Newsletter No 1 March 2010

Constructive Conflict Methodology for problem structuring in stakeholder dialogues

Dr. Eefje Cuppen

3epa poppetjeThe importance of stakeholder participation for dealing with unstructured policy issues, for instance the transition to a sustainable energy supply, is widely recognized. A common notion is that the involvement of diverse perspectives on the problem at hand is necessary for learning about it and to develop new insights for dealing with it. A stakeholder dialogue does however not automatically include and benefit from the broad range of stakeholder perspectives.

Firstly, this observation has implications for stakeholder sampling: how to select stakeholders in such a way that the diversity of viewpoints, knowledge and ideas is covered in a dialogue? Secondly, this observation has implications for the design and facilitation of a participatory process. All kinds of mechanisms exist that hamper an open exploration of divergent viewpoints and knowledge claims. How to make sure that, once a diversity of viewpoints is included in the process, these have an equal opportunity to play a role in the dialogue? Thirdly, this observation has implications for the evaluation of participatory processes: how to assess the quality and effect of participatory processes and methodologies?

The symposium Facilitation & evaluation of participation: The role of social science methods, chaired by Frans Berkhout (IVM), explored the role of social science methods in designing, facilitating and evaluating participatory processes. First speaker was Matthijs Hisschemöller (IVM), who presented an overview of stakeholder dialogue projects organized by IVM. Then three international speakers presented their view on the role of social science and social science methods in participation. Andy Stirling (University of Sussex, SPRU) emphasised  the importance of integrating quantitative and qualitative methods for opening up and broadening the scope of participatory appraisals. Jacquie Burgess (University of East Anglia) presented a study on practitioners’ evaluations of participatory processes in environmental decision making. Based on her broad experience with participatory projects in environmental governance, she questioned to what extent participatory projects actually contribute to better governance for sustainability. Bill Dunn (University of Pittsburgh) stressed the importance of participation for generating alternative hypotheses. He emphasized the role of methods that are able to probe, rather than take for granted the boundaries of a problem. In a round table discussion with Lynn Frewer (Wageningen University) and Frans Stokman (Groningen University), the issues  raised in the presentations were critically discussed by all participants.

The symposium was followed by the public defense of my dissertation entitled “Putting perspectives into participation - Constructive Conflict Methodology for problem structuring in stakeholder dialogues”. The study provides an answer to the methodological question how to make sure that a stakeholder dialogue actually includes and benefits from the broad range of perspectives. It presents and evaluates Constructive Conflict Methodology as an overarching approach to the design and facilitation of stakeholder dialogue. Members of the thesis committee (opponents and defense) included Jan Boersema (IVM, VU University), Joske Bunders (VU University), Jacquie Burgess, Bill Dunn, Lynn Frewer, Andy Stirling and Frans Stokman.

Contact information: Dr. Eefje Cuppen

More information on the Phd thesis

Cuppen, E., Breukers, S., Hisschemöller, M., Bergsma, E. (2010)
Q methodology to select participants for a stakeholder dialogue on energy options from biomass in the Netherlands. Ecological Economics