KE Q&A – Shaping Programmes with Stakeholder Input
The AVOID research programme provides key advice to the UK public sector on avoiding dangerous climate change brought about by greenhouse gas emissions. Dr Maria Noguer, the programme’s Knowledge Integrator, explains how developing a clear understanding of stakeholders’ knowledge needs from the outset has underpinned the success of the initiative.
Q: How important has it been for AVOID to establish mechanisms enabling research users to tell you what they need from the programme?
A: Absolutely fundamental. Our aim is to inform policy decisions and equip government with up-to-date scientific evidence reinforcing the UK’s negotiating position at Conference of the Parties (CoP) events held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The key, then, is to deliver the information that policy-makers require and in the form they need it. Timescales are crucial too. We have to produce deliverables for specific CoP events but sometimes there may be an urgent, ad-hoc need for a particular piece of information and the turn-round time may be very tight. It’s essential we respond effectively in those situations too, so we must have mechanisms in place that enable swift, clear communication of stakeholder requirements.
Q: At what point in AVOID’s development did you start engaging with stakeholders and canvassing their opinions?
A: Right from the start. We included key government representatives on the AVOID Steering Group and also used a combination of a survey and telephone interviews to gather input from around 50 individuals. The raw data generated was carefully analysed to produce structured findings that we could use to help firm up specific research objectives for AVOID.
Q: What did you do to ensure a good response rate to the survey?
A: We made it available in both written and online formats. We also physically phoned up around ten individuals whose views we considered it essential to gather and we filled in the survey with them to make the process easier.
Q: How do you ensure close co-operation with primary stakeholders on an ongoing basis?
A: As well as conducting knowledge integration discussions with them, probably the most important step has been the appointment of a dedicated Programme Officer within DECC whose remit is to work with AVOID and maintain a strong link with the programme. That’s proved invaluable.
Q: How have you responded to your stakeholders’ requirements in terms of the way you communicate the results of your research to them?
A: We’ve listened very carefully to exactly what they want and we tailor our outputs to their individual needs. As well as issuing reports, holding seminars and providing one-to-one briefings, we produce brochures and concise ‘key points’ flyers which are supplemented with email bulletins containing less time-critical information. We compile our distribution lists for these outputs in close co-operation with each of our stakeholders. We also produce presentation slides that all of our stakeholders can use.
Q: What would be a good example of the way your proactive approach to stakeholder engagement has really paid dividends?
A: The Copenhagen Accord, which was 'taken note of' at the 15th CoP in 2009, recognised that climate change is one of the greatest challenges today and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases below 2°C. Within the Accord, several countries submitted emission reduction pledges. But our stakeholders wanted to know whether the emissions reductions targets submitted by countries would actually be sufficient to stay below a 2°C increase. So AVOID ‘did the maths’ and revealed that the actions weren’t extensive enough. This was a vital finding that would inform the UK position at subsequent CoP meetings. Our ability to provide the right information in the right format at the right time was a direct result of the close relationship and deep understanding established between the programme and its stakeholders.