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The idea of public or stakeholder engagement in governance of science and technology is widely accepted in many policy and academic research settings. However, this enthusiasm for stakeholder engagement has not necessarily resulted in changes of attitudes towards the role of stakeholders in the dialogue, nor to the value of public knowledge, practical experience and other inputs (like salient questions) vis-à-vis expert knowledge. The formal systems of evaluation of the stakeholder engagement activities are often focused on showing that the method is efficient and works. In this paper, we argue that every stakeholder engagement process should be evaluated beyond a simple assessment of the methodology, and that the wider context of the stakeholder engagement activity should also be addressed. We evaluate two different stakeholder engagement activities against the existing method evaluation criteria, and demonstrate their limitations for assessing the quality of a stakeholder engagement. We argue that these criteria need to be extended so that engagement processes will have a chance to improve not only policies but also their democratic legitimacy.
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Assessing quality of stakeholder engagement: from bureaucracy to
democracy
Yevgeniya Tomkiva,d, Astrid Lilandb,d, Deborah H. Oughtona,d, Brian Wynnec
aNorwegian University of Life Sciences, Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource Management,
P.O. BOX 5003 NMBU, No-1432 Ås, Norway.
bNorwegian Radiation Protection Authority, P.O. BOX 55, No-1332 Østerås, Norway.
cLancaster University, Bailrigg, Lancaster, LA1 4YW, United Kingdom.
dCERAD Centre of Excellence for Environmental Radioactivity, P.O. BOX 5003 NMBU, No-1432 Ås,
Norway
Corresponding author:
Yevgeniya Tomkiv
yevgeniya.tomkiv@nmbu.no
+47 67231896
Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Faculty of Environmental Sciences and Natural
Resource Management, P.O. BOX 5003 NMBU, No-1432 Ås, Norway
How to cite this article: Tomkiv, Y., Liland, A., Oughton, D. H., & Wynne, B. (2019).
Assessing Quality of Stakeholder Engagement: From Bureaucracy to Democracy. Bulletin of
Science, Technology & Society, 37(3), 167178. https://doi.org/10.1177/0270467618824027
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Abstract
The idea of public or stakeholder engagement in governance of science and technology is
widely accepted in many policy and academic research settings. However, this enthusiasm for
stakeholder engagement has not necessarily resulted in changes of attitudes towards the role
of stakeholders in the dialogue, nor to the value of public knowledge, practical experience
and other inputs (like salient questions) vis-à-vis expert knowledge. The formal systems of
evaluation of the stakeholder engagement activities are often focused on showing that the
method is efficient and works. In this paper, we argue that every stakeholder engagement
process should be evaluated beyond a simple assessment of the methodology, and that the
wider context of the stakeholder engagement activity should also be addressed. We evaluate
two different stakeholder engagement activities against the existing method evaluation
criteria, and demonstrate their limitations for assessing the quality of a stakeholder
engagement. We argue that these criteria need to be extended so that engagement processes
will have a chance to improve not only policies but also their democratic legitimacy.
Keywords: Stakeholder engagement; stakeholder involvement; evaluation criteria;
nanotechnology; nuclear preparedness
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Introduction
The popularity of stakeholder engagement in science and technology has increased rapidly
since the late 1990’s and it has now become commonplace in Europe (Attar & Genus, 2014;
Hagendijk & Irwin, 2006; Irwin, 2006), US (Freudenburg, 2004), and Canada (Magnan,
2006). It is widely used in the field of environmental management (Burger, 2002), radioactive
waste management (Andersson, 2013; Krütli, Stauffacher, Flüeler, & Scholz, 2010),
development policy and supportive studies (Gaynor, 2014), emerging technologies (Bowman
& Hodge, 2007; Grieger, Wickson, Andersen, & Renn, 2012), and many others. The
development of more transparent and inclusive processes has been fuelled by the criticism of
the deficit model rationalisation of public divergence from science-informed policy
commitments (Irwin & Wynne, 1996). Although the overall process is varied and uneven,
stakeholder engagement is now replacing the traditional one-way process of educating the
public with whichever expertise they were thought to need. Moreover, this shift towards a
more democratic process has been largely, due to the deepening crisis of trust between
publics and experts and a widespread sense of crisis of legitimacy in the governance of
science and technology (Attar & Genus, 2014). The appearance of deliberative models of
democracy was also fuelled by the same factors (Dryzek, 2000; Durant, 1999), as reflected by
similar developments in broader democratic theory (Benhabib, 1996; Bohman & Rehg, 1997;
Dryzek, 2000). Thus, deliberative stakeholder engagement is also recognized as a condition
of democracy, a practice central to building a stable and responsive society, with legitimate
institutions, in a globalised world (Held, 2013).
Nowadays, even the most science-centred governmental report is incomplete without
a section on public engagement (Irwin, 2006) and most EU activities require some
stakeholder involvement (EC, 2017). This has also resulted in the rapid development, and
continual review, of a variety of participatory methods and mechanisms. The clear need for
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evaluation of stakeholder engagement methods, combined with the growing realisation that
they require a lot of resources, time, and new skills for proper practical conduct, fostered the
development of systematic criteria and frameworks (Schroeter, Scheel, Renn, & Schweizer,
2016). However, the question remains: are the current evaluation criteria sufficient for
assessing the quality of the stakeholder engagement activity?
This paper uses two stakeholder engagement events to explore the applicability of
existing evaluation criteria for assessing the quality of stakeholder or broader public
involvement. It will also highlight existing limitations and issues of stakeholder involvement
and its evaluation frameworks, and demonstrate the need for a deeper analysis, which goes
beyond methodological questions alone.
Issues in stakeholder engagement
There is a certain ambiguity in the terminology of public participation. Many typologies for
public participation are available in the literature, starting with Arnstein’s ladder of eight
steps from ‘manipulation’ to ‘citizen control’ (Arnstein, 1969), to more recent ones, which
distinguish public participation methods based on information flow, degree of commitment of
the parties involved and the power among those parties (Chilvers, 2007; Kemp, Bennett, &
White, 2006; Krütli et al., 2010). In general, these four widely recognised categories are
information, consultation, collaboration, and empowerment. ‘Involvement’, engagement’,
and ‘participation’ are all considered under the collaboration group and are often used
interchangeably. Some subtle differences are recognised between these terms, but these will
not be addressed here. However, in these uses, it is important to address the distinction
between the terms ‘public’ and ‘stakeholder’. Public engagement, or participation, is used to
describe practices involving members of the public in shaping public issues and agendas,
decision-making, and policy-forming activities of organisations or institutions responsible for
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policy development. Stakeholder involvement can be defined in a similar way, but is
normally limited to only those parties who have a more direct and concrete stake in the
above-mentioned activities. In this case, other publics are often excluded. Alternatively,
stakeholder engagement can be expanded to include a wider range of stakeholders from
public through to expert who have some relation, interest or part in the issue under debate.
Ultimately, the definition of ‘the issue’ in public policy processes is ambiguous, dynamic,
and itself contested; therefore, in democratic policy systems, broader publics can also be
legitimately described as stakeholders. In this paper, we use the term ‘stakeholder
engagement’ to describe a range of different stakeholders, including the general public.
The literature on stakeholder engagement covers a wide range of different issues and
reflects the spectrum of attitudes from ‘euphoria’ to ‘profound scepticism’ (Renn, 2005).
Stakeholder involvement has been occasionally criticized for being too sensitive to public
opinion but also for ignoring stakeholders’ advice (see review in Oughton, 2004). It has been
questioned whether stakeholder exercises have any concrete impact on the democratisation of
technoscience (Ureta, 2016). Some scholars argue that a tyranny of participation is emerging,
which exploits the dominance of a method to maintain the power of decision control at the
top, and uses participation simply to add credibility to the decisions already made (Cooke &
Kothari, 2001; Kothari & Cooke, 2001).
The tendency to predetermine or pre-frame the issues within the engagement process
has an impact on the relations of power amongst participants, and the role of public and
expert knowledge in the decision-making process. A study performed by Simis et al. (2016)
demonstrated that scientists often see publics as non-scientific, and do not see the public as a
part of scientific dialogue and debate. A considerable amount of attention in public
engagement is devoted to educating the public about “real risks” vs “perceived risks” (Goven,
2006a). This supports the growing body of evidence that the popularity of stakeholder
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involvement has not necessarily resulted in any change of attitude by “experts” or decision-
makers towards the role of stakeholders and stakeholder activities. And it is often seen as a
bureaucratic exercise rather than a democratic process. As Wynne (2007) has noted, this is
largely because scientists and the policy-makers they advise, often dogmatically assume the
public issue to be exclusively a scientific issue, for example of risk (as defined by science),
when other important democratic concerns and questions are also crucial for legitimate non-
scientific parties. Neglect of these only exacerbates public mistrust of ‘science’.
Assessing the quality of stakeholder engagement
Rowe and Frewer (2005) summarised the typologies of participatory mechanisms and
acknowledged the existence of over 100 different methods and this number is constantly
growing. Engagement methods are flexible and can be adapted or combined with other
methods to achieve specific goals of the concrete activity. The diversity of methods only
emphasise the need for thorough evaluation of stakeholder engagement activities.
There are three possible ways to evaluate stakeholder engagement activities. The first
one would be the outcome-based evaluation did we receive the ‘right’ result? This type of
evaluation is still quite popular with those who view stakeholder involvement as a way to
achieve acceptance for a pre-selected decision. It is also highly criticized for promoting
processes that “do not fulfil the functions of the participatory procedure in a democracy”
(Hansson & Oughton, 2013).
The second is the method-based evaluation. The majority of evaluation criteria and
frameworks developed so far, have often focused on showing that the method is efficient and
works (Bogner, 2012), or to “check if a contractor meets best practice guidelines, to
demonstrate the quality of the process, or to defend its credibility and legitimacy” (Chilvers,
2013). However, even if one follows the “best practice” guidelines, stakeholder engagement
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cannot be reduced to a mere technical or methodological exercise and, therefore, cannot be
separated from its purpose and context (Goven, 2006a; Jensen, 2005). Therefore, there is a
need for a third type of evaluation: the context-based evaluation. This type of evaluation
should look beyond methodology used, to focus on further questions, such as: how are basic
democratic principles being respected, what are the relationships of power between the
stakeholders involved, and how are decisions made about the framing of the issues to be
discussed.
The evaluation framework developed by Rowe and Frewer (2000), has become almost
a “standard tool” for evaluation of stakeholder engagement. This framework was the first
attempt to bring together and systematise various characteristics of the engagement processes.
It was, however, developed and used only for the evaluation of participatory methods; but are
these criteria by themselves suitable for contextual evaluation of stakeholder engagement
activities, when democratic legitimacy of such processes is also at issue? The framework is
divided into acceptance criteria and process criteria. Acceptance criteria are the ones that
would influence public acceptance of the outcome: representativeness, independence, early
involvement, influence and transparency. Process criteria evaluate efficiency of the
engagement process: resource accessibility, task definition, structured decision making and
cost-effectiveness. In this paper, we focus on the acceptance criteria, because they are the
ones, which reflect the democratic principles always in play, but often neglected in the
interests of greater efficiency.
The next sections present two different stakeholder involvement activities from the
fields of nanotechnology and nuclear emergency preparedness. The cases were chosen
primarily because the authors of the paper were involved in at least one activity directly as
participants and/or organizer. The two fields have some differences: one is a well-known
controversial issue; the other is an emerging technology, but they both highlight the generic
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issues and limitations in stakeholder involvement that are similar across fields. We use the
two cases to evaluate the above-mentioned criteria and propose how they might be improved,
in order to be used for the context-based evaluation.
Context and description of stakeholder engagement activities
Seminars on nuclear emergency preparedness
The nuclear industry has a long history of exemption from public scrutiny (Freudenburg,
2001). Stakeholder involvement became widely used in the nuclear industry during the
1990s, mainly over radioactive waste disposal plans, often with the aim of overcoming public
opposition to the technology (Drew et al., 2003; Krütli et al., 2010, etc.).
The first stakeholder engagement activity evaluated here was a series of two dialogue
seminars on nuclear emergency preparedness. These seminars were organized in Rogaland
County, Norway in 2015 as a collaboration between the Norwegian Radiation Protection
Authority, the office of the County Governor of Rogaland and the Centre for Environmental
Radioactivity (CERAD)1. The seminars were a part of a CERAD research project that
looked at potential impacts from a hypothetical radiological accident at the Sellafield
reprocessing plant (UK) on Norwegian territories and was also a part of the EC
PREPARE2 project. The seminars involved a wider range of local, regional and national
actors than is traditional for such preparedness seminars (see Table 1) and was divided into
two parts: day 1, which was based on one-way information provision and day 2 and 3, which
were structured to foster collaborative deliberation. Given the involvement of multiple
organizers, there were several aims to the seminars (see Table 1). More detailed description
of the methodology and the results of the seminars themselves can be found in (Liland et al.,
2017).
Workshop on sustainability of nanoremediation3
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Nanotechnology is an emerging technology, which receives a large amount of funding due to
its promise of innovation (Doubleday, 2007). There is an international drive to develop
regulations and policies for the use of nanotechnologies, and public engagement processes
are seen to be a crucial part of this development (Kyle & Dodds, 2009). A consensus is that
the public should be involved in the deliberate discussions and assessments of
nanotechnology, express their hopes and fears, issues and concerns in order to avoid negative
social response as in case of biotechnology (Doubleday, 2007; Rip, 2006). The assumption
being, as with agricultural biotechnologies, that such concerns are false (Lyons & Whelan,
2010) and should be “corrected”.
Like agricultural biotechnologies, nanotechnology has been accused of being driven
by premature commercialization of products (Goven, 2006a), for focusing on downstream
consultation (Lyons & Whelan, 2010) and for “facilitating partnerships between frontrunners,
entrepreneurs, and representing their elite/specialist knowledges, to the exclusion of many
potentially affected actors in civil society and the wider public(Chilvers & Longhurst,
2016).
The second stakeholder engagement activity analysed in this paper is a workshop
organized by the EC-funded research project NanoRem (Taking Nanotechnological
Remediation Processes from Lab Scale to End User Applications for the Restoration of a
Clean Environment). This project focused on facilitating practical, safe, economic and
exploitable nanotechnology for in situ remediation of contaminated environments. The aim of
the workshop was to build a cross-sectoral view of key sustainability issues, ethical concerns
and market development opportunities (Tomkiv, Bardos, Bartke, Bone, & Oughton, 2015).
The workshop lasted 1,5 days and consisted of three sessions: generic sustainability
discussion, discussion of sustainability based on a field trial example and exploration of
market opportunities. Some introductory presentations were given at the beginning of
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workshop, but it mainly consisted of group discussions in the World CaféTM format. The
workshop was organized and facilitated by the members of one of the working groups of the
project, which was responsible for dissemination and dialogue with stakeholders. NanoRem
project partners included not only research organizations, but also industry and service
providers. Therefore, half of the participants were project-related and represented different
working groups of the project. The other half were invited external stakeholders (Table 1).
[Table 1 approximately here]
Results of the evaluation and discussion
When Rowe and Frewer (2000) proposed their evaluation framework, they used the criteria to
evaluate different generic methods for public participation. This paper applied the evaluation
criteria to actual cases to examine whether they are sufficient to address the quality of a
concrete stakeholder engagement activity.
The stakeholder engagement activities analysed in this paper were different in topic,
context, and participant composition. Both of the activities were considered to be successful
by the organizers. However, can they be considered successful from a stakeholder
engagement point of view?
Representativeness
According to the criteria of representativeness, participants should represent the broadest
possible sample of the affected population and take account of the relative distribution of
different viewpoints. This could be achieved by selecting a random stratification sample of
the population. The importance of representativeness is often questioned in the literature,
critics state that representativeness is not equally important in all cases and is context specific
(Wynne, 2007). The original criteria mention that methodological representativeness is more
important if one wants to collect views of general public (for example by questionnaire) than
in other situations, although it will in any case influence the credibility of the process.
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Nuclear preparedness seminars in Norway usually involve only national and regional
authorities. The seminars in Rogaland went beyond the traditional setup and gathered a much
wider variety of participants including local representatives, also those who would not
typically be involved in decision making in nuclear preparedness. The general public was not
involved, but most participants could be defined as people that could possibly be affected by
radioactive fallout from an accident and its resulting mitigating actions. Although,
participants at the event suggested that other stakeholders could have been involved to
broaden the discussion (e.g. school teachers), the event achieved a quite broad
representativeness. The organization of the nanoremediation workshop, on the other hand,
raised more criticism.
The nanoremediation workshop had the advantage of including actors who were
directly involved in nanoremediation, but lacked representation from lay participants The
justification was that the project wanted to collect opinions from land managers, consultants,
technology contractors, planners and regulators those somehow involved in a remediation.
Almost half of the participants were project-related, which included, for instance, producers
of the nanoparticles used for remediation. Besides these, few, if any, participants in this
workshop could be defined as people that would be directly affected by prospective
nanoremediation activities.
Expert workshops are a valid approach, particularly for cases exploring differences
between expert opinions (Oughton & Strand, 2004), and a lack of lay participants could be
easily justified. However, during one of the exercises at the workshop, the participants were
given a list of roles as local stakeholders and were asked to perform an assessment of
nanoremediation vs other remediation technologies at one of the projects’ test sites from the
point of view of the local stakeholders listed (Tomkiv et al., 2015, p. 12). While this might
have been a useful exercise in evaluating what experts assume the public’s concerns are, it
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also highlights the problem of not including, or even asking in some other setting, the actual
local stakeholders’ opinions regarding remediation of their local site. The case is interesting
as an illustration of a wider phenomenon of “folk theories” in nanotechnology, namely
nanotechnologists operating under their own view of what they think public concerns are
(Rip 2006). However useful such an exercise is in terms of putting experts in someone else's
shoes and pushing them to think differently, in the absence of actual lay public, those
"imagined concerns" remain uncontested. They get recorded and reported as the “views of the
stakeholders” and contribute to creation of the mythological public concerns (Marris, Wynne,
Simmons, & Weldon, 2001). Several times during the workshop, expert participants stressed
the importance of public concerns about nanotechnology. However, public concerns were
taken to be a generic mistrust of nano, and calls from some of the participants for a more
nuanced view of what exactly the public were concerned about and why, were largely
overlooked or thought to be irrelevant. For instance, some participants cited a negative
influence of science fiction representation of nanotechnology on the public’s perception, but
were not able to provide reference to any evidence of science fiction inducing a negative
image of nanotechnology. Such cases of conjuring “imaginative publics” can be observed in
other spheres too, like synthetic biology (Marris, 2015). Another common issue here is when
social scientists participating in the involvement activity are assumed to represent the public
(Calvert & Martin, 2009), while the voices of the lay people are excluded.
The nanoremediation workshop was good in representing different experts, but at the
exclusion of the opinions of those likely to be affected. Given the above, rather than the
criteria of representativeness, in its sense of attempting to procure the presence of a
spokesperson for each of the perceived stakeholder groups, it seems more important to focus
on inclusiveness. Inclusiveness puts weight on ensuring a diversity of concerns and opinion
across stakeholders, taking care to include groups that are often excluded, and stimulating
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reflection on the way in which different parties may be impacted. It is also included as a
dimension of the framework for responsible innovation (Stilgoe, Owen, and Macnaghten
2013), which has inter alia been taken up in the EU’s 70bn Euro Horizon 2020 (2014-2020)
R&D programme.
Independence
In order to be seen as independent according to the original criteria, the participation process
should be conducted in an unbiased way: facilitators of the process and the public
representatives should both be (and be seen as) independent from the sponsoring body.
From the beginning, the participants in the emergency preparedness seminars were
informed that they were organized (and sponsored) in collaboration between authorities and
researchers. Given the topic of the seminars, a strong link to the authorities responsible for
emergency preparedness was logical, but it was stated that the radiation protection authority
and the County Governor office were participating as stakeholders, just like other
participants. The facilitators in the group discussions were researchers connected either to the
research centre or to the radiation protection authority, but with a clear role to facilitate
discussions among stakeholders and not participate themselves. Although the independence
criteria was not strictly met, the combined organisation and sponsoring by both researchers
and authorities ensured that there was no one particular sponsor/organiser framing the
workshop or limiting the issues discussed. Also, the seminars were focused on discussing
challenges related to a hypothetical accident. Had the seminar been part of an actual decision-
making process following the nuclear accident, the role of authorities could have influenced
the legitimacy of the process in the public’s eyes.
The nanoremediation workshop was part of a research project and did not have any
industrial sponsor. Almost half of the nanoremediation workshop participants were project
related. Although they could be defined as stakeholders in this case, their interest (and
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possibly dependence) on results (or success) of the project could be interpreted as a conflict
of interests. The possible conflict of interest should have been acknowledged and reflected
upon by both participants themselves and those who organized the event. However, even
when this issue was raised by one of the participants with a social science background, it was
discarded as non-existent, or at most not relevant.
Due to the possible conflict of interest, this stakeholder activity could be perceived as
pro-nanotechnology, thus having a bias. Consistent with the research-funding aims of the
European Commission R&D programmes, the project positions itself as “…a major initiative,
which supports the effective deployment of nanoremediation technologies in Europe”
(Bardos, Bartke, Harries, & Limasset, 2015) and could, therefore, be seen as promoting
nanoremediation and, thus, aiming to overcome existing concerns about it.
The question of how and why participants are selected is as important as who was
participating. Participants of the seminars on emergency preparedness were invited through
emails to individuals or organization. Some of them were already known by the organizers
through previous involvement activities, but the seminars were open to anyone from the
invited organization, who showed their interest. One of the organizers from regional level
used their networks to inspire participation from both regional and local actors. The majority
of external experts in the nanoremediation workshop, were either already part of the project’s
network or were acquainted with workshop organizers. In both cases, such invited
participation introduces possible bias in participant selection. The basis for such selection is
often due to purely practical reasons, as it is not easy to get people to participate in the
various activities. At the same time it opens up for selection of those who are considered
reasonable with the exclusion of those with extreme views (Irwin, 2006; Ureta, 2016). It also
supports a closing-down approach, when selected experts are chosen to represent a particular
mix of disciplines and perspectives (Stirling, 2008).
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The above mentioned issues of conflict of interest and bias in selection of participants
could have negative impact on the perceived independence of stakeholder engagement
activity. Additionally, the framing of issues plays an important role in the perceived
independence of the process, even if the representatives and facilitators are deemed to be
independent from the sponsoring body or contractor. If a sponsoring body has imposed a
rigid framing of the discussions and pre-identified the issues to be discussed, to the extent of
dismissing any alternative framings, the process will not appear (and won’t be, in fact)
independent even if organized by an external party.
Early involvement
Criteria of early involvement states that the public should be involved as early as reasonably
practical, when value judgements are needed. However, as too much involvement of all
standpoints can be confusing, appropriate timing is needed for the involvement in each stage.
Also, “public debate should be allowed on underlying assumptions and agenda-setting and
not just on narrow, predefined problems” (Rowe & Frewer, 2000).
None of the stakeholder involvement activities presented here were part of an actual
decision making process. Therefore, it is difficult to assess whether involvement of
stakeholders was early enough.
The emergency preparedness seminars endeavoured to involve stakeholders in
Rogaland to prepare for a possible nuclear accident with radioactive fallout in the future. As
an incentive for the county to be able to cope with a possible future accident, this seminar
was organized early enough. However, in the broader context of nuclear emergency
preparedness in Norway, the question of timing is harder to pinpoint. A Norwegian nuclear
emergency committee has existed for more than two decades, but this was the first time that
local stakeholders were involved in such an event. Discussions during the seminar
highlighted many relevant issues for the regional and local emergency preparedness in
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Norway. Participants pointed to an uncertainty about the roles and responsibilities of various
actors in emergency response, and the need for more seminars like this both in Rogaland and
in other areas of Norway. At the same time, emergency preparedness and response
arrangements need to develop in line with societal changes and changes in nuclear threat
assessments so it is legitimate to ask whether early involvement is enough or if regular
involvement should be the criterion for this specific topic.
As part of the research project, the seminars were initiated by the social scientists with
a plan to discuss the societal impacts of radioactive contamination and public concerns
related to it. However, organizing a meeting to simply map public concerns was not
considered sufficient to justify funding by the project managers. The latter were eager to
show their assessment capabilities and establish connection with local people in order to get
their support in organising fieldworks in the region and for getting access to specific local
data (CERAD Annual Report 2015, p.41). The results of those fieldworks would then be used
to improve prediction capabilities of the risk assessment models. Therefore, the seminars had
to be postponed until there was sufficient technical data available in order to perform a
hypothetical scenario, which would serve as a base for discussions. There was no mechanism
by which the project leaders would adjust research priorities based on the feedback from
seminars.
The NanoRem workshop was the second in a series of planned workshops and was
scheduled in the middle of the project. Timing was early enough, so the outcomes still could
have been used to adjust research priorities, plans, goals, etc. (despite not being the aim of the
stakeholder involvement activity). However, some of the participants commented that due to
the many existing uncertainties related to the use of nanotechnology for the remediation, the
workshop should have been organized later in the project. An opposing view was that one did
not need to know all the technical details in order to explore issues of sustainability of
17
nanotechnology. Those participants noted that one should rather have explored the
appropriateness of discussions on sustainability in relation to remediation technology.
Therefore, whilst it is hard to conclude that the involvement was not too late, it did seem that
some of the issues could have been addressed earlier. It would have probably been beneficial
for the project and workshop if the involvement process had been structured in several stages,
possibly with different actors at each stage to give a chance for prior input.
There is an overall concern with public engagement being disconnected from policy-
making processes (Bogner, 2012; Lyons & Whelan, 2010). Both the nuclear preparedness
seminar and the nanotechnology workshop were set up to at least partially benefit the
research and neither of them were a part of a deliberate policy- or decision-making. However,
both activities discussed relevant topics for policy-making and, thus, procedures for taking
aboard the feedback should have been in place. Therefore, rather than focus on the timing of
engagement, any stakeholder engagement process should allow for flexibility to address the
issues that will come up during its course.
Influence
The criteria of influence states that public involvement should have a genuine impact on the
policy and not be used as simple legitimisation of the decision or as consultancy.
There were several aims to the seminars in emergency preparedness (Table 1), but
decision- or policy-making was not one of them. The initial intention was that feedback from
the stakeholders could be used to improve the regional and local response plans for dealing
with nuclear and radiological emergencies. Results of the seminars were reported to the
PREPARE project and, together with the results from other countries, contributed to a set of
recommendations for the use of national stakeholder panels in nuclear emergency
preparedness (Charron et al., 2016; PREPARE, 2015). However, no evaluation of the quality
of the different activities and methods used in each country was performed. There was also
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no investigation of whether and how national outcomes of the panels were implemented in
the different countries.
The outcomes of the NanoRem workshop were used to frame sustainability
assessments for the trial site of the project. The session discussing market opportunities of
nanoremediation, was a part of a broader scenario development process and the feedback
generated during the workshop was used for this scenario development. Hence, one might
argue that the outcomes influenced future decisions.
Stakeholder activities that are organised by research project are often not connected to
a particular decision or policy, making it hard to fulfil the original criteria of influence. They
are often criticised for being structured as ‘lab experiments’, which proceed under controlled
conditions and are organized by professionals (Bogner, 2012). However, there are other ways
for participants to execute influence. For instance, they could (and should) influence the
framing of the engagement activities and topics to be discussed, and contribute to formulation
of research agenda and priorities.
As mentioned before, the natural scientists among the organisers of the emergency
preparedness seminars did not plan to let discussions influence the formulation of the
research agenda or research priorities (see also the discussions in Accountability and
learning). The original NanoRem proposal had suggested that stakeholder involvement could
influence the research, but there was no recognition of the value of this by the project leaders.
The nanoremediation workshop was reported by the project managers as a successful
stakeholder engagement activity and the issues raised in the course of discussions were
largely presented as already confirming the research aims of the projects.
With regard to framing, participants of the emergency preparedness seminars could to
a certain degree influence the agenda of the event as they chose which topics would be
addressed during the second seminar. They were also given a “home reflection” between the
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two parts of the seminar to think about the challenges their sector4 would face following a
nuclear emergency and how they would tackle it. The purpose of this was to foster
cooperation on preparedness plans within the sectors themselves and encourage participants
to influence that. This was not successful as only the agricultural sector completed the
exercise. The reason was probably lack of time or engagement from the participants in the
other sectors.
During the nanoremediation workshop, the discussion on sustainability was
introduced with a presentation on “The concept of sustainable remediation being applied in
NanoRem(Tomkiv et al., 2015, p. 5). It assumed nanotechnology to be acceptable and
discussed how to make it publically and regulatory successful and able to compete with other
remediation technologies. Other questions, like reasonability of the existence of such
technology were not discussed. The same thing happened with regard to the question of
whether one can talk about sustainability of nanoremediation, if this would imply a
continuous source of pollution. In other words, would the successful development of
remediation technologies mean that one could then justify further contamination of the
environment? When some participants raised those questions in the discussion, organisers
claimed them to be irrelevant. The social scientists in the organising group also had to fight to
ensure that those questions were noted in the final report. It is a paradox that even a research
project workshop involved a quite closed commitment to pre-framed issue, with not much
openness to alternative framings. Bogner (2012) described it as ‘expertisation’ of the process,
when alternative approaches are not critically examined or refuted, but just not seen as
relevant. This results in lay people judgements becoming a copy of expert judgements in the
end of the day. This brings back another issue of representation - it is not only about whether
those who were participating are representative of the society, but whether issues discussed
20
and highlighted are representative for societal views (Wynne, 2007). Framing influences
outcome!
The evaluation of the two stakeholder activities according to the criteria of influence
demonstrated a general lack of influence. If the issues for discussion are already pre-framed
and limits are established, this will undermine both independence and influence.
Transparency
In order for stakeholder involvement activity to fulfil the criteria of transparency, publics
should be able to see what is going on and how decisions are being made, including issues
like the reasoning behind the choice of participants.
It can be hard to get sufficient participants for large stakeholder seminars, especially if
one aims to gather representatives from many various sectors. Although the emergency
preparedness seminars were not open to the wider public and there was a predefined list of
organisations to invite, the organisers were open to suggestions from initial invitees for other
participants. A local press representative was welcomed when he showed interest in
participating.
In the invitation phase and during the emergency preparedness seminar, participants
were informed about the aims of the seminars. However, organisers received some critique at
the end of the seminars because the participants would have liked to see more concrete aims
and tasks, for instance contributing to emergency plans and information material.
The seminars were open about objectives and processes beforehand, but less
transparent with respect to the outcomes. The participants received very little information
about what was going to happen with the feedback generated in the discussions. No
explanation was given on how the data generated from questionnaires were going to be
analysed, other than guaranteeing anonymity. No minutes or report were shared with the
21
participants after the seminars5 even if the results were reported to the research projects and
one journal article about the results of the questionnaire was published (Liland et al, 2017).
The nanoremediation workshop did produce a report; a draft of this was sent to all
participants twice in the course of preparation and their comments were incorporated into the
text. This workshop was less clear about objectives and processes upfront, but more
transparent regarding the outcome.
Stakeholders who take part in involvement activities need to know the purpose of the
engagement process. When it becomes a mere exercise, and the people participating in the
process realise that they have no possibility to affect anything, it could have a negative
impact for the future of stakeholder involvement, in particular if the same stakeholders are to
be invited again.
It is also important to consider how the results of stakeholder involvement are
presented to the wider audience. It is acceptable to have an expert workshop rather than
include wider public, but it should be presented this way to begin with. Also, one has to be
cautious when drawing conclusions from the results of stakeholder activity. In the aftermath
of the nanoremediation workshop some conclusions from the regulatory perspective on the
development of the technology were generalized to an EU level, although only few
participants from regulatory body were present there.
Accountability and learning
Accountability and learning are not criteria addressed in the original framework by Rowe and
Frewer (2000), but we consider these aspects to be very important and necessary for
evaluation. The essence of stakeholder engagement is mutual learning for both sides: those
participating and those sponsoring. However, both activities had a lot of focus on the expert
knowledge.
22
The workshop on nanoremediation was scheduled in the middle of the project, so
some of the results could be presented. It was consisted of mostly natural scientists and
technical experts. The workshop aimed to explore complex issues like sustainability and
ethics, but those complicated concerns were reduced to technical issues. This type of
involvement could be characterised as an ‘evidence gathering exercise’ (Chilvers, 2013) since
it did not include any reflective learning. Only a few social scientists participated and there
was a clear conflict of understanding between them and more technical experts, when it came
to the issues that were being addressed and discussed. As mentioned on several occasions
earlier in the paper, some of the questions and concerns raised by predominantly social
scientists were deemed as irrelevant by the organisers and excluded from further discussion.
This highlights the need for accountability of all views and opinions, not only those that
match the views of organisers.
For the nuclear emergency preparedness seminars, the natural scientists thought it
very important that discussions were based on the hypothetical scenario, and that they were
there to answer technical questions. They did not show any interest in including the
stakeholders and their concerns into the scenario assessments. Feedback from participants, on
the other hand, revealed that regional and national authorities clearly saw the added value of
discussing nuclear response issues with a large group of stakeholders.
The value of stakeholder involvement is viewed differently by natural and social
sciences. Both cases resulted in experience that the aspect of mutual learning through
stakeholder involvement was being neglected by the natural scientist in the two workshops
addressed. The majority of research projects are now expected to engage stakeholders and,
often, those projects consist of natural scientists only. They do not always understand the key
concepts of stakeholder involvement, therefore, the quality of the involvement process, can
23
be heavily compromised. Even if social scientists are present as participants or even a part of
the organizing team, they risk being overpowered and cannot influence the process.
These issues highlight the existing trend to only involve stakeholders in downstream
consultation (Lyons & Whelan, 2010). It also illustrates the long-standing, and continuing,
struggle between public deficit model-based expert-public relationships and critics of this
(Irwin, 2006; Irwin & Michael, 2005) and the new discourse of democratic engagement
(Attar & Genus, 2014; Petts & Brooks, 2006).
Expanding the criteria for context-based evaluation
In this paper, we analysed two stakeholder involvement activities using the criteria developed
for quality evaluation of participatory methods developed by Rowe and Frewer (2000). This
evaluation framework is a good tool for systematic comparison of the different methods. But
following the critical commentaries of STS scholars (Goven, 2006a, 2006b), more substantial
questions than purely methodological ones come to the fore. Those critiques open up
important questions that go beyond the self-referential methodological concerns of the social
sciences. These methodological questions cannot address the far more challenging
democratic issues of the quality of stand-alone stakeholder engagement processes, even
though they are often equated. Use of these criteria alone imply that evaluation of such
engagement processes is itself purely a scholarly exercise, when it is also in important part,
itself political. More recent literature on engagement has attempted to address this further
agenda (Chilvers & Kearnes, 2016) as has the work on RRI (Stilgoe, Owen, & Macnaghten,
2013) which stresses inter alia the qualities of inclusiveness, and responsiveness. It has to be
recognised, however, that this more politically-oriented research and policy agenda remains
as-yet embryonic.
Our analysis has highlighted some general limitations on both the engagement
exercises and the methodological criteria. The latter are too focused on the acceptance of the
24
outcome and evaluation of efficiency of the process. We argue that quality of stakeholder
involvement should focus on the acceptance of the whole process rather than only outcomes.
Moreover, as Wynne has argued in a critique of a social scientific evaluation of the ambitious
2002-2004 UK GM Nation? engagement exercise, the obsession with representativeness and
capturing in such terms a silent, disengaged public, may be misconceived, if previously
routine forms of governance have been deeply exclusive (Wynne, 2007). One would first
need to bring advisory or decision-making cultures to public account by requiring them to
address new questions, including their own assumptions. Correspondingly, we also insist that
one cannot isolate stakeholder involvement from the wider political and political-economic
context in which they are held. Therefore, we would like to highlight the principles for good
stakeholder engagement and propose to extend the evaluation criteria to address the above-
mentioned limitations. Given that the purposes of evaluation itself may legitimately be
policy-oriented as much as scholarly, this must mean that such evaluation can never be final,
or singular. It is after all, ultimately standing in for, or helping better to structure, domains of
democratic politics.
As noted above, representativeness in terms of having a representative from each part
of population is not necessarily equally important in all cases. Instead, we propose to shift
focus to inclusiveness of voices, opinions and groups that are usually excluded. We also
stress the need for inclusive deliberation when framing issues and questions, which usually
occurs at an exclusionary upstream phase.
The timing of stakeholder involvement seems to be a major focus of early
involvement. We suggest that ‘an early involvement’ should be focused more on the
continuity and interactivity in relations involved. As ideal continuity of involvement might
not always be achievable, due to the limitations in resources, involvement could be organized
in several stages and give some possibilities for prior input. But this specific problem, it
25
should be remembered, only arises because of the democratic deficits which exist as the
context of any deliberate engagement process. Given the intensifying political-economic
anxieties about global competitiveness and about subjecting more and more dimensions of
social life to market relations only, these democratic deficit starting-points for any
engagement process are unlikely to be alleviated in the near future. However, they should at
least be acknowledged and perhaps for any given domain, critically analysed, as the starting
point for both engagement design, and also for evaluation.
Another issue related to the temporal aspect of involvement is flexibility. The
involvement process should be open to accommodation of new issues, or new needs for
research, which, might arise from hitherto unrecognised stakeholders. Again, there are key
questions here concerning the democratic and political-economic context for any specific
public or other stakeholder engagement process.
The criterion of influence focuses on a genuine impact of output on policy.
Stakeholder involvement is often neither part of the policy-making, nor is it in the power of
the proponents of the process to influence that. Therefore, when evaluating influence of
stakeholder involvement process, we should pay more attention to the framing of issues and
possibilities stakeholder had to influence the framing and choice of issues. It is important that
stakeholders are enabled to question the underlying assumptions of the stakeholder
involvement process’s proponents. Framing is mentioned in Rowe and Frewer’s (2000)
framework under the criterion of early involvement, but it does not come across at all
strongly enough. In our view, reflecting a long-standing current of STS and related research,
this issue is of central importance and, therefore, should be addressed together with
assessment of influence. Reflection on who frames the given issues, and whether alternative
framings were considered (and if rejected, why?) should be also included in the evaluation of
independence. This was seen to be fundamental for the two case studies.
26
Existing criteria on transparency have too much focus on how the process is
conducted; less on why and in what context. One should be open about the purposes, aims of
the process, and any confusions or ambiguities in these, and be very clear about who will
benefit from that particular stakeholder involvement activity. This is especially relevant when
stakeholder engagement is a part of a predefined research project even more reason to be
clear and honest about the purposes.
Yet another aspect, which we chose to highlight as a possible criterion on its own is
accountability and learning. Too many involvement activities focus on educating
stakeholders about various issues of the project, but the essence of stakeholder involvement is
mutual learning for all the participants, including organizers and sponsors. Any concerns or
issues that originate during an engagement activity should be recorded and responded to, not
ignored or refuted. If this generates contestation and dispute, this can be taken in a
constructive and mutual learning direction, rather than the typical presumption that
established views are prima facie legitimate, and dissenting views therefore unworthy of
respect.
Conclusion
The general increase of broader public and other more specific stakeholder engagement in
what have previously been closed processes of expert deliberation, has, at least partially,
opened up those issues (Stirling 2008). While it is difficult to argue that this is not a positive
development that contributes to informed democratic policymaking, one needs to be careful
to not exaggerate how well this is going. If no attention is paid to the quality of public
participation, in particular, how the democratic values are respected and ensured in any
involvement process, stakeholder involvement might be reduced to managerialism and
become just another bureaucratic exercise. Recognizing and acting upon - the need to take
27
hitherto excluded public voices into account is a positive development. However, letting the
public speak and question - for themselves as far as this is possible, is a continuous,
inherently relational, and emergent process.
To conclude, there is a need for a more critical and reflective contextual evaluation of
stakeholder engagement. This requires not only an evaluation of the criteria themselves, but
also consideration of how to ensure that they are addressed in engagement processes.
Despite us, as organisers, being aware of criteria for assessing the quality of
stakeholder engagement, and reflecting upon these before the two events, the resulting
engagement activities had a hard time meeting those criteria. This was largely because the
sponsors and contractors showed little appreciation of why these criteria should be followed.
Perhaps the quality of stakeholder engagement would be improved if both sponsors and
organisers of research projects that were planning to, or already engaging, with stakeholders
knew that they would undergo a formal independent evaluation of how the democratic
criteria were followed.
Notes
1. http://cerad.nmbu.no
2. PREPARE (Innovative integrated tools and platforms for radiological emergency
preparedness and post-accident response in Europe). The latter project had a research activity
dedicated to the use of stakeholder panels in 10 European countries to contribute to the
development of strategies, guidance and tools for the management of contaminated products
after nuclear accidents (PREPARE, 2015)
3. Nanoremediation involves the use of nanoparticles to degrade a wide range of
environmental contaminants on site (meaning leaving the remediated soil and groundwater in
place as opposed to excavating contaminated soil/groundwater and treating it off-site)
28
4. Participants were divided into four sectors: County Governor office/Municipalities,
Fishery/Aquaculture, Agriculture, Outdoor Life/Recreation
5. Only in the autumn of 2018 did participants of the emergency preparedness
seminars receive a summary of the published paper in Norwegian and a link to where they
could download the article if interested.
29
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This article reflects on the contribution that stakeholder involvement could give to circular bioeconomy transformation (CBE). By comparing argument for stake-holder involvement in literature as well as on our own experiences in six stakeholder involvement workshops, we argue that it is probably unrealistic to fully achieve both normative and co-design goals in a single workshop. Furthermore, stakeholder involvement can help to acquire insight into dependencies in the market and offer an opportunity to connect people to deal with them. Therefore we propose for future stakeholder involvement initiatives for CBE to focus on (1) identify relationships of dependency which make it hard for players in the market to change, (2) develop strategies to change while mitigating the detrimental effects on already existing relationships and (3) gradually breaking down relationships and building new ones that support CBE. Keywords Bioeconomy · Circular economy · Stakeholder involvement · Transformation · Market · Dependencies Stakeholder involvement for the transformation of the current economy to a circular bioeconomy (CBE) is commonly said to serve goals such as inclusive democracy and co-creation. In this article we use our own experiences in six stakeholder involvement workshops, to bring forward a new purpose: to acquire insight into shifting dependencies in the market during sustainability transitions and engage participants in a reflection about appropriate ways to deal with possible negative effects of these shifts. Therefore we propose for future stakeholder involvement initiatives for a CBE to focus on (1) identification of current relationships of dependency which
... The most important normative argument is perhaps that stakeholder involvement is to enhance the democratic legitimacy of research and innovation. As science and technology are recognised to be world-shaping forces, it is considered important that not only experts decide about it, but also other stakeholders, including end-users and (broader groups of) citizens (Attar & Genus, 2014;Entwistle et al., 1998;Tomkiv et al., 2017). This is perhaps also the most important argument to involve stakeholders in the transition towards a CBE. ...
... This adds an extra value and purpose to stakeholder involvement in the context of the transition towards a CBE. While stakeholder involvement is usually proposed as a way to enhance democratic legitimacy of innovation, as well as to realise co-creation of innovative products and procedures which is thought to enhance uptake (Attar & Genus, 2014;Tomkiv et al., 2017), we propose that stakeholder involvement also offers a unique occasion to explore market dependencies and deal with them responsibly, without putting stakeholders too much at risk. ...
... The most important normative argument is perhaps that stakeholder involvement is to enhance the democratic legitimacy of research and innovation. As science and technology are recognised to be world-shaping forces, it is considered important that not only experts decide about it, but also other stakeholders, including end-users and (broader groups of) citizens (Attar & Genus, 2014;Entwistle et al., 1998;Tomkiv et al., 2017). This is perhaps also the most important argument to involve stakeholders in the transition towards a CBE. ...
... This adds an extra value and purpose to stakeholder involvement in the context of the transition towards a CBE. While stakeholder involvement is usually proposed as a way to enhance democratic legitimacy of innovation, as well as to realise co-creation of innovative products and procedures which is thought to enhance uptake (Attar & Genus, 2014;Tomkiv et al., 2017), we propose that stakeholder involvement also offers a unique occasion to explore market dependencies and deal with them responsibly, without putting stakeholders too much at risk. ...
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Full-text available
This article reflects on the contribution that stakeholder involvement could give to circular bioeconomy transformation (CBE). By comparing argument for stakeholder involvement in literature as well as on our own experiences in six stakeholder involvement workshops, we argue that it is probably unrealistic to fully achieve both normative and co-design goals in a single workshop. Furthermore, stakeholder involvement can help to acquire insight into dependencies in the market and offer an opportunity to connect people to deal with them. Therefore we propose for future stakeholder involvement initiatives for CBE to focus on (1) identify relationships of dependency which make it hard for players in the market to change, (2) develop strategies to change while mitigating the detrimental effects on already existing relationships and (3) gradually breaking down relationships and building new ones that support CBE.
... In several cases, higher government intervention is very important to give important meaning to executive institutions and avoid other dominant stakeholders with potential to slow down a project (Pandey & Gupta, 2016). Every process of stakeholder involvement must be evaluated through simple assessment methodology and in a wider context stakeholders' involvement activities must be assessed (Tomkiv et al., 2017). ...
... Estes sistemas de governação pública têm vindo a ser alterados de um modelo Profissional Weberiano associado ao Estado-Providência, não só para uma Nova Gestão Pública (desde os anos 80 do século XX) filiada à necessidade de uma maior flexibilidade de gestão (Hood, 1991;Pollitt, 1990), introduzida pela abertura da prossecução pública a agentes do sector privado (Osborne & Gabler, 1992;Frederickson, Smith, Larimer & Licari, 2018), resultado de pressões económicas, financeiras, políticas e ideológicas (Rodrigues & Araújo, 2006), mas também para uma Governança Pública (desde os anos 90 do século XX) adotada pelo crescente reconhecimento do direito dos cidadãos na participação e na construção de políticas públicas (Rowe & Frewer, 2000;Tomkiv, Liland, Oughton, & Wynne, 2017) para solucionar problemas de uma forma mais colaborativa, incorporando diferentes perspetivas no processo de decisão (MacGregor, 2003). ...
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... Estes sistemas de governação pública têm vindo a ser alterados de um modelo Profissional Weberiano associado ao Estado-Providência, não só para uma Nova Gestão Pública (desde os anos 80 do século XX) filiada à necessidade de uma maior flexibilidade de gestão (Hood, 1991;Pollitt, 1990), introduzida pela abertura da prossecução pública a agentes do sector privado (Osborne & Gabler, 1992;Frederickson, Smith, Larimer & Licari, 2018), resultado de pressões económicas, financeiras, políticas e ideológicas (Rodrigues & Araújo, 2006), mas também para uma Governança Pública (desde os anos 90 do século XX) adotada pelo crescente reconhecimento do direito dos cidadãos na participação e na construção de políticas públicas (Rowe & Frewer, 2000;Tomkiv, Liland, Oughton, & Wynne, 2017) para solucionar problemas de uma forma mais colaborativa, incorporando diferentes perspetivas no processo de decisão (MacGregor, 2003). ...
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Public prosecution competes with management models innovation that incorporates a demand from society. Public Governance had an opportunity to explore cooperative network processes. The study of trust among stakeholders and the commitment between individuals should allow for an importance in interorganizational collaborative linkages. Conceptual analysis seems to indicate a possible relationship between these elements in the design of networks for a public service provision. However, the relations of structuring influence to the stability of coparticipated networks are little studied. KEYWORDS: Public governance, networks, interorganizational trust, interorganizational commitment
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