Stakeholder involvement

Practical guide to involve stakeholders in the WFD process

This paragraph is largely based on Slob (2008). More information on stakeholder involvement can be found in WFD-CIS Guidance Document no.8 Public participation in relation to the Water Framework Directive.

1 Introduction

Stakeholder involvement is of increasing importance for environmental policy-making such as water quality management, not only because European Union regulations demand societal participation, but also because of the increasing complexity of environmental policy issues in general. This complexity is caused by the many groups that have a role in environmental problems, the competing interests of stakeholders and the involvement of several policy levels (regional, national and international). There are many stakeholders as well as policy levels that are involved within river basins and the interests of all these groups are quite diverse. This chapter will focus on the basic questions concerning stakeholder involvement in the decision-making processes and, consequently, on the recommendations that can be derived from this.

The structure of this chapter is as follows. First, attention will be given to the question of who the stakeholders are (paragraph 3.2 ) and why stakeholders should be involved (paragraph 3.3 ). Stakeholder analysis is a method to make an inventory of all stakeholders that have a role (a stake) in the issues and solutions. This is a necessary step to know which stakeholders one should involve in sediment management and will be discussed in paragraph 3.4 . Stakeholders should not be considered as one, homogenous, group. Stakeholders are diverse and heterogeneous and this is reflected in their perspectives. This inevitably leads to discussion on how to involve stakeholders (paragraph 3.5 ) and the tools and mechanisms to do this (paragraph 3.6 ). The last paragraph (3.7 ) deals with the risks and pitfalls that are attached to stakeholder involvement, for which the policy-makers should be warned.

2 Stakeholders

A distinction is to be made between three types of stakeholders:

  • Organizations and people that have a direct impact on water quality management or are directly affected by the relevant policies. This group includes: water authorities; industries using water and/or dumping their wastewater; farmers; water cleaning companies; regulators on the local, regional, national and international level dealing with water issues and subjects of environment, agriculture and safety, or with conventions such as international river committees; harbour authorities; shipping companies; dredging companies; organizations maintaining natural defences; water managers; owners of nature areas; and citizens that are directly affected by the measures planned or taken.
  • Organizations and people that have an impact on the relevant decision making. This group covers: citizens; landowners; homeowners; insurance companies; NGOs such as Greenpeace and the WWF; scientists; and drinking-water companies.
  • Those who have an indirect impact on or are indirectly affected by implementation of the WFD This group consists of all the other users of the waterways and fisheries, and includes citizens.

The above mentioned WFD-CIS Guidance Document no.8 provides examples of public participation in water management projects.

3 Why stakeholders should be involved

There are several arguments for stakeholder involvement with respect to the WFD. Apart from the basic fact that stakeholders have an impact on the quality and quantity of the water, the main arguments can be grouped into three themes: obstructive power; enrichment; and fairness (Gerrits, 2004).

In modern society, parties other than governments have obstructive power. That is, they have the ability to obstruct or even block a decision or the implementation of a certain policy. The early involvement of stakeholders reduces the risk of the policy not being carried out. Stakeholder involvement, therefore, can be regarded as counteracting obstructive power (Renn, 1995; Healy, 1997). Such a choice will slow down the policy process in the early phases, but will speed it up in a later phase.

The above mentioned reason for stakeholder involvement is sometimes regarded as a negative one, born out of strategic considerations. However, there is a positive motive as well. This considers enrichment. Policy makers do not possess all the resources, i.e. knowledge, required for the design, planning and implementation of sophisticated policies such as environmental policies. Relevant knowledge is in most cases distributed among several stakeholders. This counts the more for sustainable management of River Basins, a subject where knowledge is still fragmented and debated. From that point of view it is wise to invite stakeholders from the relevant fields in order to obtain and apply knowledge and information generated by them (Fisher, 2000).
The last argument for stakeholder involvement is fairness. It is fair to involve actors affected by policy, and give them a say in the decision-making process. This raises awareness and creates support for the issue and its solutions.

As a final remark on the motives for stakeholder involvement, we want to point out that stakeholders, especially the organized ones, often will look for ways to get involved themselves, as they are aware of their stake in the process.


4 Stakeholder analysis

Stakeholder analysis consists of 3 steps:

  • Convening
  • Identification of Stakes
  • Inventory of relations between stakeholders

4.1 Step 1: Convening
The first step in the process of involving stakeholders is often referred to as convening, i.e. getting people to the table. This consists of four (sub) steps: assessing a situation (convening assessment); identifying and inviting the stakeholders; locating the necessary resources; and organizing and planning of the process (Susskind, 1999). We will focus here on the identification and analysis of the stakeholders.

Stakeholder and network analysis starts with assembling a list of all relevant stakeholders. This can be done with a small group of people belonging to the convening organization, who know the issues and have an overview of possible stakeholders. This group should be diverse, as this prevents a one-sided selection of stakeholders. The first step in the process is to identify the different perspectives on the issue with a wide variety of people. At this stage of the process, the goal is not to identify people or organizations who should be involved. At this point, the way the different stakeholders look at the issues and solutions is categorized. The second step is to see which sub-perspectives can be identified. The third step is to identify different key persons or organizations within the identified sub-perspectives. The result of the last step will be a list of stakeholders.

//PM: add example stakeholder analysis from one of the SOCOPSE cases.

4.2 Step 2: Identify the Stakes
The list of stakeholders is the steppingstone for the next phase of the stakeholder analysis: to identify the interests and goals of these stakeholders in the process.
For each stakeholder the following questions should be addressed (Pröpper, 1999):

  • What will the stakeholders contribute to the process?
  • What kind of knowledge do they possess?
  • What are the relevant interests and goals of the stakeholders?
  • How do the stakeholders interpret the issue at hand?
  • How well-informed are the stakeholders about the issue?
  • What are the (possible) motives for these stakeholders to participate, or not to participate?

The majority of these questions can be answered based on experience or policy documents. However, it will always be necessary to do a number of interviews with stakeholders to get more background information. The benefit of this is that the interviews will create a means for people to voice their concerns about the issue, which they might be reluctant to do when confronted with other stakeholders (Susskind, 1999).

4.3 Step 3: Make an inventory of relations between stakeholders
The final phase in the stakeholder analysis is to make an inventory of the relations between the different stakeholders. This is necessary to understand certain attitudes or actions of stakeholders. Relations can be identified by desk research, but also by asking the stakeholders themselves. It is usually very helpful to visualize relations between stakeholders and to identify them as positive or negative for the process. By making this transparent, it is possible to deal with negative relations and to use positive relations to improve the quality of the process.

5  How to involve stakeholders?

5.1 Introductory remark
The process of stakeholder involvement should require an independent chairperson or process manager. Such a person should not be attached to the involved parties and should be as independent as possible. The arrangement for their payment, for instance, should reflect that. They should be paid by a mixture of stakeholders in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interests.

5.2 Step 1: Identify the stake holders to be involved
The first step for the process manager in the organization of stakeholder involvement is to find out which stakeholders should be involved. For the stakeholder selection the following questions should be answered: Will the stakeholders be affected by the policy? Are they the target group of the policy? Do they have the power to obstruct or the means to enrich? The questions that should be posed differ with the aim of the process (Edelenbos, 2000). A crucial requirement here is variety. Although, at first glance, it seems to make more sense to focus on representativeness, variety should be the guiding thread. This triggers the enrichment of the process and serves as a safety valve against overlooking stakeholders. A good way of assembling a stakeholder´s panel is to ask other stakeholders who they regard as vital for the process. Through this so-called snowball method, other stakeholders who might have been overlooked initially can be invited to the process.

5.3 Step 2: Identify the stakes
Next, it is important to collect information about the goals, ambitions and problem definitions (from the various perspectives) of the stakeholders. The process manager should ensure that all these interests are heard and acknowledged in the course of the process. If not, stakeholders might pull out, which could damage the process (see also paragraph 3.6 ). In order to guarantee that all interests are present in the process, the manager should be sure to know them. One must be aware of the difficulties of acquiring the desired information, whereas stakeholders can show strategic behaviour. The stakeholders might want to shield their real interests, as they prefer to hide their agenda. Their real interests can sometimes be obtained better through asking other parties.

5.4 Step 3: Engage Stakeholders
The mobilization of the stakeholders is an important issue. Too often, decision-makers feel that the majority of the potential stakeholders lack interest, whereas some with strong but specific interests dominate the agenda. So it is the duty of the manager to let stakeholders realize what is in it for them. Why should they join the process? A sound and deliberate consideration of interests might persuade less-interested parties to join and will be a signal to dominant forces not to overact. Furthermore, awareness and urgency should be created. This can be done by pointing out the drivers behind the Water Frame Work Directive. These include the regulations issued by the European Commission such as the ‘polluter pays principle´ in the Environmental Liability Directive. Finally, the fairly technical nature of Water quality problems such as contamination needs translation. Laymen and the public cannot be expected to fully understand the technical backgrounds of the problem and, therefore, communication must be clear and free of jargon.

The processes of involvement can be arranged at different levels (Gerrits, 2004):

  • Information: providing information to the stakeholders.
  • Consultation: consulting what stakeholders think must be done.
  • Advising: letting stakeholders advise on the policy and taking their recommendations into account.
  • Co-producing: stakeholders are regarded as equal policy-makers but decision-making remains in the political domain.
  • Co-deciding: decision-making power is handed over to stakeholders.

Every situation is unique and, therefore, the level should be chosen that fits the specific situation. It is most important that, once a level is chosen, this is communicated to stakeholders and that the level is not abandoned in the course of the process. Doing so will create uncertainty and distrust. It should also be understood that not every stakeholder has to be involved at the same level. Some just want to stay informed, whereas others want to be heavily involved. A common feature of processes that bear some kind of uncertainty is that they are often made resistant against unforeseen events. This should not lead to a process of stakeholder involvement where stakeholders cannot enter the process in later stages. A certain amount of openness is required, and openness has two dimensions. The first is openness with respect to new stakeholders. Once the process is on its way, new stakeholders should still be able to participate. At the same time, this should not mean that the process restarts over and over again. The second dimension of openness concerns the results. In rational processes, often a timeframe is set. Processes of stakeholder involvement have their own dynamics, which makes it fairly difficult to predict what results will be delivered at a certain moment. When the process is fixed in time, the results that will be delivered should be indicated and not defined in terms that are too exact. To create more certainty, the process requires ‘rules of the game´ that contain rules for entering the process in later stages, how decisions are made, how information is brought into the process, etc. These ‘rules of the game´ should be discussed and should be approved by the stakeholders involved.

6 Tools, processes and instruments

As described in the previous paragraph, the scientific literature usually distinguishes between five levels of stakeholder involvement, ranging from informing the stakeholders to making the stakeholders co-deciders. With these different levels of stakeholder involvement come different approaches in actually involving them. It would be impossible within the context of this paragraph to describe all these different methodologies of stakeholder involvement. In Table 1 an overview is presented of possible tools, processes and instruments that can be used in the different levels of stakeholder involvement. Some methods are left out from Table 5 because they are not specific for the degree of influence of the stakeholders. These methods can be used in any process with some form of stakeholder participation: surveys, interviews, panel-research, idea- and complain-feedback forms, observations and hearings. For an overview, see the Consensus Building Handbook (Susskind, 1999).

6.1 Case-study: dredging an artificial lake inRotterdam , the Netherlands
// PM: later on this example can be replaced by a SOCOPSE case
Because of the need for sediment remediation and the improvement of water quality, a large lake near the city centre of Rotterdam had to be dredged. This meant that 175,000 m3 of sediment had to be taken out and 100,000 m3 of clean sand was needed to replace it. The total costs were 18 million Euros. The area surrounding the lake is densely populated and, therefore, there was a requirement that the work should not become too much of a nuisance for the local citizens. Therefore, the project organization looked upon a number of challenges if they wanted to succeed. The areas that had to be used by the dredging company, such as islands and the shores of the lake, are owned by a diversity of residents, associations and companies. A possible threat to the success of the project could be the non-cooperation or even the obstructive power of these stakeholders.
The communication with the stakeholders was, therefore, taken very seriously. In the preparation phase of the project, clear communication with the stakeholders was organized. This consisted of the distribution of newsletters and the organization of information meetings, where the project approach was presented and the stakeholders could give input to improve and adjust the presented plans based on site-specific knowledge. The fact that they were taken seriously by the project organization also gave a firm support to the project, according to the representatives of a stakeholder group. In addition, because the project organization was clear and honest in their communication, it contributed to the support of the stakeholders. When the project actually started, the communication continued and a special ‘question and complain´ phone line was created, together with so-called ‘walk in´ mornings at the dredging site itself. According to stakeholders, they saw the clear and serious communication as the main reason why they were so supportive of the project. The project is generally seen as a success, which is partly due to good communication, the involvement of the stakeholders and the minimization of nuisance caused by the project to the stakeholders (Hermans, 2005).


7 Risks and pitfalls

For stakeholder involvement, several risks and pitfalls are attached to these kinds of processes. Asymmetry in stakeholder involvement exists when some parties have an advantage over other parties. With asymmetry, there is a risk that the party who does not share a certain advantage may be overruled. At the same time, all parties usually have some kind of advantage, but not in the same area. Therefore, the challenge is to design the process in such a way that the different advantages are mixed and a mutual advantage will rise. This is something different than the rash conclusion that all parties should be equal in the process, as the process would not benefit from it. Some research on negotiation even points out that asymmetry is vital for the progress of the process. Perfect symmetry could result in a deadlock. The existing asymmetries are an important factor for the design of the process, as they could be an important driving force, and therefore should be known when designing the process.

Asymmetries in stakeholder involvement not only include existing advantages, but also lack of representation of stakeholders, the knowledge gap (as not all stakeholders have the same level of knowledge), different interests and the lack of communication Gerrits, 2004). Lack of representation means that stakeholders are not representing the target group. In some cases this leads to ‘extreme views´ that are not representative of the opinion of the target group. The full range of perspectives and interests are not taken into account.

The knowledge gap or information asymmetry follows from the observation that not all stakeholders are equal and poses different information and knowledge. The knowledge gap is of particular concern with the issue of sediment. Water quality issues are highly specific, and often require sophisticated knowledge to understand them. Even among experts there may be considerable debate. At the same time, experts may lack knowledge as well. This is not a disqualification; it just follows from the fact that not all participants are equal. Too often, the knowledge gap is regarded as the lack of knowledge with laymen. This indeed is often the case and calls for a flow of information to the other participants and the development of a common ground of knowledge. But at the same time, laymen have other knowledge (i.e. ‘lay-knowledge´, information about the local situation, etc.) at their disposal. This is as valuable as scientific knowledge and should not be ignored. A final remark on the knowledge gap is that knowledge can be used as a weapon to get one´s point of view accepted.

Connected to this is the pitfall of lack of communication. The language used by experts is very different and often incomprehensible to laymen. This can create confusion and distrust as other participants might feel that the party concerned holds back information.

Another type of pitfall that comes under the heading of ‘asymmetry´ is the different interests and needs of participants. Stakeholders all have different agendas and a pitfall is ignoring some of them or assuming that everyone is aiming at the same goal. This not only applies to individuals but also to countries. Western Europe might be concerned about the environmental impact of pollution, whereas developing countries are usually more concerned about financial considerations.
Clashing expectations often exist as participants have different expectations and consequently expect different outcomes. ‘For example, a governing body of a river can invite people living near a dredged material dump site to come up with new ideas about how to address the dumping of contaminated sediments. They are consulted and asked to give a recommendation. However, should this not be properly communicated, then the invitees might believe that they are expected to take part in the decision-making. The result will be that their expectations rise too high, and thus cannot be met, resulting in distrust, downright pessimism and obstruction of the process´ (Gerrits, 2000).
Stakeholder out-of-sight situations often exist in the formal decision-making process. Unfortunately, a sharp separation is made between the stakeholder process and the actual decision-making. The process of stakeholder involvement is then regarded as a way to pacify the opposition, where the actual decision mainly serves the interests of the formal decision-maker. Decision-makers should commit themselves to the process, whatever the outcomes.
Cross-boundary cooperation presents a whole range of pitfalls and challenges. The management at the river basin scale will often be cross-boundary and, therefore, attention must be paid to the characteristics of international cooperation in stakeholder processes, especially where the cultural differences deserve attention. Cultural differences are closely connected to parties and determine their way of thinking and behaving (Hall, 1976). The interpretation of different cultures is not easy and requires time (Sperber, 1996). Apart from that, different countries have different institutions. Although countries may be adjacent to each other, they still can differ a lot which can create confusion and fragmentation of the decision-making process (De Jong, 1999). Legislation is also part of the institutional dimension. In both national and international legislation, laws and regulations concerning river basin management are fragmented (Palmer, 2000). For the process of stakeholder involvement, this means that the participants should be given time to frame the process into their own legislation. Otherwise, the proposals rising from the process will be lost in the misfit of legislation.

8 Conclusions

This chapter provided an introduction to the subject of stakeholder involvement with respect to River Basin management. The relevant themes have been grouped around the basic questions, namely who, what, why and how? Furthermore, the pitfalls of stakeholder involvement were mentioned as the process of stakeholder involvement is not as simple as it may seem at first glance. The need for stakeholder involvement is a clear one. Dealing with management at the river basin scale is a complex policy issue with a wide variety of different policy levels and stakeholders involved, with different interests and perspectives. Future management— whether at specific sites or at the river basin scale — will have to incorporate the views, interests and perspectives of the various stakeholders. This is not an easy task, because of the lack of a ‘common language´ and mutual understanding is not simple. The stakeholder process, therefore, deserves a lot of attention and it should be done in a serious way, whereas people that are not taken seriously will be disappointed and pull out of the process. The general unawareness of the general public and the complexity of the issues are important hurdles to overcome. This subject deserves much attention in the policy process and stakeholder involvement. Experts should focus on making their expert knowledge available to the general public and take time to explain the issue. For further information on the role of stakeholders in sediment management at the river basin scale, including specific examples, see Joziasse



Project planning activities include the identification of the project’s objective; the specification of required project resources and their allocation; and the determination of the methods to be used to deliver the project end product, respond to critical events and evaluate activities and outcomes. The benefits of stakeholder involvement in the planning process include a reduction in distrust of the project process or outcome, an increase in commitment to the project objectives and processes, and heightened credibility of the project’s outcome.


The stakeholder’s project team role, the project planning activities in which he participates and his level of involvement in or responsibility for a particular activity, depends on the project’s mission and his reporting relationship to the project management office, or PMO, which, in particular, leads to his classification as an internal or external stakeholder. For example, an IT project’s internal stakeholders reporting directly to the PMO include a project manager and developer. In turn, external stakeholders may include customers and the personnel and training departments. Activities assigned to both internal and external stakeholders during the project planning phase may be the same.

Internal Stakeholder Roles

Internal stakeholders are accountable for or held responsible for particular project planning activities and are required to participate in certain activities, whereas external stakeholders generally aren’t. Like external stakeholders, internal stakeholders are also incidentally involved in or consulted regarding other activities for which they have no direct responsibility. Planning activities in which internal stakeholders participate with differing levels of involvement include project scope estimation; definition of work product, task attributes and project life cycle; projection of effort and cost; creation of budget and project schedule; identification of project risks; planning for data management, project resources, personnel, stakeholder involvement and training; creation and review of project plan; reconciliation of work and resource requirements; and gaining stakeholder commitment to the project plan.

External Stakeholder Roles

Project planning activities in which external stakeholders participate are frequently identical to those of internal stakeholders. However, roles of external stakeholders are limited to that of consultants rather than team members directly accountable for individual project planning activities.

(Visited 1,550 times, 1 visits today)
Share this:

Written by