Engaging Stakeholders – An Important Ingredient for Climate Adaptation

In October 2023, KWR hosted European projects’ IMPETUS and ARSINOE for their General Assemblies. Over 100 people from all over Europe came to KWR to share, exchange and learn about climate adaptation and resilience in both projects. Together with our counterparts from ARSINOE, we in the stakeholder engagement work package of IMPETUS collaboratively hosted a session to share lessons learned on engaging diverse stakeholders across European regions on climate adaptation. This is no easy task, as we learned in the session. Read more below on our key lessons learned from this session.

Different methods, same challenges

During the session, we first presented both stakeholder engagement approaches from ARSINOE and IMPETUS. ARSINOE uses a Systems Innovation Approach and Living Labs, and in IMPETUS, we use more flexible and regionally adaptative 4 step stakeholder engagement approach. After the presentations, we broke out into a world café discussion on 5 topics focusing on some of the key challenges faced when engaging stakeholders in large projects: engaging diverse stakeholder groups; sustaining stakeholders between activities; general tips and tricks; dealing with conflict; and long-term engagement to deliver impact.

Each of the tables had 30 minutes to discuss on the different topics, and then we reported back in a plenary session and heard about each other’s problems and solutions to some of the challenges faced by case studies in applying stakeholder engagement in their respective projects and regions. What we learned is that despite the different approaches and different regions, all case studies struggle with the same challenges, but in fact came up with ideas to overcome these.

Key challenges and how to overcome them

Each table shared their ideas to work better with stakeholders in their regions, based on their own experiences and those shared by stakeholder engagement experts in both projects. Below we have listed the key challenges and how to overcome them:

  • To build trust and enable active participation, clearly and transparently define the goals and expectations of the engagement early on.
  • Understand the local context first before jumping into a new engagement method in the region – understand the context, get to know the local stakeholders and identify synergies.
  • Storytelling is important and words matter – building incentives for people to get involved, or ‘anchors’ to draw people in. This means talking with your stakeholders and understanding their issues, insights and values and connecting the dots with how they can engage in your activities and with other diverse stakeholders. But also, always making sure to communicate what benefits the stakeholders are getting from engaging in your activities.
  • Tensions can arise due to divergent priorities, power imbalances and placing blame – to overcome these, focus on common goals and synergies and use these as a springboard to get unstuck. Reducing tensions also requires careful and intentional selection of which stakeholders you engage, when and how. A third-party facilitator can also support if there is no capacity within the project partners.
  • Long-term engagement requires a balance – keeping in touch between engagement activities is important to make sure stakeholders remain in the loop of what you are doing (through for example, email updates, videos or newsletters), even when you don’t have much to share. Keeping in touch keeps stakeholders informed and builds trust in the process.
  • Finally, another way to support engagement from diverse stakeholders is to identify an ambassador who can connect different groups of stakeholders, or that those groups see as a credible person who they trust. In identifying and bringing in such an ambassador, they can help to connect people and ideas.

In sum, the joint meeting of IMPETUS and ARSINOE was extremely useful to share and exchange on lessons learned from both projects. We learned a lot and look forward to continue collaborating on climate adaptation and resilience to strengthen our work and approaches.

If you have any comments, questions or ideas, do not hesitate to reach out to us to learn more!