The other day, we held the first meeting with the project’s “stakeholder competency group”. This group is made up from experts on flooding and memory along the Severn and beyond, most of them representatives of governmental and non-governmental organizations including the Gloucestershire County Council, the Environment Agency, the National Flood Forum and a regional residents’ Flood Group. The group is to provide guidance and advice on the set-up, direction and progress of the project in order to maintain its relevance for actual communities and its potential for integration into policy processes.
The term “stakeholder competency group” implies two central aspects of this group. By stakeholder, we mean that the research project is directly relevant to the people on the group, or to the organisations they represent. Because the project infringes on their areas of work, experience and expertise, it would be both unfair to them and unwise for the project to ignore their views and interests. This understanding reflects current ethics and practices of stakeholder participation (see, for instance, this literature review).
By competency, we refer to the fact that alongside our academic approach to floods, communities and resilience, there are various other equally valid and relevant approaches and forms of knowledge and expertise in this area. We do not see ourselves, as researchers, in an allegedly superior position to understand flood memories, and we do not believe that there is a need for us to spread our understanding to other people working in this area. We realise, rather, that already there is extensive competency among stakeholders, and we trust that a lot can be learned from exploring the parallels, controversies and frictions between different forms of competency and knowledge. This approach has been pioneered by the Understanding environmental knowledge controversies project at Oxford University.
It was important for us to hold the first meeting at this very early stage in the project, so that the research design was still open and flexible enough to accommodate the stakeholders’ ideas and suggestions. Among other things, we discussed the stakeholders’ (agencies’) relations to the project; the concept of “community” as it is used in their work; and possible case-study sites for the project.
We are most grateful for the stakeholders’ participation and inputs, and are looking forward to the next meeting, which is planned for early October of this year. Six-monthly intervals over the course of the project are regarded as a good rhythm to discuss its progress.