Now that you have a concise and compelling problem statement that summarizes what your project hopes to achieve, and a sense for potential users, you can begin to ask: Who should be involved in the project and how might they contribute?
Taking time to map out the interests and contributions of potential partners will help you design a collaborative process that makes sense for your project. If you are still working on your problem statement, refer to Understand the Management Need for tips and resources.
Effective collaboration requires a structure for the interaction and communication among those involved in the project. It needs clarity about roles, responsibilities, and expectations within that organizational structure. The scale, scope, and context of a project help to define its structure.
This section of the guide will provide tips and examples that will help you think through key questions, such as:
- Who needs to be involved and why?
- How will the project team connect to intended users, partners, and others? What type of collaborative process makes sense for your project and context, and what is involved in executing that plan?
- What roles are critical to accomplishing the technical work and collaborative approach, and who should fill them?
- How might you describe your project ’s organizational structure in your proposal and in communicating with those you hope to involve?
Tip: Focus on a core set of primary intended users
A collaborative science project must engage intended users, because they understand and can explain the management need. They can review and offer feedback on the content and form of project outputs that would be most useful to making their management decisions. However, in most cases you cannot involve all potential users in a particular project.
It can be helpful to distinguish between primary and other users when deciding on the right role for users in a project (see examples of potential participant roles in the table below).
A project's set of primary users may be able to represent and convey the perspectives of a broader set of other users. In other cases, the project's other users represent a different type of user, and the team may need to examine the needs of those other user groups in some way, even if they will not be active participants in a project.
For example, a project could foster a close collaboration between researchers and environmental education specialists to develop a new set of educational materials for use by K-12 classroom teachers. The education specialists are the primary users because they will be leading professional development workshops for teachers. But K-12 classroom teachers are important secondary users, whose interests and needs are important.
Tip: Identify who else could help meet your objectives
In addition to fostering a meaningful collaboration with a core set of intended users, many collaborative science projects also involve additional participants who offer unique perspectives or expertise, or who might provide helpful resources for a follow-up project
The amount and type of engagement with intended users and other participants will depend on the project's context and purpose. More participation is not necessarily better: it must help meet the project's objective. Some projects, such as those that aim to transfer knowledge or to advance coordination around an issue, will likely have a larger set of potential participants to consider.
Tool: Determining Participant Roles
The Determining Participant Roles (Google Doc) tool includes an editable template that will help your team characterize the interests of project users and other potential participants, so that you can deepen your relationships and develop appropriate roles in the project.
En Español: Determinando los Posiciones de Participantes
Tip: Be explicit about participant contributions and roles
Identifying the potential contributions of participants, and distinguishing between intended users and other types of partners and contributors, will enable you to identify appropriate roles for participants. For example, it will be critical to focus on the perspective of users when you are refining products intended to support their work.
Examples of potential participant roles and their contributions are outlined below.
A user is defined as a person or group in a position to apply the information or tools being produced, evaluated, or transferred through a project in a way that is of direct consequence to the ecological, social, cultural or economic integrity of the natural resource. Examples of intended users include, but are not limited to, reserve staff, and public, private or nongovernmental decision/policy makers, including Indigenous governments, landowners, regulators, resource managers, land use planners, leaders of impacted communities, and educators at all levels.
- Primary intended users are those users most instrumental in developing the project, who plan to be most engaged, and who stand to benefit the most from the products. Primary intended users are usually involved in proposal development, often serve on an advisory council or steering committee to the project, and sometimes serve on the project team.
- Other intended users can also benefit from the project and may use its products even if they are not necessarily involved in project planning. It can be helpful to document how these users could apply project products and benefit from the project — they may have a limited advisory role in a project, receive some project communications, or benefit from the project through unanticipated ripple effects down the road.
Stakeholders are people who will be affected in some way by the project ’s activities or eventual application of project products. In some cases, stakeholders could become unexpected champions or detractors of the project, and it could be helpful to keep them informed of project activities, and to document and respond to their concerns. Examples of stakeholders include homeowners or other landowners who could benefit from better-informed management resulting from the project, or recreationists who might be affected by field equipment.
Information providers bring a unique perspective or expertise and can help the team better understand the ecological, social, cultural, or policy context of the project. For example, they may have deep local or cultural knowledge that can prompt new questions and ideas that enhance the impact of the project. Examples of information providers include local Indigenous or minority communities, guides, or naturalists.
Liaisons can serve as important connectors to communities or groups that are difficult for project teams to engage directly. For example, some projects identify liaisons who can foster communication between the project and Indigenous communities or homeowner associations that might benefit from the project or offer key insights but lack the ability or interest to participate directly in the project. Liaisons can include elected or appointed community leaders, or members of boundary organizations such as cooperative extension.
Resource people are not formally on the project team but have resources to contribute, such as a model, lab, tool, or boat; data; or land access. This group includes scientists and others who find the project compelling. Acknowledging these leveraged contributions in proposals and reports is important.
Mentors can offer technical, social and cultural guidance and advice to project teams, particularly for projects that are adapting a technique, or science, generated in one system to another location.
Volunteers can support a range of project activities, such as field sampling, restoration project implementation and maintenance, or outreach and education. Volunteers might include youth, tribal or other Indigenous people, teachers, fishers, or others interested in citizen science. Their contributions should be recognized and celebrated.
Project example: Engaging student volunteers in collaborative projects
In some cases, younger stakeholders can provide information about how residents perceive, value, and understand the environment. The process can also help youth to become environmental stewards. This case study (Google Doc) tells why and how two teams decided to engage young student volunteers in their projects.