In September 2019, researchers from the FACCE-JPI initiatives SURPLUS and SusCrop, who work with sustainable and resilient agriculture in various forms, were invited to join stakeholders representing different types of actors in the field for a FACCE SURPLUS valorisation workshop in Ghent.

The workshop aimed to improve their understanding of how different stakeholders’ worlds function, how to interact and collaborate with them, and how to put scientific knowledge in a form that can be used by practitioners.

The format of the workshop was thus chosen to enhance the opportunities of open dialogue. It was also designed in order to be of use to scientists regardless of their specific research field and stage of their project. Prior to the meeting, the participants received information on the seven stakeholders attending and registered according to their interests to the working group of their choice. There were two separate sessions, and after each of them the stakeholders not only presented to the whole audience their expertise but they also summarised the discussions that had taken place in their group.

Various perspectives on how to respond to societal and political issues and on how scientific research can contribute to building effective responses in the research areas of the projects attending to the workshop arose in the following debates. Ultimately, the core question was the way in which scientists translate key scientific results into possible policy and practice options that stakeholders can use. 

Identify and include the right stakeholders

The participants covered many aspects but found no simple answer to the big question of how best to secure the link between research and society. However, they made several points. They agreed that it is decisive to identify and include the right stakeholders in the preparation of a research project for its future valorisation. Furthermore, a critical mass of stakeholders involved is crucial. They also argued that building long-term relationships with them and creating networks across projects and research calls could be a way to secure continuous engagement and have the right contact when needed.

Moreover, they discussed the practical aspect of the relation between stakeholders and scientists. The linguistic register and the terminology employed are to be adapted to the audience for a better comprehension of the message. The fact that not all stakeholders speak English introduces a level of complexity when dealing with them: regional institutions may act as a bridge to overcome it.

Another important aspect is for researchers to put themselves in the place of the stakeholder, especially when they are farmers whose life conditions may be dissimilar, with extreme busy periods at some specific times in the year and different daily schedules. Helping them to see concrete impact of new farming practices, for instance with “demonstration farms”, may contribute to overcome their reluctancy to implement them.  

At the general debate following the workshop, the participants declared that they appreciated the suggested format, which allowed them to directly question and converse with one particular stakeholder; and that the constitution of smaller groups facilitated that everybody joined in the discussion. The overall impression was that this kind of workshop is more valuable to them than a typical conference.

Nicolas Tinois, coordinator of FACCE SURPLUS acknowledged that it is difficult to get scientists to attend to valorisation meetings and that the team hosting the workshop needs to understand if there is a way to make these exchanges more interesting for them. He added that he considered the meeting a success and that the option of registering to discuss with specific stakeholders was widely appreciated by the participants. According to Tinois, the majority of them declared afterwards that they were happy to have been part of it.