Throughout the world there are now numerous processes at national and sub-national levels planning emissions reductions, considering the green economy, or preparing contributions for the Paris COP. One of the things that comes up repeatedly when discussing these processes is the issue of process design. By this I mean the way you prepare the way the process will be conducted – who participates, what the sequence of the process will be, what data will be generated and used, what the outcomes are, and so on. In each of the MAPS processes in Latin America these issues came up and were hugely important. I wont traverse them all here (we are writing a more meaty analysis for an upcoming MAPS Book), but I hope these random thoughts are helpful.
People assume quite correctly that process is important in projects of this nature, and naturally wish to include stakeholders in the process itself. It’s natural to want stakeholders to be present in processes but often big mistakes are made in both process design and stakeholder choice, stakeholder motivation, stakeholder input and outputs, and so on. And once you have made these choices you have to live with them! Really bad ones can invalidate an entire project. But avoiding the process choices, and just producing the project from a research desk, risks no-one paying much attention to it (even if its rather good/blindingly excellent).
I think the first question one should ask is why do I need stakeholders in this process? What do I want to get from them, and possibly more importantly, what did they get out of being there and contributing their time? It’s really important I think to consider the motivation of stakeholders. What will bring them to the table? What will motivate them and keep them at the table? How will they feel satisfied that they have both given input that has been respected and is usable, and have received something in return? And in the case of those who represent high carbon interests (and boy, there will be a few of these), what do they bring to the table other than simple protectionism?
Governments strongly mandated our MAPS processes, which in itself is a magnate for stakeholder involvement. In contrast a pure research process that is not mandated by government has no real “pull” to get stakeholders present unless they will think there is some potential to influence change. That case must be made, somehow. Stakeholders don’t want to be on the menu; they want to be cooking in the kitchen, but not at a local diner. Some processes have been successful in conferring on themselves Michelin status, and so pull stakeholders and influence outcomes. But equally a government process can pull in stakeholders who simply want to legitimize their interests in the political economy, guard their “right to emit”, disguise their denialism, and undermine any ambition towards the truly green economy. The point is made by Naomi Klein: “It is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when an elite minority was enjoying more unfettered political, cultural, and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s.” This elite minority may come to dominate stakeholder participation – it will suit them to be there! At the same time they are profoundly important to the planning of the future, and they are often the largest taxpayers, so they cannot be absent either. I will have more to say about this discreet and serious problem in our upcoming book.
We in MAPS learnt that this type of project is likely to influence if it is credible, legitimate and salient. Stakeholder involvement should be planned to strengthen all three these pillars. So, for example: if a desktop study is highly credible due to its writers’ esteem, then stakeholdership will not really add value; if full legitimacy is conferred on the desktop study the same applies. A good example is the IPCC. Honestly, I have learnt that a default towards stakeholder participation, or a very generalized approach, does more harm than good. But if you get it right, it adds huge value: confidence in government that it can act with support; predictability for business, agreement on data, and so on.
I now want to deal with two distinct questions. First, a choice exists between asking stakeholders to give inputs which would determine outcomes in a research process (ie they agree inputs and assumptions which are then utilized by researchers without alteration) or to consider outputs from research which is expert driven? Put differently, do we want them to co-produce knowledge or validate it? This raises the next question: where do we want the stakeholders in the sequence of the process? At the beginning to give input or some point in the middle to receive output? The second question is: which stakeholders do we want in this sequence? And are they the same throughout? i.e. are their phases to the sequence when the stakeholders will change? We may want stakeholders that are experts, and are likely to contribute technical knowledge. Or we may want interest driven stakeholders that represent constituencies of interest. Or we want both.
I need to say a word about stakeholders and conflict. In the case of interest-based stakeholders, as against expert-based stakeholders, we should expect high degrees of conflict of interests as well as values. In the case of expert stakeholders we should expect relative degrees of conflict over data. Data conflicts (“those figures for technology learning are wrong, mine are better”) are best resolved by data resolution processes such as agreements to refer to international literature and so on; sensitivity analyses and other forms of spectra of results/scenarios/alternatives could also help to resolve data conflicts. They should be the easiest conflicts to resolve. Interest-based conflicts (“you will kill our industry if you impose that degree of emissions limitation”) may require facilitators who are skilled at resolving such conflicts; they are certainly tougher to deal with. Value-based conflicts (“I don’t like nuclear energy”) are impossible to resolve and should simply be sidestepped by being agnostic to value differences, and studying all permutations.
The type of stakeholders we choose gives us a different mix of conflicts. Although we fear this conflict, the mere presence of conflict is in fact good for the process, as it builds credibility (a lot of different people agree to result x, hence its valued for policy makers) but this means we need to manage how much conflict we can deal with in a given time/budget etc.
So we have made two large choices: the sequencing and use of stakeholders and the identity of stakeholders. Remember that the selection of target audience will also impact the stakeholder identification choices. For example: a steer regarding the political economy may be more important to Ministers than a fixation with the data minutiae: two different sets of stakeholders entirely, also a different sequence. So the difference between a “mitigation first” and a “development first” approach to the process will have a large impact on design and stakeholder choice.
My final word for this blog is to be cautious and weigh up what it will cost against what potential the choices have to build on the three pillars of effectiveness: credibility, relevance and legitimacy. There is no end to the amount of choices one has in designing process, and given the mammoth climate challenge we face coupled with the strong realities that exist in society right now, it’s a tough act to get a process just right, and in so doing giving it the leverage to create real change.
Stef Raubenheimer is the Executive Director of the MAPS Programme