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International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 2 (2006) 315–325 Bridging the Gap The Mountain Mistra Programme as an arena for collaborative learning 1 2 Anders Esselin and Magnus Ljung Department of Animal Ecology, Faculty of Forestry, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå, Sweden SLU External Relations, Swedish University Agricultural Sciences, Skara, Sweden Key words: Environmental communication, collaborative learning, multidisciplinary research, multi-stakeholder collaboration, the Mountain Mistra Programme SUMMARY Society searches for new methods to manage the often complex and controversial issues surrounding natural resource management. The scientific community has a specific responsibility to increase our collective understanding of these issues. But what is perceived as desirable and feasible knowledge is open to debate. The Mountain Mistra Programme (MMP) is a multidisciplinary research programme with a clear objective to develop scientifically based strategies for a sustainable management of the resources of the Swedish mountain region. In order to succeed, the MMP needs to develop its outreach and communication activities. Collaboration in multi-stakeholder groups is one possible effort. This paper aims to analyse the collaborative potential created by MMP, when taking the initiative to develop and facilitate collaborative learning processes as part of the research. The paper shows how MMP has been applying a multitude of methods in creat- ing better preconditions for interaction and learning among stakeholders, both between researchers from different disciplines, and between researchers and external stake- holders. Successful collaboration derives not only from facilitation and other pedagogic techniques, but also from complementary efforts in outreach and communication. Although starting from a point where the potential for multi-stakeholder collaboration was low, MMP’s work has led to an increased capacity for future collaboration, partly due to the stronger relations and a shared understanding among stakeholders. Through the creation of new arenas and the facilitation of collaborative learning processes, MMP has added not only to our understanding of what is important for the sustainable manage- ment of mountain regions, but also how different stakeholders, including research insti- tutes, might work together in order to make improvements. The paper concludes that there is a need to develop criteria to measure success in multi-stakeholder collaborations, including researchers. The need to combine different communicative arenas and efforts, as well as a variety of motives and needs among participants, makes evaluation problem- atic. Nevertheless, some general recommendations are given, such as the importance of facilitation and a communicative function within this kind of research programme, and the necessity for an initial focus on the process of collaborative learning, rather than on the specific issues at stake. Correspondence: A. Esselin, Department of Animal Ecology, Faculty of Forestry, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, 901.83 Umeå, Sweden. Email: email@example.com 315 The Mountain Mistra Programme as an arena for collaborative learning Esselin and Ljung stakeholders, and the use of a broad set of com- INTRODUCTION munication channels. Sustainable management of socio-ecological MMP is one of about 20 programmes of Mistra, systems involves changes on many societal levels. the Foundation for Strategic Environmental New governmental policies are to be implemented, Research. Mistra funds and organises research new markets developed, research priorities shifted, aimed at solving strategic environmental problems. as well as the public opinion. But it is not only what The foundation applies the same principles of we focus on that needs to change; there are also transparency as the government research councils, changes in how we work with complex and often and distributes about SEK 200 million (US$ 28 controversial issues. For instance, environmental million) a year to environmental research. A Mistra policy today emphasises participation and gaining programme is considered a success when scientifi- access to local knowledge. Such a discursive shift in cally advanced research has been put to practical environmental work influences both politics and use in companies, authorities or other organisa- research; multidisciplinary research programmes tions (Mistra 2006). In total, Mistra granted MMP more often work in closer collaboration with other SEK 84 million (US$ 12 million). stakeholders in society. The Mountain Mistra Pro- This paper synthesises and analyses MMP com- gramme (MMP) is one such initiative, representing munication and outreach activities using recent a shift in research communication and outreach. theory in environmental communication and MMP’s goal was to develop scientifically based collaborative learning. The question is if and how strategies for the management and long-term outreach and communication within MMP, includ- development of the resources of the Swedish moun- ing efforts to achieve collaborative learning pro- tain region. This is a true challenge, as the manage- cesses, have been instrumental and/or constitutive. ment and the use of natural resources in this region In short, the aim is to analyse the collaborative potential is complex and characterised by conflicts due to created by MMP. a rapid change in the region’s socio-economic conditions, different ethnic groups, somewhat un- clear legislation, rules and regulations, etc. (see THEORETICAL BACKGROUND papers by Moen and Willebrand et al. in this issue). Environmental communication MMP was planned in 1998–99. A first phase ran from 2000 through 2002, and a second phase from The way and what we communicate impacts both 2003 to 2006. In between the two phases, a mid- our conception of, and our interaction with, the term evaluation concluded that considerable pro- physical world. More specifically, environmental gress had been made in phase one, but that greater communication serves at least two important func- emphasis was needed to ensure stronger linkages tions (Depoe and Delicath 2004:4): (i) it is instru- between those working within the different themes mental or pragmatic in that it alerts, educates, of the programme, as well as with external stake- motivates, and persuades in order to achieve holders. To meet those needs, the core research in changes in human actions; and (ii) it is constitutive MMP was reorganised into four problem-oriented in that the environment and its qualities are sym- themes or ‘focal points’: bolic constructs created and organised through dis- course. Recognising that our communication has • Reindeer industry under pressure; both instrumental and constitutive functions cre- • Strategies for the use of fish and game; ates the need for deeper analysis of what is at stake • Social requirements for a decentralised manage- when implementing environmental policies, to ment of large carnivores; enable public participation in environmental • Tourism and protected areas. decision-making, or creating public opinion for To complement the focal points, three analytical environmental actions (Depoe and Delicath 2004). frameworks and four supporting projects were Cox (2006:12) defines environmental communi- established (Esselin 2003; Willebrand 2006). In cation as ‘the pragmatic and constitutive vehicle for our addition, a more ambitious outreach and commu- understanding of the environment as well as our relation- nication programme was developed. This included ships to the natural world; it is the symbolic medium that a full-time science communicator, a network of we use in constructing environmental problems and 316 International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management The Mountain Mistra Programme as an arena for collaborative learning Esselin and Ljung negotiating society’s different responses to them’. Environ- will lead to re-definitions of environmental issues mental communication involves many forms of and problems – definitions which might be benefi- communication, from interpersonal and group cial when identifying both desirable and feasible communication to public and mass communica- strategies to manage complex situations. Some tion. Furthermore, environmental communication general criteria characterise collaborative learning includes many actors: science, industry, media, in multi-stakeholder groups (based on a synthesis public, authorities, non-governmental organisa- of studies in different contexts, e.g. Woerkum 2000; tions, etc. This is why a multi-stakeholder approach Wondolleck and Yaffee 2000; Daniels and Walker to environmental decision-making is often needed. 2001; Leeuwis and Pyborn 2002; Walker 2004; Managing complex environmental problems Hallgren and Ljung 2005). Altogether, the identi- always involves a learning dimension. As such, com- fied criteria reflect a collaborative potential in a munication becomes a tool to learn more about the given situation, the possibilities to implement out- environment and take improved actions. In multi- comes generated through collaboration, and the stakeholder learning processes, the actors produce level of responsibility the participants take for different kinds of knowledge, all of which might fulfilling shared goals. The most important criteria be useful in reaching environmental objectives. will be described briefly. This perspective on managing environmental problems is the very core of collaboration. Gray The collaborative potential (1989:5) defines collaboration as ‘a process through which parties who see different aspects of a problem can The structures which constitute a collaborative constructively explore their differences and search for effort have a unique history: the actors might have solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is had long-term co-operation or, in contrast, only possible’. It is a form of communication that invites weak assumptions about each other; the issues dis- actors and stakeholders to engage in problem- cussed might have been elaborated earlier with or solving dialogue, rather than advocacy and debate without success; the external environment might (Cox 2006:153). Characteristic for such a collabora- be forcing, supporting or hindering initiatives and tion is that it is constructive and open, focused on collaboration, etc. Who takes the initiative and how the future, action-oriented, to some degree power- this is done will impact the forthcoming process, sharing, and emphasises learning (Walker 2004). and if actors are inter-dependent in order to manage the situation, it will increase the will to co-operate. The institutional support (norms, competence Collaborative learning and resources) given from, for instance, the partici- Collaborative learning ‘is a means of designing and pants’ mother organisations are often crucial for implementing a series of events (meetings, field trips, etc.) both initial and sustained commitment. Neither to promote creative thought, constructive debate, and the should the two problems of representation be effective implementation of proposals that the stakeholders underestimated: individuals might not feel com- generate’ (Daniels and Walker 2001:15). Successful mitted if lacking support from the group or organi- collaborative learning is characterised by both sation they represent; or participants might not innovation and action. That is, through facilitation, have the legitimacy to actually represent the organi- collaboration makes use of the different perspec- sation. Some participants might even have a hidden tives among stakeholders in order to find new ways agenda. Alternative arenas, or other ongoing pro- to manage or solve environmental problems, and cesses open to actors in which they are able to reach tests the innovations in practice in a process of their goals, decrease their will to contribute. experiential learning (shifting between phases The existence of decision space, i.e. a potential of action and reflection). to make a difference, is a necessary precondition A collaborative learning approach to environ- for collaboration. If collaborations lack decision mental communication is instrumental in the sense space, this hinders participants in carrying out that it generates knowledge and supports the imple- both collective and individual efforts. This has a de- mentation of new findings. But, on a deeper level, motivating effect from the outset. Finally, if basic, it is also constitutive in that the learning process scientific information about the issues at hand is International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 317 The Mountain Mistra Programme as an arena for collaborative learning Esselin and Ljung missing (we know what we do not know) this will Each involved stakeholder has unique motives also decrease the perceived meaningfulness to to be part of the partnership. Consequently, it is participate. important to recognise that the stakeholders make different priorities, have specific constraints, and need a variety of incentives to participate. This Implementing collaboration might lead to conflicts regarding goals and priori- When a collaborative process is initiated, its inter- ties, as well as procedural friction. It is crucial to nal conditions are simultaneously being formed. clarify the goals for the collaboration, but also to This involves: inviting stakeholders as participants; relate this to each participant’s individual motives. creating venues for reflection, learning and action; Furthermore, these change over time, something suggesting an overall design of the collective which might be reflected in new roles, norms, and work; and implementing certain communication practices in the group. A mature group can be said channels. Access to information is crucial because to have shifted focus from individual needs towards it enables actors and stakeholders to get involved shared motives and actions. based on their own understanding and perspective One challenge is that collaborative learning is on an issue. But access is not enough; there is also a dependent not only on good preconditions and need to adapt the information, in both its form and professional facilitation. It is also dependent on the content, to the different needs and preconditions will, the ability, and the understanding of each and that exist among stakeholders. every participant. As a participant in a collaborative Altogether, the main purpose of the initial group, you must have some basic engagement and efforts is to establish as good preconditions as poss- curiosity, some trust and belief in the potentials of ible for collaboration and collaborative learning. the process, and confidence in your own abilities to The participants should feel that the context for contribute. As a participant, you also have to have their future efforts is supportive. This is about communicative competence; being able to listen, having access to resources or, if necessary, creating respecting others’ opinions and being able to make enough resources in terms of time, information, yourself understood. And as a participant you competence, infrastructure and financial capital, should know what the collaborative process is all etc. Furthermore, the collaborative efforts need to about and what the collective purpose is. It is rare be organised in a relevant way – which may vary for all these criteria to be met, but they need to be depending on the purpose of the collaborative present to a certain degree in order for collabo- group. rative learning to occur. In multi-stakeholder collaborations, activities Everyone in a collaborative group has responsi- takes place which keep the network or project bility for the outcomes, but the facilitator (profes- together. Process facilitation involves activities sional communicator) has a specific responsibility from planning and process design to closure and for creating the best possible preconditions for follow-up activities. In addition to creating organi- dialogue, discussion, learning and action. A facilita- sational structures (formal and informal), what tor therefore needs to have access to pedagogic keeps a project or programme together is the on- tools and an overview of the whole learning process; going interactions between stakeholders, and the and also to act as a role model in communication, relations and trust this process creates between the which includes managing conflicts that arise. The participants. Examples of such actions are commu- main goal has to be to optimise the collaborative nication, learning, socialising, decision-making, group’s learning potential, create constructive etc. It is when the multi-stakeholder collaboration relations among the members, and build both the is constituted as an entity that an internal context individuals’ and group’s capacities. is finally in place, including organisational struc- tures, formalised routines, roles, resources and Taking responsibility for action relevant competence, etc. Consequently, actions and internal context co-create and constitute each It is the participating actors who have responsibility other within a multi-stakeholder collaboration. for realisation of decided actions, and therefore a Professional facilitation is usually needed to clear allocation of responsibilities is necessary. One manage the complexity of these social processes. challenge is that participants usually have several 318 International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management The Mountain Mistra Programme as an arena for collaborative learning Esselin and Ljung identities. It usually takes time until a multi- small external reference group to a network of stakeholder group has matured so that the partici- stakeholders of about 30 persons. This network has pants can claim a shared, new identity (‘we in this since doubled. MMP’s motive was for each indivi- network’, ‘partnership’ or ‘group’). Nonetheless, it dual in the network to engage in discussions about is necessary to reach this point if shared actions MMP research and matters of natural resources in are to be implemented, i.e. actions where the indi- the mountain region – with MMP researchers, with vidual efforts aim to achieve a collective goal. other network persons and the organisations If successful, the outcomes are both short- and they represent, and within their own organisations. long-term: short-term in the sense of concrete People engaged in the network received a monthly actions and improvements of a problematic situa- e-letter, research reports, annual reports and tion; long-term in that the collaborative process MMP’s popular science newsletter, FjällFokus. They has created stronger relations and new conducive were also invited to participate and contribute to structures supporting future actions. Thus, the workshops, conferences and collaborative learning outcomes are hopefully on both structural and rela- projects. tional levels. In addition, the result of the process is People in the network showed commitment in both instrumental and constitutive, in that the terms of both time and engagement in the collabo- shared learning has resulted in both actions and ration with MMP. A majority contributed in differ- a new understanding of the problems. ent ways to MMP publications, and about half of the persons in the network took part in the collabo- rative learning projects during 2005 and 2006. In Methodological issues addition, the network both participated in and con- This paper is based on personal working experi- tributed to different meetings arranged by MMP ence in MMP from early 2002 until the end of 2006. from 2002 to 2006. In 2002, MMP arranged a work- During this period, Anders Esselin, one of the shop for the network and researchers. During this authors of this paper, was employed as a scientific conference, the participants identified questions, communicator in MMP, with responsibility for the problems and conflicts in the mountain region that programme’s outreach and communication. All were perceived as important. This information was communication channels and forums within MMP later used when revising MMP into phase two. At have been part of the study, and the data have been another workshop involving the network and collected through participant observations, evalua- researchers in 2003, the participants were engaged tions, activities and outcomes, as well as mimeos in focus group discussions about MMP research and documented reflections. In addition, the final questions and results. In 2004, the network was analysis was made by applying a theoretical perspec- invited to be co-organiser of a large conference tive to the data collected, from which certain arranged by MMP. Several persons took active part themes and general conclusions emerged. The in shaping the conference in terms of programme, research process has been eclectic and pragmatic workshops, posters, etc. In 2005, some members and, in itself, a process of collaboration between the (local actors) of the network co-organised three authors. one-day meetings in three different mountain municipalities together with MMP. The network has also been invited to co-organise the final confer- ence of MMP in November 2006. In total, about MMP OUTREACH AND 500 different persons attended MMP workshops COMMUNICATION and conferences from 2002 to 2006 (many Network of stakeholders attended on several occasions). The central stakeholder groups in MMP are national and regional authorities, mountain muni- Publications cipalities, industries, companies, local actors, the indigenous people in the area, and NGOs – i.e. During the MMP, 120 scientific articles, 100 scien- actors with strong interests in, and/or power over, tific reports, five PhD theses, and a number of the natural resources of the mountain region book chapters and popular science articles were (Willebrand 2006). In 2002, MMP extended the produced. In addition to this, five annual reports, International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 319 The Mountain Mistra Programme as an arena for collaborative learning Esselin and Ljung 29 issues of FjällFokus (ISSN 1653-4700), and about if they wanted to enter into a process of 30 issues of MMP’s scientific report series (ISSN collaborative learning together with a small group 1652-3822) were published. The latter publications of stakeholders, and could present a reasonable were distributed as PDF files to almost 200 sub- strategy for this, they would receive additional scribers. The newsletter and annual reports were financial and practical support from the MMP also distributed as printed products to between 550 director and communicator. MMP’s motive was to and 5000 subscribers (depending on the topic). create opportunities for high-quality scientific Most publications were also made available as PDF results (in the form of scientific reports and arti- files at MMP’s website (www-fjallmistra.slu.se). cles), as well as for collaborative learning. MMP’s motive for these efforts was to enhance Initially, these projects engaged the MMP re- accessibility of knowledge (both scientific and prac- searchers in many internal meetings which aimed tical/traditional) concerning natural resources to plan future external meetings. There were exten- in the mountain region for a broader portion of sive discussions about project focus, meeting tech- society. The publications were cited in many arti- niques, scientific theories and models, outcomes, cles in Swedish newspapers and magazines. MMP practical arrangements, etc. These internal discus- results and activities have also been featured in sions resulted in a total of six external meetings, radio and TV programmes, as well as in political covering 8 days in all and involving about 15 debates on both regional and national level. researchers and 30 persons from the MMP network of stakeholders. Meeting techniques used included both informal discussions and more formal discus- Workshops for reflection sions using focus groups, scenario techniques and During the MMP, the programme steering group collaborative learning techniques. Most discussions gathered researchers in order to ensure stronger were facilitated by MMP’s communicator. The pro- linkages within the programme. On a couple of jects generated a lot of material used in research occasions, parts of these workshops were desig- and one official report (Sandström et al. 2006). nated to discuss MMP outreach and communica- The collaborative learning projects were gener- tion in general and collaborative learning in ally regarded as successful and were said to increase particular. The motive was to enable the re- the awareness of different interest groups as well as searchers to reflect on and discuss overall benefits, participating researchers. The projects also formed scientific benefits, hindrances and factors for a platform for future scenario work. In some cases, success. In a wider perspective, the purpose was to the projects resulted in an increased institutional sharpen communicative and collaborative activities capacity and certainly in increased knowledge and within MMP by identifying motives for the re- transfer of knowledge between different interest searchers to engage in these, and also to see how groups, including the government. It was also MMP leaders and communicator could facilitate recognised that collaborative learning is crucial, this engagement. since this increases the legitimacy of the process In 2004, MMP arranged a workshop with the and merges scientific and traditional knowledge Norwegian research programme ‘Changing land- about the resources in focus (Willebrand et al. scapes’, involving 12 researchers from four differ- in this issue). ent countries and different disciplines. There was also an internal workshop involving 15 MMP Other collaborations researchers from different disciplines in 2005. The workshops resulted in an internal working list In 2004, a large survey was sent out to more than covering overall benefits, scientific benefits, hind- 12,000 Swedish citizens in order to investigate exist- rances and factors for success in outreach and ing attitudes within the Swedish mountain region. communication. Researchers from different disciplines cooperated with the Swedish EPA and the six northernmost regional county administrative boards. Coopera- Collaborative learning projects tion included funding, the formulation of the At the beginning of 2004, the researchers in the questionnaire, and the presentation of results. MMP focal points were given a conditional offer: The progress in this work was planned and also 320 International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management The Mountain Mistra Programme as an arena for collaborative learning Esselin and Ljung regulated in a contract between MMP and the address vague jurisdictions and controversies about authorities involved. The large survey resulted in the Sámi society and reindeer herding, hunting several scientific articles and reports, as well as a lot and fishing, large predators, etc. of media coverage. The researchers involved in the In addition, certain general problems face survey were also invited to many meetings and researchers aiming to work with multi-stakeholder debates arranged by different authorities and collaborations. To succeed in the academic system, organisations. researchers have to focus on the production and Another example of collaboration is the yearly publication of scientific articles and reports. In involvement of hundreds of hunters and their general, collaboration with both external stake- dogs in inventories of ptarmigan in different parts holders and researchers from other disciplines is of the Swedish mountain region. In this case, the given a low priority as it is regarded as inefficient cooperation mainly includes the gathering of data when it comes to gaining scientific impact points. that is then managed together by MMP researchers Collaboration takes time, especially when involving and the county administrative boards of northern different professional or disciplinary cultures, Sweden. These yearly inventories are resulting in because basic values and paradigms differ, trust scientific publications, researchers participating in is yet to be built, and there are mismatches in public meetings, and in usable information for language. Thus, a good potential for collaboration management. between different stakeholders is lacking. In 2005, MMP was an organising partner of the On the other hand, there are some precondi- 11th International Symposium on Society and Resource tions for fruitful collaboration. Most stakeholders, Management (ISSRM) in Östersund, a conference especially people living in the area, are fully aware that gathered together about 500 scientists and of the challenges that face the region (declining natural resource managers. In addition to, MMP and aging population, diminishing local econo- researchers have responded to numerous initiatives mies, restructuring and employment change, from stakeholders and other institutions, and in deteriorating social services, etc). The actors are this way attended and contributed to many scien- inter-dependent and there is a common under- tific as well as public meetings. standing that collaboration and joint actions are needed to turn negative trends around, or at least to halt them. Furthermore, concepts like local par- FINDINGS ticipation, decentralised management and co- Based on the presented criteria for successful management have gained strength in the public collaboration, a tentative analysis of MMP out- debate over time, altering and questioning the reach and communication has been carried out. tradition of top-down governance in the area. The focus has then been on three different inter- There is also a growing insight in society, inter- active spaces: between stakeholders; between stake- national and national authorities, and also among holders and researchers; and between researchers different research funding agencies, that complex from different scientific disciplines. environmental problems cannot be handled by either society, science alone, or by single scientific disciplines. This has resulted in more money avail- The collaborative potential able for researchers who are willing to take on the Natural resource management and environmental challenge of bridging the gap between science and issues in the mountain region in Sweden are un- society as well as between different scientific disci- doubtedly characterised by high complexity, lack plines. Mistra’s funding of MMP has created a col- of information and a history of controversies. Most laborative potential, in that it enables researchers of the problems and conflicts have been elaborated to take the time to build relations and become earlier in different constellations and with various engaged in new contexts. successes. The trust between national and regional authorities and the local communities, as well as Enabling collaboration between different interest groups and ethnic groups, is generally low. In addition, there are a MMP outreach and communication strategy was a number of national commissions and inquiries that strategic tool in order to support the vision and goal International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 321 The Mountain Mistra Programme as an arena for collaborative learning Esselin and Ljung of the research programme. This included enhanc- collaborative learning (about the specific issue, the ing preconditions for, and taking initiatives to process, other stakeholders’ values and knowledge, develop, collaborative learning situations, arenas and the participants’ own values and knowledge). and projects. Simply put, the ambition was to During internal planning activities, this was dis- strengthen the collaborative potential by eliminat- cussed in detail within in each focal point, and the ing hindrances and increasing the benefits of issues were further elaborated in the two internal collaboration among researchers as well as workshops for reflection. stakeholders. Enhanced accessibility to information (both tra- Institutional support is crucial for both initial ditional and scientific) was a key when increasing and sustained commitment. Within MMP, the the potential for collaboration. Enabling actors to support for the outreach and communication be updated continuously about what is happening strategy was clearly stated by the steering group limits the development of a psychological distance and board. A high ambition was demonstrated by and a dis-attachment to the programme. MMP devoting almost 10% of the total budget to commu- strived to meet this challenge through different nication, including a full-time science communica- types of publications (scientific articles and reports, tor. By arranging internal workshops, with the aim FjällFokus, annual reports, homepage, etc.). In addi- of reflecting on the implementation and external tion, the MMP ambition to enhance preconditions validation of research results, the programme for collaborative learning was manifested through management made it normatively clear that such informal contacts, through ongoing networking, by dimensions of the research process were important, creating venues for learning and action, and and included all researchers in the project. This was by offering process facilitation involving activities later reinforced by the incentives created in the from planning and process design to closure and programme’s second phase, in which researchers follow-up activities. choosing to start collaborative learning projects received extra funding. In addition, to increase the Taking responsibility for action institutional support from different stakeholder organisations, persons in the network were invited, Successful and long-term external collaboration is and in several ways requested, to take active part in conditioned by an ability to collaborate internally. organising and shaping meetings, workshops and In the case of MMP, this implies cooperation, disci- conferences. They were also offered the chance plinary as well as interdisciplinary, that functions to contribute to MMP publications. In order to well among the researchers. Furthermore, trans- manage the negative effects of representation, the disciplinary collaboration implies a commitment network was flexible – new members joined and old and belief that this can improve the results of scien- members left. tific work. Discussions within MMP showed that a Clarifying the motives for collaboration was majority of the researchers could easily identify recognised as important in MMP’s internal work- overall benefits with stakeholder collaboration shops for reflection. MMP’s motive for assembling a (e.g. workshops for reflection). However, it was also network was that each individual within it should evident that there were some discrepancies within engage in discussions about MMP research and the group regarding which these scientific benefits matters of natural resources in the mountain were. Most researchers saw a potential in external region – with MMP researchers, with other network collaboration with regard to identification of prob- persons and the organisations they represent, and lems and validation of results, but there was dis- within their own organisations. MMP offered scien- agreement when it came to data collection and, to a tific knowledge, as well as new meeting places. certain extent, also regarding the extent to which In return, MMP gained access to traditional and stakeholders should be involved in the research experiential knowledge, as was shown at the net- process. work meetings, the larger conferences and also in The internal discussion revealed fundamental MMP publications. In the collaborative learning differences in scientific paradigms and values. It projects, it was stated that the motive was to create was also shown that such differences could create opportunities for concrete results (in form of frictions in the collaboration in all three spaces for scientific reports and articles, etc.), as well as for interaction. Consequently, these differences must 322 International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management The Mountain Mistra Programme as an arena for collaborative learning Esselin and Ljung be managed already at an early stage of the process. emerges which would not have come forth if the In such discussions, it is also important to recognise communication had not taken place. that there is always a discrepancy between the bene- fits for a research programme and its funding bodies, and the benefits for the individual re- CONCLUSIONS AND searcher. Deliberating and managing those matters RECOMMENDATIONS also serves the additional purposes of clarifying objectives, revealing factors for success and con- Evaluating collaborative processes straints, promoting engagement and commitment, How are we to measure or describe new knowledge and creating a sense of shared identity. built in multi-stakeholder collaborations, and what The MMP network became an important forum criteria for success (key values) should be used? for discussions about concrete issues in the Swedish Of course, the numbers of interactions between mountain region. But even though some members researchers and stakeholders can be measured, as showed strong commitment and others showed well as newspaper articles, hits on the homepage, less, it is questionable, first, if a shared, new identity etc. The degree of commitment among stake- ever evolved and, second, to what extent shared holders might be another way to judge how success- action took place in the network. For instance, ful the approach has been. If the demand for despite MMP efforts to allocate responsibility for information, participation and/or interaction is conferences and meetings to the network, the cohe- high, this ought to indicate that the knowledge is sive function was always performed by MMP and its understandable, acceptable and applicable, that it communicator. This indicates a failure in building is socially robust (Gibbons 1999). capacity to take responsibility for actions in the The combination of quantitative indicators and network. Different degrees of commitment might qualitative analysis can show how stakeholders be explained by the fact that some stakeholders experience and judge MMP research, its communi- could be active members as a part of their job cation efforts, and the end results. Nonetheless, situation, while others (mainly entrepreneurs and what will such evaluations tell us? Probably that full-time managers) would have difficulties in con- MMP has had a fair amount of impact in news- tributing (in time, economics, logistic, etc.). In papers, television and radio, and is recognised and addition, MMP had no authority; the decision space respected among stakeholder groups as well as in offered was minimal. This had a de-motivating academia. However, what we really want to know effect, lowered the commitment, and hindered is if MMP has influenced attitudes and changed participants in carrying out both collective and politics, management strategies and behaviour, as individual efforts. A stronger group identity and well as how input from stakeholders has improved more commitment among network members MMP science. If we were able to measure the out- would probably have been promoted by early dis- comes of the research process we would still face cussions about the motives and process of co- the questions: How would these changes be operation and collaborative learning, rather than valued? Should any change be counted as a about concrete issues. success independent of its character? If not, who The instrumental outcomes of MMP outreach is to decide what is a desirable change? There is and communication, including collaborative learn- a need for methodological development regard- ing processes, might be more evident in the inter- ing how to measure success in multi-stakeholder actions between researchers from different collaborations and multidisciplinary research disciplines. However, we should not forget the programmes. important constitutive effects that the multi- stakeholder learning processes initiated by MMP have probably had (Sandström et al.; Willebrand Combining different communicative et al.; Zachrisson et al. in this issue): the learning that efforts has taken place between the actors has led to a new understanding of, or new perspectives on, existing We conclude that MMP outreach and communica- problems. In this sense, collaborative learning tion activities have strengthened the collaborative approaches lead to innovations – an understanding potential between different stakeholders, between International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 323 The Mountain Mistra Programme as an arena for collaborative learning Esselin and Ljung stakeholders and researchers, and between re- Recommendations for future searchers from different scientific disciplines. This multidisciplinary programmes has mainly been accomplished by introducing new Based on the experience of MMP, some general arenas for collaboration, while simultaneously recommendations for future research initiatives focusing on building new knowledge. We have can be made. It is important to: identified synergies when complementary com- municative efforts were used, which in this way • Develop and implement a communication supported collaborative learning and action. The strategy, based on complementary communica- total effect of all measures enabled results that each tion activities and channels; single channel would not have been able to achieve. • Establish a professional communication and Thus, finding the optimal combination of poss- facilitation function, supporting the activities ible communicative actions demands a process- going on within the whole programme (while not oriented working approach, which is transparent taking responsibility for all actions); and bridges knowledge traditions both within • Use incentives and strong norms from the and beyond science. leadership in order to support collaboration; The collaborative learning approach is no • Apply a process perspective on collaborative quick fix; instead, it is often the result of a long- learning, where stakeholders both give and gain term and very conscious striving for concrete out- knowledge, while at the same time creating a new comes. In controversial and strongly politicised shared understanding; issues, a research programme can be perceived as a • Give continuous feedback on the benefits or neutral arena, where different interests can be problems of working collaboratively – trans- accommodated. Multidisciplinary research pro- parency and honesty are the only way to manage grammes, like MMP, have a potential to fulfil this communicative problems; role; a role which is seldom put forward in policy • Keep a focus on the process of collaborative debates over the future role of research. Therefore, learning rather than on specific issues at stake. we conclude that to manage complex and contro- This might eliminate limitations and clarify versial issues, where often multi-stakeholder benefits for collaboration among researchers as collaboration is needed, new institutions have to well as stakeholders. 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International Journal of Biodiversity Science & Management – Taylor & Francis
Published: Dec 1, 2006
Keywords: ENVIRONMENTAL COMMUNICATION; COLLABORATIVE LEARNING; MULTIDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH; MULTI-STAKEHOLDER COLLABORATION; THE MOUNTAIN MISTRA PROGRAMME
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