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Bridging the gap between science and stakeholders: Phase I – Common Ground

Final Report Summary - GAP1 (Bridging the gap between science and stakeholders: phase I common ground)

The European Commission recognises that the real value of science-based policies emerges when people are active and engaged. Like policy makers and scientists, fisheries stakeholders are keenly interested in achieving a sustainable future. Too often however, they perceive that the science undertaken has little or no relevance to their local area and economy, and that policy makers support research for the benefit of science and not for the benefit of society. GAP1 has actively engaged fisheries stakeholders in scientific research. The drive for developing working collaborations among scientists and fishery stakeholders is based on the belief that their knowledge and skills can be combined to enhance the understanding and management of fisheries, and that active participation and mutual learning are vehicles to achieve this.

Over the last 18 months, 15 stakeholder-science partnerships from 11 different European countries have developed the foundations for the participation of fisheries stakeholders in scientific research. They have shared their knowledge and experience, working together to develop specific plans for joint research actions. A portfolio of 12 case study research proposals has been produced and a comparative analysis carried out to identify common patterns and themes in the work. The large and diverse number of people and organisations involved in GAP1 has enabled a wide variety of research topics to be considered, including; marine spatial planning, ecology, management measures, discarding, empowering industry to assess resource sustainability, and management decision making. During the course of GAP1, considerable attention has been given to facilitating collaborative working relationships and understanding the social behaviours and conditions conducive to success. The lessons contained in a good practice guide and code of conduct for initiating participatory research, have been used in developing a strategy for future research (GAP2), starting from the very beginning with a participatory planning process.

The overarching objectives of GAP2 are shared learning and the integration of stakeholders and scientific knowledge in a meaningful and credible way that makes a difference to the scientific advice underpinning policy. Effective communication and outreach has been fundamental in establishing support and commitment to the overall GAP programme, playing a key role in ensuring that the principles of openness, quality and credibility of science were adequately addressed.

GAP1 activities and outcomes have reached a wide scientific and stakeholder audience, and also key management agencies, science administrations and members of the public across Europe. All outputs are publicly available at http://www.gap1.eu .

GAP1 has supported European aims to enhance public engagement in scientific research by priming the mechanisms that help mobilise society and by improving the knowledge base and rigour of scientific advice on fisheries. Such mechanisms include sustainable forms of collaboration and dialogue between all the different actors related to fisheries. It has revealed also that institutional constraints continue to make it difficult to integrate the philosophies of participation with the delivery of research in ways that:
(i) make a difference to the outcome of European policies, and
(ii) clearly demonstrate the impact and value of stakeholder engagement.

Enabling stakeholder participation in European research requires there to be a clear incentive for researchers and stakeholder organisations to engage, and that they have the capacity to operate effectively in the research framework. The partnerships and plans for participatory research activities described here contribute to achieving this. They are a first step towards the goal of embedding participation at the heart of the decision-making process and form an excellent basis for sustaining efforts to embed science in society in a tangible way.