From the outset, the MA instituted an “engagement and outreach strategy.” Responsibility for this strategy was formally assigned to the MA Secretariat. From the beginning of its work, MA leaders understood the need to ensure that key actors would be engaged and informed, that broader audiences would be reached, and that this process would have to be carried on as an integral part of the whole scientific assessment.
Step 1: WHY. Impact statement: What did the MA want to see as the outcome of its work?
The MA was carried out to assess the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being, and to establish the scientific basis for actions needed to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems and their contributions to human well-being.
Step 2: WHO are the key actors, and how to build relationships with them
Before starting the scientific work, MA proponents proceeded to:
- confirm the need for the assessment by consulting the three main international conventions that directly deal with ecosystems (Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention to Combat Desertification and Ramsar Convention on Wetlands);
- position the assessment within the formal decision making processes of these conventions, and obtain formal expression from the UN on the need to conduct the assessment; and
- identify a broad range of users.
Step 3: WHAT knowledge is to be gathered
In addition to consultations with key actors, the MA conducted an assessment of the information needs of a broad range of users. This assessment became the basis for the outline of the MA reports as designed by the scientific panel, and remained a reference point throughout the process.
Step 4: HOW to reach key actors and broader audiences
The strategy defined two distinct areas of action.
– provide target users with adequate access to the process of the information generated; and
– enable broader audiences to access the products of the assessment, and benefit from networks and capacities growing out of the assessment process.
– raise understanding and awareness of the MA and how to use it; and
– convey key messages from the findings to targeted audiences and the public.
|Figure 4: Millennium Ecosystem
Assessment Engagement Strategy
Ultimately, the engagement strategy was an effort to ensure that adequate access to the process and products existed, so the MA could be widely shared, and would continue to yield fruits beyond its conclusion in 2005. This, in turn, would result in input from users into the process, enhancing its legitimacy, and improving the capacity of users to interpret and act on the findings of the assessment.
Several channels were used to enable engagement (Figure 4):
- MA Board meetings engaged users in the process;
- the user needs assessment mentioned above;
- the MA constantly produced ad hoc briefings, trying to seize as many opportunities as possible to address large numbers of users and present them with information about the assessment;
- open calls were issued to the public, governments and institutions to nominate scientists to participate in the assessment as authors or reviewers, and to submit proposals to undertake sub-global assessments affiliated with the MA;
- a website and newsletter were established, and a data sharing system developed;
- the internal, formal procedures of some target users were utilized to feed the MA and subject it to discussion.
- multistakeholder meetings were organized in various countries to present the MA and invite discussion on its relevance in each national context;
- a procedure to invite academies of sciences and scientific organizations was established, whereby these entities supported the MA in the identification of scientists and the
- dissemination of information; and
- the process of sub-global assessments was in itself another mechanism to connect the MA to local, national and regional processes.
The MA communication effort focused on raising awareness about the MA and supporting the
- the assessment reports and associated information;
- integrated assessments at the sub-global scale; and
- training to conduct such assessments.
Making the MA visible to the media. One concern of the communications team was to achieve a certain level of press attention when the information was finally released. Three approaches were used.
- Organizing seminars for the media while the assessment was being conducted to explain what it was, why it was being done and what to expect from it.
- Establishing a loose working group with the media officers of partner organizations.
- On the day of the official release, press briefings and seminars were organized in 13 cities around the world. This ensured that appropriate angles and languages were used to draw national media attention.
Keeping the visibility of the MA before the users. The assessment was a four-year endeavour. Even after being approached and consulted at the inception of the assessment, targeted users needed to be kept updated and reminded of upcoming work. These activities were also meant to build momentum and expectations, and consisted of multiple briefings and smaller meetings in international and national arenas.
Facilitating access to MA products. A constant concern of the MA was to ensure that as many people as possible could access the information. Again, there were three approaches.
- Targeted publications. In addition to the full technical assessment reports, the MA produced six synthesis reports aimed at different users. The information contained in the main assessment volumes was summarized and repackaged in short, carefully designed volumes dealing specifically with biodiversity, desertification, wetlands, health and business and industry, plus a general synthesis directed at a more general audience.
- Translations. Translating the information into various languages proved to be one of the main weaknesses of the MA process. While thoroughly aware of the need to do so, resources were insufficient to undertake this task adequately.
- Electronic communications. Establishing electronic communication mechanisms was important, including a website, a system to share data and an intranet system for internal communications.
Partnering. The engagement and outreach team of the MA saw its communication activities as an instrument not just to reach out and convey an image of the MA but also as a mechanism to enhance the ownership of the MA, and improve the ability of third parties to understand and make better use of it. Hence, the MA sought to rely on as many partners as possible for outreach, and to encourage as many third parties as possible to undertake outreach for the MA on their own. This resulted in several instances where volunteers approached the MA to undertake activities, which was highly beneficial in dealing with media enquiries. Partnering required the following two elements.
- A minimum level of coordination in terms of setting key dates and sharing basic strategies.
- Generating materials to support outreach by third parties. These materials were shared through the intranet, but also through an “outreach kit” distributed on CD. This kit contained a collection of elements developed by the MA, including:
– guidance on how to explain the MA to the uninitiated;
– guidance on how to develop a communications strategy (see Addendum 2);
– graphic elements (posters, maps, logos, photographs, videos); and
– PowerPoint slides.
Early products. The MA did not wait until the end to start releasing some outputs. In particular, releasing the conceptual framework and early findings on sub-global assessments (SGA) allowed for better outreach during the process.
Step 5: Monitoring, evaluation and improvement
The MA engagement and outreach team was continuously haunted by the question of how to define success. How would they know they had been successful in supporting the goals of the assessment? Following are some of the items that were discussed.
- Government buy-in. For example, would resolutions from international bureaucracies be an indicator of the effective use of the information, or a tactic to protect the process? Government involvement, however, was very effective in attracting leading scientists.
- An international arrangement to deal with the problem. Was the MA inserted in a clear political context in which the information would catalyze such action?
- A proliferation of sub-global assessments. Would the dissemination of the practice of integrated assessments around the world be an indicator of real success?
- Media attention. Besides being short-term, one has to be careful what the results of this attention are. By and large, when the information was released, the media focused on the negative side of the message, as in the front page article of Le Monde, below.
In an effort to communicate more effectively, the MA strove to develop some powerful metaphors to explain its concepts and findings. Perhaps the most important was that of “nature as capital” and ecosystem services.” While clearly effective, these metaphors were taken up to draw some controversial conclusions, as the cover of The Economist shows.
In the end, the team concluded that success for the assessment needed to be measured by demand for information and expertise from a broad range of places and interests. Further use of the information (for example to start or influence a political process) is a result of the work, and clearly shows it is having some effect.
What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the impact and communications efforts of these examples?
EXERCISE 5: Building an impact strategy
In this segment of the training, you will break up into smaller groups to work together on developing an impact strategy. At the end of this section, you will have prepared a draft impact strategy using the steps described in this module. Throughout the remainder of the workshop, the draft strateg(ies) will be revisited, and you will be asked to consider whether and how to revise and strengthen your strateg(ies).
If you are participating in this training with your IEA team, then this might become a draft strategy that will be useful to you in your IEA process. If you are working in mixed groups or with people that you would not work with for your real assessment, this will be an activity to practise the steps.
Please select a chairperson and a rapporteur who can capture and present your results in plenary.
Step 1: Drafting the impact statement
First you need to prepare an impact statement. Remember that this can be refined later on.
Key departmental decision-makers will use the information gathered during the assessment to develop policy priorities, departmental strategic plans and budgets.
State, as well as national, level planners will review the findings of the assessment, and prepare internal policy briefs on how they will address the recommendations of the assessment.
Breakout group exercise
- Discuss within the group what you specifically want to see changed as a result of your assessment.
- Prepare a statement of the impact that you want your assessment to have.
- Write the statement on your flip chart under the heading Step 1.
Step 2: Identification of WHO you are trying to have an impact on
Next, you need to identify the key actors who are in positions to make the changes that you would
like to see.
Breakout group exercise
- On your flip chart, under the heading Step 2, list ten people you most want to reach with your assessment findings. List them by name and position. If you don’t know their names, then list their position titles. Do not list categories of people (e.g., members of parliament, private sector). You must be as specific as possible.
- Discuss within the group:
– Why do you want to reach them?
– How feasible is it that you can reach them?
– Are there other people who can reach them better than you can? Who might they be? Write these on the chart, too.
- Once you have listed ten key actors, and the names of others connected to them, you can move to listing some broader categories of people (e.g., reporters at a leading newspaper, names of influential NGOs, university departments). This is the broader community of interest who you may wish to champion and work with your findings. Again, be specific. Do not simply list “business, government and civil society.” Write the information on the flip chart.
Step 3: Discussion of WHAT knowledge you need to collect, and how that knowledge is collected
The balance of this training programme will provide you with more details on what information to gather and how to collect it. In building the influencing strategy, it is important to recognize that what you want to learn may not be what a decision-maker needs to know. Building trust with them will help to ensure that you are getting a clear picture of what they need, and will help you define issues and priorities that they want to address.
- What are the different ways you can build trust with people in this context?
- How will you find out more clearly what your ten key actors need to know, what their interests are and how the information will be of use to them?
- How is your selection of issues influenced by their stage in the issue cycle?
Breakout group exercise
- Prepare two–three statements of the information you intend to collect for your assessment. Write these on your flip chart under the heading Step 3.
- Prepare a short description of how you will interact with your key actors during the assessment period.
Step 4: Planning HOW to bring the report to the attention of key actors
Now you need to think about the tools and tactics you can deploy to bring the report to the attention of the 10 target people you have identified, and to others who may be able to influence the 10. Remember that in Module 7, you will learn more about the technical production and release of the mandated outputs required from the assessment. Here you can brainstorm around a much broader range of opportunities to deliver your findings. These include:
- formal presentations to departmental and parliamentary committees;
- lunches with representatives of NGOs to do special briefings;
- exclusive events with private sector interests to discuss how the assessment is relevant to them;
- website publications;
- electronic conferences to discuss findings; and
- news media interviews.
- What else should go on this list of opportunities to tell people what you are working on and what you are learning?
Communications channels and techniques are important. But you also need some key messages.
Breakout group exercise
- In the group, discuss two–three key messages drawn from previous assessments you have worked on. What were some of the strengths and weaknesses of these? If you have not worked on an assessment before, think about what the key messages might be from one of the case studies discussed in Section 2. What might be the key message for your new assessment? Under the heading Step 4, record one of the key messages.
- Discuss three approaches that you might take to promote your messages and findings to your key actors, to broader audiences and to the general public, all of whom can influence your key actors on your behalf. List these approaches under Step 4 on your flip chart.
Pulling the strategy together
Now you get to compare your strategy with those of the other breakout groups.
Breakout group presentation of Steps 1-4.
- Share your Steps 1-4 with the rest of the training group.
- Post the flip charts for each step together so that groups can see the variations in impact statements, key relationships and so forth.
- This is your very rough master outline, and it will give you a sense of what your impact strategy for your assessment might become. Now, you need to review and refine it.ii
- On the impact statement.
– Are there any further considerations?
– Is there a general acceptance of the impact statement by the group?
– Record exceptions or variations in opinion, as these may re-emerge later in the training programme.
- On WHO the strategy is targeting.
- – Are there any other individuals or groups that should be added to the list?
– Media. Have you included the names of key journalists who are influential in your country?
– NGOs. Have you included the names of key people in NGOs who might help to promote the assessment’s recommendations?
– Now that you have zoomed in on your key actors, what are some of the broader groups you should reach out to? What about women’s groups? Can they become supporters of your work? What about village councils and district authorities? What about Chambers of Commerce? What about youth organizations?
- On WHAT:
– Discuss challenges you may face in engaging your key actors in order to more clearly understand what those actors need to know.
- On HOW:
– Keep in mind that messages depend on the results of your assessment.
– Do any of these messages relate to issues that are relevant to women? How can you craft a message that will reach women effectively?
– Are there any other possible channels for communication? Have you thought about ways to reach important minority voices, such as young people and people living below the poverty line? How will you reach some of the broader groups like local authorities, village councils and district administrations?
Step 5: Monitoring, evaluation and improvement of your impact strategy
Monitoring and evaluating mechanisms will be discussed in more detail in Module 8. But for now, let’s think about some general signals that will tell you whether your strategy is having impact.
- What are some indications that you are influencing your key actors?
- What are some ways that you can keep track of your performance on the strategy?
Reality check and final plenary discussion
Preparing, implementing and monitoring an impact strategy takes time. What resources do you think might be required to implement this strategy? If your resources are limited, what would be the most critical elements that you would implement? Are there any partnerships you could form to help you? For example, how might you work with your government communications department?
What does your group as a whole think of the draft strategy? What are its possibilities? What are its limitations?