The case for engagement and participation

By any measure, efforts to protect and restore the environment have failed to keep pace with environmental change, despite extraordinary advances in the Earth and environmental sciences. Clearly there is a problem in knowledge transfer, which is often blamed on limited public awareness, misunderstanding or even apathy. Compounding the problem: the commonly proposed solutions of “better science communication” and “raising awareness” are often ineffective and almost always insufficient.

The good news is there are proven ways to optimize the impact of science, and they are based on engagement and participation. The facilitation and translation of information and meanings among all stakeholders (including researchers) can lead to the co-production of knowledge, more informed decision making, and in a very pragmatic way, more effective use of scientific discovery. Engagement leads to relevance, which leads to involvement, which leads to decisions and action. And the participatory research community has the tools necessary to make this happen.


The benefits

The investment in engagement is a “one to many” generator of potential benefits, and when done thoroughly, these benefits can actually grow with time.

  • Active engagement and critical dialog with others facilitate learning.
  • Participatory approaches can lead to knowledge co-creation and new ideas.
  • Local knowledge can significantly expand the reach and effectiveness of monitoring and assessment efforts.
  • Research conducted formatively that responds to what is learned from stakeholders becomes increasingly more relevant to them, and that relevance leads to involvement and even behavior change.
  • Engagement can lead to the empowerment of stakeholders.
  • Engagement can lead to more informed decision making, higher quality assessments and higher quality agreements.
  • Participation can enhance the deliberative capacities of participants.
  • Participation helps ensure the legitimacy of processes or decisions by giving stakeholders a role in those processes and a voice in those decisions.
  • Engagement can lead to compromise and contribute to conflict resolution.
  • Engagement can lead to future collaboration through improved working relationships among participants.
  • Optimization of natural & social capital is only possible if stakeholders are involved.
  • Collaboratively generated solutions are more likely to be embraced, and thus more likely to be sustainable.
  • Participatory approaches can help identify the agents of change (early adopters) necessary to seed the diffusion of innovation and the spread of ideas

It is also important to emphasize that participation and engagement are central to effective communication strategies.

  • Communication and outreach strategies that are not founded engagement and participation have limited or no impact.
  • Outreach without inreach is a missed opportunity to have real and sustained impact derived from a scientific research programme.
  • This is not limited to applied research – by linking basic researchers to an overall engagement strategy, they provide a foundation for applied research that stakeholders may directly use. They also legitimize that research in the eyes of stakeholders.

Finally, engagement and participation methods form the basis for modern approaches for start-up acceleration and longer-term innovation strategies of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The presents significant opportunities for environmental SMEs in collaborating with research teams.

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