How do you define “stakeholder?” Land owner? Elected official? Business person? Recreational visitor? Leader of a cultural group? To begin examining stakeholder inclusion in ecological restoration, conservation planning and regenerative design, we must first present a clear definition of the term. At Biohabitats, we define a stakeholder as any person who is – perhaps even unknowingly – a critical component of a place. A person who is directly or indirectly affected by the work we do. By stakeholder engagement, we mean an ongoing exchange of information and inclusion of all stakeholders – not just the wealthy, powerful and loud – throughout every phase of a project.
Because stakeholders have something to gain or lose by the outcome of our work, it seems only natural that they be involved throughout the many stages of an environmental project. One would assume that effective stakeholder involvement would result in mutual benefit, for the project and the stakeholders. Sadly, though, this is not always the case. According to our survey, Leaf Litter readers have conflicting thoughts on this subject. Many of you support the idea of stakeholder inclusion, but find it very difficult and expensive to put into practice.
The benefits to stakeholder inclusion are abundant and obvious. Talking with home owners in the planning stages of a nearby wetland restoration, for example, may allow you to gather values-based, anecdotal information you might have otherwise missed if relying only on data obtained from studies and experts. A stakeholder who receives accurate information and believes as though his or her voice has been heard may be much more likely to embrace the project than someone who has been left out of the process. When done well, the act of inclusion can not only lead to broad-based project approval, but it can also help bridge the gaps between power and powerlessness, politics and populace, and people and place.
But how can we possibly identify all stakeholders? How can we motivate disinterested parties to participate? Even if we can, how will we afford it, and how can we ensure that our project is not compromised or slowed down by a bottleneck of debate?
While Leaf Litter can’t answer all of these tough questions, we hope this issue helps us all make some progress in our efforts to involve stakeholders. We’ll begin by taking a look at folks who do it well – from those at Wildlands Restoration Volunteers, who are making local connections as they recruit and work with volunteers, to Pamela Mang, who incorporates a wide-scale comprehensive system of stakeholder inclusion in projects to. We also include recommended resources, tips from Biohabitats staff, and some examples of how we are involving stakeholders in our projects.