For co-existence, (bio)diversity and justice in conservation

Stakeholder mapping as a transdisciplinary exercise: lessons learned from the CONVIVA Brazilian Team

By Laila Sandroni, Universidade São Paulo (Brazil)

Transdisciplinarity is a challenging and rewarding endeavor that needs time and space to develop. Stakeholder mapping revealed itself to be a really interesting tool to generate a common perspective in the diverse Brazilian team.

It was a long and winding road: what started up as an exercise to be fulfilled in a couple of hours in the first planning meeting of the project, ended up being the substance of debate lasting many hours during the course of the first year of work by the Brazilian side of CONVIVA. In the process, the team composed of natural scientists, social scientists and conservation practitioners recognized their similarities and differences, and built a strong common view on the context for jaguar conservation in the Atlantic Forest.

Mapping stakeholders – understood as all social groups and institutions who have a stake in a given issue or phenomenon – is considered an important tool for research and decision-making in environmental governance. But it is normally seen as a task to be fulfilled before a project actually starts as a way of recognizing possible institutions or groups to address during its implementation. The proposal seemed simple: first, list via brainstorming groups or institutions that have a stake in human-jaguar interactions and conservation in the Atlantic Forest (AF). Then position them in an xy graph, according to their support or resistance to our cause (x axis) and their level of influence on it (y axis).

Stakeholder mapping template

Nevertheless, when we started to follow the actors related to jaguar conservation in the AF, some really interesting matters of debate started to appear, such as how, where and whom to include on the map. The mapping was then incorporated in the ongoing planning process to help build the necessary bridges between different sets of knowledge present in the team.

Three matters of debate were central to this development:

SCALE. First, we discussed in detail the implications of approaching the problem at different scales, since our case study is composed of two different study sites. After theoretical and empirical discussions on the geographical scope of transdisciplinary projects, we realized that, in our case, it was important to keep the broader scope and focus on the whole Atlantic Forest, as a guide for possibilities for conviviality between humans and jaguars in the entire AF biome.

ACTORS. Secondly, we spent a fair amount of time discussing how to include non-organized social groups in the map. This issue was particularly important since the majority of the team, trained in ecology and conservation biology, pointed out problems related to the subjectivity implied in the choice of stakeholders that are not defined as an institution or organization. The low number of jaguars in the AF and the fact that the few remaining tend to stay inside the forest made the issue even more complicated, since actual encounter with people is rare and human-jaguar relations appear more frequently only in people’s imaginaries. Nevertheless, to have a complete overview of stakeholders, we would have to include non-organized social groups. A lot of ambiguity arose upon the classification of different actors, especially for those who have no clear policies or agendas. We solved this problem by formulating shared explicit criteria of definition for each social group included, ending up with a list of more than 50 stakeholders.

DEFINING QUESTION. Last but not least, we struggled to position the stakeholders on the map. We realized that each group could have a different position on the map depending on what we understood by jaguar conservation. We took once again two steps back and seized the opportunity for transdisciplinary training through two workshops on paradigms for global conservation discourses. The workshops generated a shared background on different forms of conservation efforts, helping to develop context for the convivial conservation proposition. We ended up deciding that we should build two different maps based on the two most widespread conservation paradigms in Brazil: protectionist, restrictive conservation, and neoliberal conservation related to market-based conservation instruments.

The exercise proved useful in developing a common understanding to which the different perspectives from practitioners, social scientists and natural scientists could relate. This equally helped us create an environment for good decision-making on research trajectories moving forward. From the maps, we identified people to interview in the next steps of CONVIVA, and created an atmosphere of understanding inside the group. The main challenges of the process were related to the time spent in terms of results obtained. We learned that patience and resilience is necessary when engaging in transdisciplinarity. Such projects have to count on a team of committed people that are willing to recognize that the process itself is beneficial, and that the difficulties overcome make us all more complete scientists.