Case Study - Forums for Stakeholder Feedback
Stakeholders can provide important perspectives on the effectiveness of KE activities, both at the planning stage and as part of post-activity evaluation. In many cases, a bespoke forum can be an effective medium for soliciting stakeholder feedback – an approach that has paid dividends for the Rural Economy and Land Use (Relu) Programme, as Jeremy Phillipson of Newcastle University explains.
Around 100 separate research projects have been funded under the Relu umbrella and many have established their own advisory groups, among other mechanisms, to facilitate engagement with stakeholders and promote two-way KE. At a programme-wide level, there’s also a Strategic Advisory Committee (SAC) which comments on Relu’s communications plan and monitors overall KE progress. This is quite a formal body composed largely of senior stakeholders from the public sector.
We realised early on that there was also a need for a feedback channel operating beyond project scale but more broadly based than the SAC.
So we set up advisory forums covering clusters of research projects relating to three key areas: the food chain; people and the rural environment; and the management of animal and plant diseases. Their memberships included ‘movers and shakers’ from the private, public and voluntary sectors; the businesses represented ranged from small-scale farmers right up to major multinationals. Each forum met two or three times a year in an informal setting and outside office hours to encourage attendance.
Their brief included debating key issues, helping to shape communications strategies and offering views on why specific KE activities had or hadn’t worked well.
Relu’s series of Policy and Practice Notes was just one of the ideas that emerged from the forums, which also provided detailed advice on conference formats and the style of publications, for instance. Furthermore, the involvement of high-level stakeholders in all three forums gave us access to many networks that we could interface with to strengthen the KE process. Many of the stakeholders even became unofficial ambassadors for the programme and actively spread its messages out into their own constituencies.
The forums unquestionably became our ‘critical friends’ whose feedback and guidance immeasurably benefited individual projects as well as the programme overall.