Welcome back, dear Friend! In the previous trainings, we talked about the ValuES Six-step framework and the Cost-benefit Analysis and how to use them to prepare a sound, well-argumented, and well-designed sustainable forest management proposal. However, this proposal, even though it is optimal, and we like it very much, exists nowadays only in our minds and maybe on some paper. We still need to communicate it to people, to explain his proposal to them, and to engage them into its implementation. If we have chosen the multi-stakeholder approach to implement during the preparation of our proposal, then we should already have invited those people into its discussion, analysis, and decision-making.
However, we cannot simply present our proposal to all people in the country and suddenly engage them into implementing it. We need to choose the most relevant organisations, companies, state authorities, and possibly individuals for our forest management proposal. This is where stakeholder analysis comes into play. So, who the stakeholders are, how we can choose them, and who we should work with - these are the questions that we need to find answers to with stakeholder analysis.
First of all, let us clarify what the term “stakeholder” means. These are economic agents, like companies, organisations, individuals, and state representatives, that can influence our forest, be influenced by any changes to it, or perceive to be influenced by these changes.
Certainly, the most obvious stakeholders are the creators of the forest management proposal themselves. These are internal stakeholders, who have both the highest influence on the implementation of the plan and the greatest interest in its outcome.
Commonly, the most important to the success of our forest management proposal are the external stakeholders. Usually they are the reason, why we embarked on this journey and why we started preparing the proposal.
Take the example of the forest behind me. Stakeholders of that forest ecosystem can be many and diverse. These can be state authorities that have this land in ownership and need to decide what to do with it. These can be logging companies that look at this forest and think of all the profits they could earn by cutting wood and selling timber. These can be environmental organisations that want to protect this forest and biodiversity in it. Also, maybe tourists, who would like to come here, have a picnic or a little party among the woods with fresh air, and so on. And, certainly, these can be some researchers or educators coming to the forest and doing an on-line course about forest ecosystem services.
Each of these stakeholders can have certain interest in the forest, in the land it covers, in the ecosystem services and natural resources it provides, and so on. Furthermore, each of these stakeholders can have specific attitude towards this forest ecosystem and certain position on how things should be managed there. Also, there are certain positions, attitudes, and relations each of the stakeholders can have in relation to each other. So, some stakeholders may be in conflict with each other, while others may forge alliances to push forward their common agenda. Also, stakeholders may be winning and therefore protecting the status quo, the business-as-usual state of things, while other stakeholders may be losing from the current situation and therefore desiring to make certain changes to the forest.
Stakeholder relations with the forest ecosystem and between each other can be very complex and confusing. However, stakeholder analysis with its output called stakeholder register can help us untangle this ball of interconnected relations and suggest the stakeholders that we should work with both in terms of the current situation and the proposal that we came up with in terms of forest management planning.
Stakeholder analysis is a technique of assessing a project, proposal, or an action plan regarding, for example, forest management, in terms of all interested and related stakeholders. What it helps us to do and to find out is “Who are the key stakeholders that we should primarily work with?” and “What are their attitude, relations, and needs in terms of our targeted forest ecosystem in both its current situation and with changes that we propose in our forest management plan?”. This is a very good technique to do during the preparation of the actual proposal right from the start, when we can already see economic activities and ecosystem services of our targeted area in the forest.
In the process of conducting stakeholder analysis, firstly, we need to list all possible stakeholders that we can think of in relation to the forest we are working with. Then, we should see what their interests in relation to this forest ecosystem are, and how big these interests are. In this respect, we may actually ask these people or do background research about the interests of these stakeholders.
Next, we want to see also what the attitude and position of our stakeholders towards the current situation in the targeted forest and our proposed changes to it are. This will tell us, for example, why our stakeholders act the way they currently do and how they could react to the changes that we propose in our forest management plan. For example, people coming here, to the forest, and enjoying these forest ecosystem services may be very interested in continuing to do it further and further ahead. However, their attitude may be that they want this forest to be managed: to have trails, recreational places, picnic spots, and maybe a hotel somewhere, where they could come for a weekend and spend this weekend in the nature.
Another important piece of information that we want to know about our stakeholders is the level of power and influence over the current situation and any possible changes to the forest. For example, a stakeholder may have the greatest interest and stakes in the forest, but may have little to no influence over any change to this forest. And to take the example of our tourists, they may be very much interested in the forest, but can change nothing about it. At the same time, the government that owns this land may have little interest in the forest ecosystem, but is the most influential stakeholder, who could change the situation.
Finally yet importantly, we also want to know about the relations between our stakeholders. Namely, are there any conflicts between them or any possibilities and opportunities for alliances between certain stakeholders? We are also interested in knowing about whether there are any winners and losers of the current status quo situation. We should also think about how these relations, conflicts and cooperations, might change with the implementation of our forest management proposal.
As you can see, gathering these data is quite hard work and often requires going out into the field and asking each stakeholder questions about these pieces of information. This is what we did in The Codru Quest project back in 2017, when we went to the Lozova village and asked farmers about their relations with the Codru forest nearby, how they used the forest ecosystem, how they perceived the current situation, and what they want to see in the future in this forest. You can read more information about that in the Final Report of the project on our course webpage.
The output of stakeholder analysis is called stakeholder register. It is basically a document that lists all the stakeholders and all the information that we have talked about previously and suggests us, who of these stakeholders we should work with. This is useful in both preparing the communication strategy for our key stakeholders and the way how we would communicate the proposal to them and the engagement strategy, specifically, how we could engage each of these stakeholders and the most relevant and interested ones into the implementation of what we suggest for this forest.
Figure 1. Four steps of stakeholder management process.
Now, with the stakeholder analysis done and the stakeholder register at our disposal, how can we communicate our forest management proposal to the stakeholders in our list? How can we create awareness about the ecosystem services in the forest and the importance of its conservation? And how can we do it in the most convincing and effective way? These practical questions we will discuss in the final trainings of the course. See you there!