Co-creating evidence-based business roadmaps and policy solutions for enhancing coastal-rural collaboration and synergies

Deep stakeholder integration

An aim of the COASTAL project is to develop a better understanding of rural-coastal interactions and identify synergies between these. We do this continuously in the project period through multi-sectoral stakeholder engagement, where we have been quantifying qualitative narratives using systems dynamics.

The stakeholders have been deeply integrated into the project throughout. As seen from the graphic, the work with the stakeholders is not a “get the info and go” type of relationship in COASTAL. We continuously return to the stakeholders, ask for feedback and input to the process, and ask them to validate our results and findings.

Why is this important, you may ask yourself? Legitimacy is an obvious answer. When stakeholders are allowed to be part of the process that leads to the development of policy actions that directly or indirectly affect them, they are more likely to comply with said regulations – even when the action points may be contrary to their preferred options.

This is because they are better equipped to understand the delicate nature of weighing options at the policy level and how ranking sustainability options at times may have contradictory outcomes where choices may have to be made. For example, do you choose to develop aquaculture in an area where a commercial fisher may have a vested interest? What if this development could lead to more jobs, which could fund a local sports team and lead to higher social satisfaction in the area and therefore discourage outward migration? Or do you encourage tourism in your region because of its potential for increased income – when it could also lead to lower water quality for the agriculture sector because of the high number of users of the system during peak periods? What are the potential challenges, and what are the potential synergies between businesses in coastal and rural areas? How do they affect one another – positively or negatively – and what can be done to encourage the former and mitigate against the latter.

This is what we have been exploring in our deep stakeholder interactions. We have experienced that it has promoted the co-creation of knowledge and social learning, including the spread of common understandings of concepts. We have explored policy actions and governance structures and what this really means on the ground for the stakeholders themselves. We have discussed approaches to reaching goals. We have worked to put data behind the narratives and discussions so that the modellers can develop realistic models of the systems that these stakeholders identify with. Models that can help uncover possibilities. Synergies. Job opportunities. They may be simplifications of their actual experiences – but they recognize themselves in the models – because they helped create them.

Written by Rachel Tiller (SINTEF)