawn from a few domains, including:
Agricultural development in developing countries: The Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA) organised meetings with different stakeholders to promote innovative participatory research methods that ensure that agricultural research and development agendas respond to the needs of the different stakeholders (farmers, policy makers, decision makers in universities, researchers, students, and so on).
Sustainable development: The Netherland’s Research Programme “Knowledge for Climate” (2008–2014) made co-creation of research questions a fundamental aspect of the programme (see page 10 in the final report).
Health care and promotion: Patients and other stakeholders are engaged in decision making around healthcare research, for example: The James Lind Alliance (JLA) promotes dialogues between patients, healthcare professionals and clinical researchers over the effectiveness and uncertainties of medical interventions and jointly identifies priorities for research (see the methodology in the JLA Guidebook); the Dutch Burns Foundation includes patients in research agenda setting and research implementation by using the Dialogue Model (see next section); and Involve aims to stimulate and support active participation of citizens in medical and health research. Lastly, educational projects, such as Healthy Mind, a project within the Xplore Health programme, identified research topics through workshops with more than a thousand student participants from fifteen pilot secondary schools in Catalonia. Students identified depression and stress as the health problems that concerned them most and collectively built a list of research priorities within those topics.
Others: Science Shops, organised within the Living Knowledge Network, promote participatory research agendas. They have been used in projects such as PERARES or EnRRICH to strengthen public engagement in research by involving researchers and civil society organisations (CSOs) in the formulation of research agendas and the research process. CSOs were invited to formulate questions that have been later selected by an advisory board and distributed among higher education students who could dedicate their masters or degree thesis to working on them.
Using the Dialogue Model
An approach increasingly used to engage patients in health research agenda setting is the Dialogue Model, an operationalization of the Interactive Learning and Action (ILA) approach that was developed for use in the health care domain. This model is an instrument for setting up a research agenda with stakeholders and can be used in any field (note that there are other related methods, such as the Participatory Learning Approach (PLA)).
The following five steps for participatory agenda setting are based on an adaptation of the Dialogue Model:
- Exploration (literature search, document analysis, internet fora, informal conversations with stakeholder representatives)
It is important to conduct a stakeholder analysis to obtain a broad overview of involved stakeholders, paying attention to diversity within the stakeholder groups (gender, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, etc.). All relevant stakeholders should be considered for inclusion in the agenda setting process. If a particular type of stakeholder is not included, you should be able to explain your case. It is important to do a stakeholder analysis properly, since it is the essential first step and of decisive importance for the further content of the research agenda.
- Engagement and prioritisation
In this phase important aspects to pay attention to are the creation of good social conditions and respect for experiential knowledge, as well as mutual learning, emergent and flexible research design, and neutral process facilitation. Engagement and prioritisation are really two sub-steps that have diverging and converging functions, respectively. That is, the engagement phase concentrates on mapping the breadth of the stakeholder group and its issues through in-depth interviews and focus groups, while the prioritisation phase concentrates on converging the issues to create an informed focus through the Delphi technique or online questionnaires (e.g., SurveyMonkey, Typeform, or Google Forms).
The aim of this phase is to integrate the perspectives of diverse stakeholder groups via dialogue meetings with representatives from all relevant parties in order to develop an integrated agenda. Given the asymmetries between stakeholders (in, for example, knowledge and power), the dialogue should be carefully prepared to give each stakeholder group a ‘say’. Aspects that help create an impartial and meaningful process are ensuring equal numbers of representatives from stakeholder groups, selecting participants with open minds, using nontechnical language, reserving conversation time for stakeholders, assisting stakeholders in advance of the meeting, and obtaining consensus on appropriate times and locations for the dialogue meetings. A rich resource on research integration using dialogue methods can be found here.
The aim of this phase is to develop research based on the integrated research agenda and to keep all groups engaged. Tackling any time frame mismatches between the agenda setting process and the programming phase is crucial here. It really helps if all stakeholders included in the previous phases are also represented in the programming committees.
The ﬁnal phase, implementation of the research programme, can be realised through ‘calls for proposals’, initiated by the research sponsors, or by matching research themes with research groups or stipulating key topics. Including stakeholders in programming committees and scientific advisory boards can help in this phase. The implementation of enduring forms of participation and interaction is a rather big challenge in agenda setting. Since there is an inclination to go back to ‘business as usual’, alertness to this tendency is required.
How to co-create community-based participatory research
This short section does not offer a general recipe or a manual for the co-creation of community-based participatory research (CBPR). Instead it offers inspiration for your first engagement with this topic. The number of relevant resources in the RRI Toolkit and beyond is much larger than shown here, and many more resources and experiences will be uploaded as the Community of Practice continues to grow.
Definition and principles of CBPR
Community-based participatory research ”is a partnership approach to research that equitably involves, for example, community members, organizational representatives, and researchers in all aspects of the research process and in which all partners contribute expertise and share decision making and ownership. The aim of CBPR is to increase knowledge and understanding of a given phenomenon and integrate the knowledge gained with interventions and policy and social change to improve the health and quality of life of community members.”
CBPR's approach is characterized by ”(a) recognizing the community as a unit of identity, (b) building on the strengths and resources of the community, (c) promoting co-learning among research partners, (d) achieving a balance between research and action that mutually benefits both science and the community, (e) emphasizing the relevance of community-defined problems, (f) employing a cyclical and iterative process to develop and maintain community/research partnerships, (g) disseminating knowledge gained from the CBPR project to and by all involved partners, and (h) requiring long-term commitment on the part of all partners.”
CBPR's strengths ”are that it allows for the innovative adaptation of existing resources; explores local knowledge and perceptions; empowers people by considering them agents who can investigate their own situations; the community input makes the project credible; (...) joins research participants who have varied skills, knowledge, and expertise to address complex problems in complex situations; provides resources for the involved communities; (...) provides a forum that can bridge across cultural differences among the participants; and helps dismantle the lack of trust communities may exhibit in relation to research.” Additional benefits of CBPR are listed in this CBPR skill-building curriculum by The Examining Community-Institutional Partnerships for Prevention Research Group.
Participatory methods in CBPR ”include a range of activities with a common thread: enabling people to play an active and influential part in decisions that affect their lives.” Researchers, community members, activists and donors can all use participatory methods and conduct inclusive research. To find the participatory methods best suited to each specific need, check out the Participatory Methods Toolkit, the Participation Compass or the Action Catalogue, a decision support tool developed by Engage2020. Another option is Participedia, which offers a database of participatory political processes for researchers and practitioners. Recent attention has been directed towards particular methodologies of community-focused cooperation between civil society and those involved in research and innovation or teaching (e.g., scenario workshops, citizen science, science shops). The Sparks project, which is conducting participatory activities in many European countries, will produce a fact sheet on both the scenario workshop and the science shop methodologies, including guidelines on how to connect these methodologies with science exhibitions. They will be online by June 2016.
Resources for co-creating a CBPR project are manifold. They include tools for learning about the needs and interests of the community and people you would like to involve in activities, as well as evaluation and assessment guidelines, engagement handbooks, communication tips and links to additional sources of help and support through networks and databases. Starting points for exploration can be the Community-Campus Partnerships for Health’s (CCPH) toolkits and databases, the online curriculum for developing and sustaining effective CBPR partnerships, the CBPR Training Manual, the Science Shop Toolbox, the UK National Centre for Public Engagement’s EDGE Self-Assessment questionnaire for universities and the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity.
Learning from others
The projects and experiences of national or international consortia can highlight various engagement and CBPR methodologies. Xplore Health showcases an innovative educational infrastructure, while PERARES is a good example of how science shops can facilitate cooperation with civil society organisations to generate research ideas, questions and agendas. Other outstanding projects provide insights on citizen science (GEWISS), service learning (UNIAKTIV), curriculum development in higher education institutions (EnRRICH and HEIRRI), and children as change agents (SiS Catalyst) or show how various public engagement methodologies can be combined with science exhibitions (Sparks project). A different but still interesting approach was taken by the University of Groningen, with its project to answer 400 questions in 400 days.
Networks are among the most effective models for collaboration. They offer a forum, an information clearinghouse and a vehicle to promote collective, bilateral and individual action by stakeholders. Networks encourage communication, cooperation and coordinated action while optimizing flexibility, participation and creativity. When planning a CBPR project, creativity and efficiency can be increased by consulting and involving local, national or international networks, such as the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), Living Knowledge International Science Shops Network, CCPH, Community Based Research Canada, or the UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education. Networks are also helpful for sharing your own findings, files or resources.