What Dungeons & Dragons has to do with engaging stakeholders
When visiting UK postdoc Dr Christopher Lyon brought his extensive social resilience expertise to ISF’s decade long global phosphorus vulnerability research program in May, there was only one way forward: quantum social science and Dungeons & Dragons.
Dr. Christopher Lyon, Dr. Dana Cordell and Associate Professor Brent Jacobs.
As previous articles in ISF’s newsletter have detailed, phosphorus scarcity is one of the newest and greatest global environmental challenges, because without phosphorus, we can’t produce food.
Yet researchers have only just begun to address this complex problem, at this point mainly through technical and agronomic solutions like recovering phosphorus from wastewater, and increasing phosphorus efficiency in agriculture.
But transforming any wicked sustainability challenge today also requires social and transdisciplinary sciences.
As part of the three-year RePhoKUs collaborative project, ISF has been hosting a seven week visit by Dr Christopher Lyon, a post-doctoral fellow from the University of Leeds, working with ISF’s Dr Dana Cordell and Associate Professor Brent Jacobs.
The project aims to transform the way stakeholders think about, manage, and use phosphorus to improve the resilience of the UK food system.
Drawing on the team’s expertise in catchment science, adaptive capacity, ecological economics and food system vulnerability, the transdisciplinary project is appropriately funded by a suite of the UK Government’s Research Councils, as part of the UK’s Global Food Security program: the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Scottish Government.
“In order to co-create lasting transitions towards sustainable phosphorus and food systems for the UK together with stakeholders, we need to understand how aligned those stakeholders’ interests are, and what it means for change,” said Dr Lyon.
“This means asking who has the power to influence change, in what way, and assessing their ‘readiness’ to change” added Dr Cordell.
Together, they have developed a comprehensive strategy for harnessing the unique characteristics and dynamics of each potential stakeholder as an actor or agent in the system of phosphorus and food security.
Inspired by ideas from quantum and feminist social science, agential realism, Dungeons and Dragons, complex systems and adaptation research, and different concepts of scale and power, they produced a systematic means of assessing the role, influence, and potential influence of stakeholders across both the value chain and ecological phosphorus cycles.
They also identified opportunities for including a broad array of indirect actors that might be key ‘leveragers’ for phosphorus sustainability.
For example, identifying stakeholders that unknowingly hold ‘latent’ or potential power to drive future change, such as large consumers of clean energy from biogas, which could ultimately stimulate commercial recovery of the phosphorus by-product from biogas digestion as a renewable fertiliser.
Dr Lyon said on his last day that “I’m leaving a very productive and highly enjoyable first visit to ISF. I’m looking forward to presenting our preliminary findings on the stakeholder analysis later this year, at the in August 2018”.