|Developing a Stakeholder Engagement and Science Communication Plan: Improving agricultural practice in Mauritius|
|Thursday, 13 November 2014 16:35|
This, the second blog in our Stakeholder Engagement series, highlights the work of the University of Mauritius’ team in developing, implementing and evaluating a stakeholder engagement and science communication plan aimed at promoting Research Uptake for the results of its Quantification And Movement Of Sediments And Agrochemicals Under Various Types Of Mulches In Coastal, Hilly Food Production Systems In Mauritius research study.
The first blog in this series provided an overview of Stakeholder Engagement based on a paper by Dr Sara Grobbelaar of CREST. Key steps in in the development and implementation of a stakeholder engagement and science communication plan include the identification of stakeholders, their profile and structuring, and, on the basis of this, how best to build a relationship with them. This allows for the development of a comprehensive communication plan which includes key messages and the best channels of communication to use. This second blog provides some insight into how the theory of Stakeholder Engagement was applied by the University of Mauritius.
Mauritius and its dependency island of Rodrigues have hilly topographies, and agricultural production in several regions is accompanied by problems of soil erosion, landslides, loss of agriculturally fertile topsoil, very rapid water and agrochemical runoff. It is necessary to develop agricultural technologies which can halt or reduce the downward flow of soil, water, and agrochemicals into the lagoon, and to promote their use among farmers in these regions of Mauritius and Rodrigues. In this case study the stakeholders were identified and listed following a brainstorming session by the researchers and partners involved in the project. The following groups were identified as the key stakeholders: farmers and fishermen, farmer and fishing associations, agricultural extension personnel, researchers, decision/policymakers (Ministry of Agroindustry & Food Security; Ministry of Fisheries), consumers (of agricultural produce and fish), the general public, food processors, agrochemical industry, and the media.
The stakeholders were characterised based on various criteria, such as the impact of the situation on them (‘interest’) and their potential to influence the situation significantly (‘influence’), their potential role and involvement in the research, the resources they could contribute, and their relationship with the university. This kind of analysis, which categorised and prioritised the stakeholders, enabled better resource mobilisation and utilisation (e.g. form and frequency of communication), which was very important in view of budgetary, time and resource constraints.
Preparing the stakeholder analysis matrix allowed the team to categorise the various direct and indirect beneficiaries of the project, as well as those who would be affected positively or negatively, and to better understand their level of influence on the project as well as on the technological and policy changes that the project aims to achieve.
For example the farmers, as end-users, and the extension officers, as advisors, would need scientific and technical information as well as demonstrations. Policy makers, on the other hand, would need to be able to access the full scientific report as well as discussions and “knowledge translation” tools such as policy briefs.
The next step in the process was to develop and implement an appropriate engagement and communication plan based on all the information gathered, and the need to reach out to all the key stakeholders effectively and efficiently. The different ways in which stakeholders normally communicate with each other were discussed and analysed. The appropriateness and possible efficacy of the various strategies for each stakeholder group was determined and an attempt was made to ensure that the key stakeholders identified as having high levels of importance and influence could be reached through identified channels and approaches for maximum coverage and a longer-lasting effect.
While it was important to develop the plan, it was equally critical to make sure that it was fully and effectively implemented. A series of key performance, objectively verifiable indicators were developed in order to ensure correct and timely implementation.
Lessons learned and impact
Taking account of their roles and positions, all the stakeholders identified were catered for in terms of the type, form and frequency of communication. However, the farming community remained the key stakeholder that needed to be convinced and converted to adopt the recommended farming technologies. Hence, the engagement communication had to be developed in a way that was sufficiently compelling to encourage them to change their present farming practices.
The team discovered that uptake could be better assured by linking it to a monetary incentive (a certain sum given for every new farmer participant brought into the project). The team also learnt that while different people need different types of incentives, financial reward remains the main and the most long-lasting of all possible incentives for most people.
As a result of the careful targeting of stakeholders, the farmers have since adopted the appropriate mulching technology, and have learned the science behind the practice as well as the benefits (the research had a strong element of training) of mulching. Hence they practice it now with a better understanding, and more effectively.
Lalljee, B. 2013. Mulching as a mitigation agricultural technology against land degradation in the wake of climate change. International Soil & Water Conservation Research. Vol 1(3). 68-74.
Professor S Facknath, Faculty of Agriculture University of Mauritius e-mail : email@example.com