|Main authors:||Frode Sundnes, Alma. de Vries, Cors van den Brink|
|FAIRWAYiS editor:||Jane Brandt|
|Source document:||»Sundnes, F. et al. (2021) Multi-actor platforms in the FAIRWAY project: summary of activities and experiences. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 2.2, 30 pp|
|1. Concluding remarks|
|2. Policy recommendations on engagement|
The FAIRWAY project has through its multi-actor approach facilitated a range of interactions between farmers, agricultural advisors, waterworks, authorities at different levels, and researchers, across Europe, in the pursuit to identify approaches to reduce agricultural impacts on drinking water. Important vehicles for these interactions have been the project’s multi-actor platforms (MAPs), that have also been study objects for better understanding and improving engagement processes.
In examining the changes over time in the various MAPs, it seems that the efforts put into the engagement processes has in different ways resulted in improvements in the functioning of these platforms. Changes to external factors can however be conceived of as both threats and opportunities. For some of the existing MAPs, changes in regulations at national or regional levels has challenged, or even jeopardised engagement processes in the MAPs, as illustrated in the cases of the Netherlands and Germany. An example of opportunity development is the new Code of Good Agricultural Practice, in the Romanian case, in combination with the fact that this code is no longer mandatory. For the Portuguese case study, the Resilience and Recovery Plan [RRP] has initiated a set of dynamic processes that are targeted to the involvement of more actors in solving some of the challenges of Portuguese agriculture and livestock breeding. Another important aspect affecting the functioning of the MAP is the number and type of stakeholders participating into the engagement processes. While most dimensions benefit from engaging a broad set of stakeholders, there are also challenges in facilitating larger arenas, and to ensure that everyone is given the opportunity to have an active voice and to influence the processes.
Based on the experiences of the FAIRWAY MAPs, the issue of trust has come up as crucial for successful engagement platforms, and essential for achieving tangible outcomes in the longer run (Sundnes, van den Brink et al. 2020). While not initially included in our framework, we do consider that trust is an issue that cuts across all the dimensions. Some of the descriptions of the changes over time support this, for instance how stakeholders who are better informed and as result show a greater willingness to consider different solutions (Northern Ireland, Romania) and MAPs for which the functioning improved and the engagement became more meaningful with a broadened arena (e.g. Norway, England, Portugal)). On the other hand, the trust between stakeholders in some cases decreased by external factors, especially top-down measures at regional or national level (Germany) or as response to a general low trust in the government and authorities regarding N-issues (Netherlands-Overijssel). A key issue for developing relations of trust is to have active facilitation of engagement platforms that allows for regular and physical meetings, be it official or informal meeting, or field visits. Likewise, being able to keep the same individuals involved over time is also key for the shared sense of direction towards set objectives.
The FAIRWAY MAPs are generally successful in terms of creating arenas for dialogue and exchange and have contributed to trust building between stakeholders. However, many of them - at this point – still lack tangible impacts. A dilemma for engagement processes is that they need to be conceptualised and planned for in a long-term perspective, while the lack of immediate impacts can be a threat to trust in facilitators and processes over time, which might lead to participant fatigue that jeopardise the processes. In this context there is a dual lag-time; firstly in respect to the time is takes for engagement processes to result in certain objectives and/or recommendations for improved farm management, and then secondly, the lag-time from the introduction of certain measures to actual results can be measured and communicated.
Setting ambitions and goals based on who is participating, the mandate and legitimacy of the platform, and the governance context, is therefore important, as not to create unrealistic expectations. There is evidence from the MAPs of how the lack of impact might jeopardise the MAP-processes, creating disappointment or fatigue on the part of the participating actors. This issue therefore speaks to a need of thinking of engagement processes in a long-term perspective. We also see that for some MAPs, voluntariness in terms of implementation of measures can help in the trust-building process, but on the other hand, can be a reason for why objectives and tangible impacts are hard to reach (van den Brink, Hoogendoorn et al. 2021). There are also apparent differences in perspective within the MAPs, on whether the increased dialogue is to be considered a success-factor in itself, or whether success only can be determined when there are real impacts. In addition to aspects related to meaningful engagement, it should be considered that the socio-environmental issues to be solved in the case studies are within the water-agriculture nexus. This governance approach based on voluntary measures as carried out in FAIRWAY is effective, but complying to the (ground)water objectives cannot be enforced because the playing field and mandate to comply to the objectives is within the governing rules and regulations (van den Brink, Hoogendoorn et al. 2021). Despite the establishment of the MAP and stakeholders knowing and trusting each other, the engagement process needs additional fuelling to guarantee long-term engagement and commitment to maintain and improve the outcomes in the longer run: (ground)water quality “doesn't pay”. The Greek MAP is however an example of a MAP that clearly has contributed to added value for the farmers: “Synergies with other farmers, with fertilizing producing companies, with water utility companies, have proven beneficial. Their professional network has been strengthened. These synergies are ready and established, and in the future they can be used to implement environmentally friendly practices that could be of benefit to the community.”
- Engagement platforms, if successfully set up as multi-actor, multi-sector and multi-level platforms, can play an important role in bringing actors together and enable information and knowledge sharing.
- By fostering such exchange, multi-actor platforms have a potential to contribute to creating common understanding amongst actors and challenge predetermined ideas, persistent norms, and preconceived impressions of other positions and stakeholders.
- While knowledge and information sharing and shared understanding can be valuable, it should be acknowledged that there is a number of constraints on MAPs to move from this stage to reach set goals and achieve real change in farm management or regulations.
- Engagement processes are resource demanding and require commitment over time. Predictability in terms of human resources for facilitation is a key factor. Ensuring funding for a daily manager of the engagement platform can be essential for continuity and steady facilitation.
- A dilemma for engagement processes is that they need to be conceptualised and planned for in a long-term perspective, while the lack of immediate impacts can be a threat to trust in facilitators and processes over time, which might lead to participant fatigue that jeopardise the processes. Setting ambitions and goals based on who is participating, the mandate and legitimacy of the platform, and the governance context, is therefore crucial for not to create unrealistic expectations, and is key for meaningful engagement to take place.
Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see