While data, indicators and indices have value in and of themselves, this value can be significantly strengthened by the process you use to develop them. A participatory approach can be used when developing an IEA in general, and its data and indicator components in particular. Involving experts and stakeholders in identifying issues, and developing and interpreting data or indicators not only strengthens their relevance, legitimacy and comprehensibility, but also the likelihood of their actual use in decision making.
The process of identifying issues for an IEA is discussed in Module 2. Briefly, a larger number of issues may come up during a stakeholder process. You might find it useful to use a set of criteria to narrow down the issues, using criteria such as the following:
- Urgency and immediate impact
- Effects on human health
- Effects on economic productivity
- Number of people affected
- Loss of aesthetic values
- Impacts on cultural and historical heritages
Similar to the process of identifying and selecting key issues, obtaining and analysing data, developing indicators and indices involves making decisions about what to measure and include. Due to constraints in resources, not everything that we want to measure or analyze can be included in the assessment process. It is also inefficient to have so much information that the resulting analysis is too complex for anyone to use effectively. A participatory approach may help you narrow down the list of indicators by ensuring that the the ones selected are relevant, reliable and understandable. A participatory approach also engages people in the process, which can lead to shared responsibility for the state of our environment and society, leading to greater possibility for change. As outlined in Module 2, when developing a participatory approach, it is useful for us to consider who needs to be involved, and when and how to include them. Experts, stakeholders and policy-makers are general categories of critical actors in the process.
Box 2: Attributes of stakeholders and experts
Stakeholders are individuals or groups that include governmental, non-governmental institutions, communities, universities and research institutions, development agencies and banks, donors and the business community. Stakeholders are presumed to have an interest in or have the potential to be impacted by a project, and therefore have a stake that may be direct or indirect at the household, community, local, regional, national or international levels (adapted from FAO 1998).
Stakeholders bring an understanding of what is relevant to society, and offer the “bigger picture” view of what is important. By including stakeholders in the information development process, it is easier to gain both buy in for the project as well as greater stewardship over the natural and social environment. Stakeholders may also benefit the process by bringing local knowledge and data (Meadows 1998).
Experts are scientists, researchers and specialists who have technical or scientific expertise in aspects of the project. Experts bring an in depth understanding of issues, what can be measured, where to find and how to analyze the data. They bring credibility to the assessment process by ensuring the data are robust, and meet technical criteria for a sound assessment (Meadows 1998).
Besides thinking about participation, within the context of collecting data and developing indicators and indices, you may find it useful to identify the following:
- What are the most appropriate levels of participation for each group or individual? Participatory involvement can range from one-way communication to two-way consultation and collaboration. The stronger the stake a group or individual has in a project, the more important it becomes to ensure there is two-way communication. Two-way communication can range from asking for, and listening to, feedback on selected issues and indicators, to more direct involvement in the monitoring, data/indicator/index selection or development process.
- What are the most relevant stages of the process for including stakeholders? The data and indicator development process can be driven by both experts and non-experts, depending on the stage in the process. For example, non-experts are helpful when deciding what issues to address and why, while experts are helpful when deciding how to collect the data and process them. These roles may be combined.
- What are the most efficient and effective mechanisms to include various people in the process, given available resources?
– To inform the broader public about indicators, for example, you may set up a website early on, launch or partner with a radio programme or develop a newspaper insert or column.
– To ask for feedback from a large group of stakeholders on their views about the indicators that have been selected, you could set up a phone number people can call or a website with an online discussion forum. In either case, you need to make sure there is sufficient capacity to respond to requests and properly process feedback.
– To consult or collaborate on selecting indicators with people who have a more direct stake in the project, you could organize focus group workshops or person-to-person interviews. If you established a core stakeholder group earlier in the IEA, you may want to go back to and use the same group to help with indicators.
- How will input from those consulted be used and reported? Once input has been collected, you will need a process for letting stakeholders know how you have incorporated their input. You could do this e.g., through the IEA website if there is one, a thank-you letter that includes results in an attachment, or one-on-one telephone calls if you have the capacity and a smaller number of participants. You could also present results of your report via focus group workshops.
- In pairs, reflect on a participatory assessment process that you led or were involved in that had successful elements. Use the following questions to help focus your discussion.
– Why was using a participatory approach in the project important?
– When in the project was a participatory approach used?
– What were the main techniques?
– What parts of the process worked well?
– What were some of the challenges? How were these challenges overcome?
- In plenary, ask people what they noticed or learned from their conversations. Then, ask them to describe features of the project that worked well.