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News // The secret to effective stakeholder engagement for applied Nexus solutions

Feb 22 2022

Q. Can you point out some pitfalls to avoid when it comes to the actual implementation of the engagement strategy?

A. Let’s look at 3 common myths worth looking out for:

“The greater the number of more stakeholders we engage, the better”: Not always so. We need to be focused and mindful of the stakeholder mix and dynamics: we need stakeholders with a high level of interest and a corresponding capacity to influence an issue; and we also need to engage with stakeholders that might appear less interested, but can be drawn in by the group’s dynamic and be motivated to use their capacity to influence outcomes. Lacking focus in building the stakeholder coalition may lead to processes getting bogged down and stakeholders feeling that their participation is leading nowhere.

“Stakeholders, as insiders, are the best data providers”: Not necessarily. While stakeholders may happen to also be scientists providing reliable data, very often this will not be the case. Therefore, it is important to separate and not treat the groups as identical, because this may compromise the data collected, and may also put pressure to provide data on groups which in any case are ill-equipped to do so.

“The more frequently we engage with stakeholders, the closer they will feel to the project.” It’s just not true. It’s more about the quality, rather than the quantity of interaction. Engagement needs to be targeted, and with clear aims and results. Otherwise, we may get ‘stakeholder fatigue’, which occurs when stakeholders are approached, often separately, through different components of a project, asked to take part in sessions or fill out questionnaires which may have overlapping aims, with no clear goal or end benefit to themselves. We must remember that the more stakeholders contribute their time and knowledge, the more they will expect in return from the project, so we always need to make sure that the relationship remains balanced.

Q. Let’s talk about good practices. How is REXUS approaching stakeholder engagement in its 5 pilots?

A. The REXUS stakeholder engagement strategy builds on three core ideas:

Co-creation: Stakeholders will take an active part in defining the challenges, the problems and the necessary pathways for change, based on their expertise and knowledge. The project will not define its own goals and impose its agenda on the stakeholders, rather it will create the means to support the process of change.

Cross-fertilisation: Networking and exchange of knowledge will be used to facilitate mutual learning between different stakeholders. In REXUS, this will be done systematic within each pilot, through the creation of Learning & Action Alliances; between the 5 pilots of the project; and finally, with other sister Nexus Projects. This will help us learn from what is working well in the different pilots, but importantly as well, what isn’t working so well.

Capacity building: We will seek out opportunities to enhance technical and institutional capacities, in order to establish a common language, and a joint level of capacity for between stakeholders for effective Nexus management.

Source: Nexus - The Water, Energy & Food Security Resource Platform