Stakeholder Engagement Approach
In order for earth system models to be relevant and usable for decision makers, models need to be capable of quantifying the impacts of specific management practices. Direct engagement with non-academic stakeholders throughout the model development process is a critical component of the BioEarth effort. One of the central goals of the project is to develop model outputs that natural and agricultural resource managers can use to explore potential consequences of their decisions, with a focus on quantifying environmental feedbacks and ecological and environmental tradeoffs.
The Structure of Stakeholder Engagement
We aim to support bi-directional communication among researchers and stakeholders. Stakeholder advisory workshops are being facilitated during the project. In February 2013 stakeholder advisory workshops we focused on N and C management and water availability. A report about stakeholders' input at those workshops is available here (see also: workshops synthesis appendix). In 2014 we held stakeholder workshops on the subjects of forest and rangeland management and air quality. In 2015 we held the project's final issue-based workshop on the subject of regional water quality. Individuals who could benefit from using model results to inform their decision-making are the project's targeted stakeholders. These individuals include representatives from industry, government agencies (federal, state, local and tribal), environmental organizations, and other advocacy organizations.
Stakeholder advisory workshops organized around specific resource management issues are designed to allow for in-depth discussion of stakeholders' issue-specific information needs and preferences for how model outputs, model complexity, model uncertainty might be best communicated. In the final phase of BioEarth, an additional set of larger stakeholder meetings are planned. By involving a larger number of stakeholders, these meetings are expected to expand awareness and understanding of the potential relevance and utility of the model to a wider audience of resource managers and policy makers.
Goals of Stakeholder Advisory Meetings:
- Elicit stakeholders' insights and perspective to inform parameters of different mitigation and adaptation strategies and scenarios that could be explored in the integrated model.
- Communicate the potential value and utility of the model in development to stakeholders and provide them with an enhanced understanding of the model development process, the model complexity and the uncertainty of any model outputs.
- Establish positive, productive relationships and enhance mutual understanding between a broad range of stakeholders and the modeling team.
- Increase researchers' understanding of the factors driving resource management decisions and the information needs of decision-makers, and help the modeling team understand how stakeholders prioritize various environmental and economic concerns.
In addition to facilitating communication among modelers and stakeholders, the communication team is analyzing the perceptions and understandings of stakeholders and scientists throughout the research process using surveys and interviews. The evolution of perceptions of these individuals regarding the stakeholder engagement process and of the utility and relevance of the model to decision-making will be tracked throughout the five-year project.
The BioEarth communication research team began with analysis of the scientists' perspectives on stakeholder engagement during the first year of the project; a research paper on this topic is available here. Study results demonstrate a broad range of perceptions about the value of the stakeholder engagement process and varying expectations for the production of decision-relevant information within BioEarth. Researchers who expect a model that is relevant to policy decision-making rank communication with stakeholders as a central challenge in the project, while those researchers who are thinking about the model as something primarily relevant to academic audiences tend to focus on technical challenges associated with model integration rather than the model's practical or social relevance. The communications team is continuing to conduct surveys and interviews with researchers and stakeholders to understand their perspectives on model development and the stakeholder engagement process.