Multi Actor Reference Groups (MARGs) representing co-creators in OPTAIN
ti Actor Reference Groups (MARGs) representing co-creators in OPTAIN
What are MARGs in OPTAIN?
A multi-actor reference group (MARG) represents the platform for interacting with stakeholders in each case-study in OPTAIN. While the different case study leaders are responsible for identifying the stakeholders to be involved, Work Package 1 (WP1) is responsible for ensuring that stakeholder activities across the 14 cases are coordinated and harmonized. Further, WP1 supports the case study leaders in their planning, execution of MARG workshops and engagement activities as part of the co-creation in research and modelling work across WPs. The 14 case studies are spread over 13 countries in Europe (see Figure 1).
Establishment of MARGs in each of the 14 case studies is an important initial activity as the MARGs have a core role in every phase of the project by contributing with local knowledge, expert knowledge, policy, and by taking part of the project’s Learning environment. At the start of the OPTAIN project, WP1 facilitated the establishment of Multi-Actor Reference Groups (MARGs) in each case study, by organizing a two-day workshop for case study leaders, on how to establish and nurture MARG for constructive engagement. Another important activity to support the case study leaders is the so called, InterVision meetings. The InterVision meetings represent regular meetings for case study leaders to discuss approaches and share experiences. Each MARG is meant to be an interest group of actors for the lifetime of OPTAIN.
Figure 1 OPTAIN case studies per biogeographical region
Why are MARGs important for the OPTAIN project?
The purpose of OPTAIN is to identify efficient techniques for the retention and reuse of water and nutrients in small agricultural catchments across continental, pannonian, and boreal biogeographical regions in Europe, and contribute to acceptance and better implementation of natural/small water retention measures (NSWRM). The need to involve various end users and policy makers as informants in research projects for the purpose of validity and relevance of results is increasingly recognized by modelers, funders of research programmes and decision makers. Steps of involving stakeholders have become an essential part of any modelling activity. It is recognized as important from the initial phase of data collection to the final phases of formulating policy advices.
The multi-level stakeholder approach in OPTAIN aims to include different levels of decision-making, from local closely engaged (involve, collaborate, educate) interest groups to higher administrative authorities at national and European level (inform, consult). Especially local actors have the practical knowledge on constraints and benefits of current and historic systems and are actual implementers and end-users of the measures that will be suggested by the OPTAIN-project. More specifically, the benefits of stakeholders and OPTAIN partners are set out in the following box:
Who are stakeholders in MARGs?
It is meant to directly involve local, regional, and national actors in all 14 case studies. The case studies are led by senior researchers of the participating universities and institutes. In order to plan and arrange for meaningful and appropriate involvement there is a need to understand the stakeholder community in question; that is, who are the different actors to be involved to ensure precise modelling results and relevant policy advices. Therefore, all case study leaders have been asked to identify these stakeholders in a so-called stakeholder mapping exercise.
In total, the 14 case studies have identified nearly 300 stakeholders relevant as members in the respective case study MARGs. The identified stakeholders were categorised across different levels of governance, levels of interest and reasons to involve them.
The mapping exercise is only initial information for better understanding of the stakeholders and their role in the project. It is an ongoing process which will give partners a more in-depth understanding of the situation and stakeholders throughout the project period. Also, it is expected that the number of stakeholders involved in each MARG will increase during the project period.
MARG workshops and InterVision with case study leaders
To facilitate the establishment of a MARG per case study, WP1 has organized a two-day workshop for case study leads in December 2020. The purpose of the workshops was to inform case study leaders how to establish and nurture MARG for constructive engagement in water – agriculture - environmental conflict related issues. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the workshops were organized online. You can read more in a workshop report.
Furthermore, WP1 initiated an InterVision platform for case study leaders to share experiences and ideas in order to find new ways of addressing issues in the case studies, respecting the different cultural and geographical contexts of the various case studies. More experienced case study leaders can help the less experienced ones by reflecting on the raised issues. The first meeting took place in January. In this meeting, challenges were discussed, and one case study leader presented the approach and experience in organizing their first MARG meeting. The second InterVision meeting will follow mid-March. We believe that strengthening the network between the case studies not only improves the output of the individual cases studies, but also contributes to the impact of the overall OPTAIN-project.
Launch of the Multi-Actor Reference Groups
Case Study leaders and MARGs coordinators are currently in communication with stakeholders who will join MARGs, organizing first discussions and meetings with them.
Stakeholder engagement is important because a sound scientific solution not necessarily results in solving a real-world problem. Key lesson learned is that engagement of stakeholders is essential during all phases of the project: the phase of the identification of the problem, assessment of the problem, scenarios to solve the problem and in the phase of implementing the solution.
There are several MARGs engagement activities planned throughout the project. Continuity of stakeholders is important for building relationships and trust which is identified as an overall cross cutting dimension being fundamental for successful engagement processes.