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How can stakeholder participation be achieved?

Moving towards greater stakeholder participation will require fresh thinking and new approaches. It will also need effort and commitment from all parties.

Stakeholders can contact relevant government departments and agencies directly and communicate their views and needs. They can also join national government meetings and workshops (e.g. various MSFD stakeholder groups), and other international meetings (e.g. EC Marine Strategy Coordination and Expert Groups, OSPAR Intersessional Correspondance Groups, ICES and the North Western Waters Regional Advisory Council), many of which can be attended by ‘observers’. Attending conferences and workshops about the marine environment and marine policy will also be useful, as will working with related European projects. 

Governments in the UK, Ireland and France need a more proactive, strategic and effective process for stakeholder participation. Although not a legal requirement under the MSFD, governments and stakeholders alike would benefit.

Among other aspects, stakeholder engagement strategies should identify and formalise the ‘entry points’ for stakeholder input, clarify timings and detail what information is required (e.g. technical solutions, socio-economic data). The roles, responsibilities and the approach to participation should be clearly defined at the beginning of the process. They should link to stakeholder processes for other policy areas, which may be proceeding in tandem, often with the same stakeholders (see case study 5).

Case study 6: Multiple stakeholder engagement processes in the UK

In the UK, the Marine and Coastal Access Act (2009) has two separate policy areas that require input and involvement of stakeholders: the identification of areas to be designated as English Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and the development of English marine plans. The MCZ process has involved 2,500 stakeholder interviews, a million representations and 165 workshops for all English waters. The marine spatial planning process is being developed one area at a time, and is currently focusing on the east and South of England: there have been three workshops attended by 145 stakeholders and 12 drop-in sessions attended by 600 stakeholders.

The two processes require a great deal of input, often from the same stakeholders. Much of the information gathered overlaps. There is a need for clarity on all of the engagement processes and the role of stakeholders both as individuals and as groups. There is also a need to manage expectations. In the MCZ process there has been a perception among some stakeholders that the consensus formed by the stakeholder groups will be overruled by a government process that doesn’t involve them. Being clear on the ways that stakeholder opinion will be taken into account from the outset can help to address these concerns.

Strategies should set out practical actions to provide opportunities for early and effective participation. This is likely to involve multiple approaches (see case study 6), ranging from focused dialogue with individual stakeholders through to multi-sector forums. Achieving such levels of participation will be challenging, particularly at the multinational level, as suitable stakeholder forums do not exist at this scale. Concern over the use of finite government funds is also a critical barrier, particularly given the tight timeframes of the MSFD and stakeholder engagement requirements in other policy areas.

Case study 7: UK Statement of Public Participation

In the UK, a Statement of Public Participation (SPP) is a legal document developed by the planning authority that sets out the mechanisms and methods for stakeholder engagement. SPPs set out the key stages of development, milestones and how stakeholders can be involved. An SPP has been developed for the marine spatial planning process and clarifies how stakeholder input will be incorporated into marine plans.

Although the exact nature of participation is not specified (the focus is on the process and key stages), a range of potentially relevant approaches are highlighted: e.g. geographic or sector-based working groups, workshops, web portals, one-to-one meetings, exhibitions and drop-in sessions, and stakeholder meetings.

Further information: www.marinemanagement.org.uk/marineplanning/documents/final_spp_revised.pdf www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/marine/seamanagement/national/spp

PISCES stakeholders believe the MSFD represents an opportunity for a broader rethink about participation in marine policy and management. There is a general perception among marine stakeholders that they lack coherent and transparent processes through which they can have a meaningful input to policy and management. Stakeholders also feel participation processes need to be integrated and rationalised to reduce the competing and growing demands on their time.

PISCES Workshop 5, Madrid

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