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Co-Creating Better Marine Management: Stakeholder Engagement in Marine SABRES

HuFoSS, Netherlands

One of the innovative aspects of the Marine SABRES project is the central role given to stakeholders. Unlike typical 'top-down approaches,' where scientists and policy-makers draft plans and strategies without actively considering the voices of local actors, Marine SABRES is explicitly designed with the input from the community at its core. This approach is key, since it increases the likelihood that the project's outputs – decision making tools and instruments – are embraced and used by the target audience, namely local managers, decision-makers, and even the community at large.

Given this central role of stakeholders in the project as a whole, our working package (Working Package 2), has a particularly important role to play as well. Since we are tasked with engaging local stakeholders to become a part of this 4-year research endeavor, and to include them in the so-called ‘co-production’ of the projects’ tools and instruments, we are in a unique bridging position between the local stakeholder community and the other research partners in the project. Therefore, it is important that we, as WP2, effectively communicate this valuable "insider information" to the other project partners, guiding them in the development of the tools and instruments over the course of the project.

Over the last year we made some considerable steps in this regard, over roughly three different phases.

1. Preparatory Phase (September 2022 – February 2023)

From September 2022 to February 2023, our team dedicated its efforts to preparing for the upcoming stakeholder consultation visits in the various research sites, also known as Demonstration Areas. This primarily involved designing a stakeholder survey to assess stakeholders’ perceptions, as well as devising an interview protocol that would meet the requirements of our specific research purposes. This was a collaborative effort, because of the input from all partner institutes within Marine SABRES we successfully completed all the essential materials for the interviews and survey well ahead of our research visits.

2. Executive Phase (February 2023 – July 2023)

After a successful preparation, the primary focus in the subsequent phase revolved around actually visiting the various Demonstration Areas. These visits turned out to be immensely successful, and we extend our gratitude to all the partner institutes at each location for their diligent efforts in finding and motivating local stakeholders, providing translation assistance, guiding us during our visits, and, above all, for the experiences shared. Sadly, due to local circumstances, we were unable to conduct visits to the Arctic Demonstration Area. Nonetheless, we remain optimistic and hope that in some way or another, we can make this happen somewhere in the future.

3. Interviews and Surveys

Throughout our visits, we engaged in conversations with diverse stakeholders, each bringing their own unique perspective. From the local hotel-owner and recreational fisherwoman, to industrial port authorities and national policy-makers, all research participants were invited to join in and express their views and opinions. Upon arrival, our team offered the stakeholders a presentation that provided additional context, outlining the purpose and significance of the Marine SABRES project in greater detail, and explaining the value of their opinions and perspectives to the project.

Typically, we conducted individual interviews with each stakeholder, followed by a survey. In certain research areas we opted for group-surveys in which various stakeholders gathered together to participate in the survey simultaneously. We all got together, enjoyed coffee, tea, and snacks while doing the survey. It took some planning, but the results were consistently rewarding!

The interviews themselves were a mix between quantitative and qualitative research techniques. Our methodology uses a method known as ‘fuzzy cognitive modelling’, allowing us to ‘map’ stakeholders’ perspectives regarding the relationships between ‘nature’, ‘economy’, and ‘society’ within their (marine coastal) environment, the degree of ‘balance’ or ‘disbalance’ between these domains, and, importantly, so-called ‘pressures’ that might affect or disrupt this balance. During the sessions, stakeholders’ accounts were distilled into keywords and placed on a magnetic sheet, after which the interviewees used markers and colors to establish connections between these keywords. The outcome was a collection of highly distinctive mind maps, which we later processed digitally.

A mountain lake in São Miguel in the Azores

A mountain lake on the island of São Miguel in the Azores. Photo: Britt Thijssen.

Visiting the Demonstration Areas

Tuscan Archipelago and the Azores

Our stakeholder consultations finally started off in the city of Pisa and the Islands of the Tuscan Archipelago. Over the course of one week we interacted with stakeholders who are active along its coasts, ranging from those working in the tourism industry, to fisheries, to civil servants and researchers. Then, in late March, our team journeyed to the Azores, a captivating archipelago in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean, known as Portugal's hidden gem. Also here, we conducted stakeholder interviews and surveys with various groups, including whale watching operators, birdwatchers, researchers, and authorities. Sustainable tourism, conservation efforts, and preservation of natural and cultural heritage were recurring topics in both research areas. The collaboration with the University of the Azores and the University of Pisa were essential to our success, as they facilitated navigation, translations, and interviews.


Then, in the first week of May, we visited the second of the three Island groups in the Macaronesian Demonstration Area, Madeira. Together with our colleagues from MARE-ARDITI, we held a stakeholder workshop with a diverse group of local stakeholders from sectors such as tourism and fishing at the University of Funchal. Also, we traveled to Porto Santo (‘Holy Harbour’) by ferry and held another workshop at the local municipality building, followed by two more days of interviews with different stakeholders.

Gran Canaria

And last but not least, in mid-July we came ashore in Gran Canaria. We were received very welcome by our colleagues from ECOAQUA at the university of Las Palmas the Gran Canaria (ULPGC), we immediately made a couple of long days to visit stakeholders all over the island. From all our research sites within the Marine SABRES DA’s it was here were we spoke to most fishermen. On an island, info spreads like wildfire, and so it did among artisanal fisherman about the opportunity to speak out about the way things are going against a group of international researchers sent by Brussels. This afternoon was a very big success. Of course all other SH-categories were represented as well. It was a pleasure to work with all enthusiastic scientists, divers, policy makers, MPA managers and all others.

Learn more about Marine SABRES demonstration areas here.


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