Engaging and being responsive to intended users of project results — your end users — is a core principle of collaborative science. You need to create meaningful opportunities for input and collaboration and then adapt your project and products to better meet the evolving needs of your end users.
Tip: Thoughtfully track and respond to input from end users
During and after consultations with end users, be sure to carefully document the ideas that were shared and to consider the implications for your project. Afterwards, invite your team to review ideas from end users that could have implications for project decisions, and then document the team's response.
Collaborative science projects often need to adapt plans to better meet the evolving needs of their end users and the management context. Course corrections may have unintended consequences, however. Before you change a process, check in with team members and stakeholders who will be affected, to make sure the change will have the desired effect. Once everyone agrees to a course correction, document the change and the reason for the change and share that with your team and funders.
Before your next meeting, share a summary of key ideas you heard and the team's response. This can serve as a memory-refreshing summary of the prior meeting and can help demonstrate the value of participants' contributions to the overall project. The summary should acknowledge ideas that the team heard but is not ultimately acting upon, and why. The collaborative science process is about being open and responsive to many streams of input. However, projects are resource and time bound, and the team must prioritize time and resource capacity for input that will ultimately maximize desired outcomes.
Tool: Tracking and Responding to User Input
The process of recording user feedback enhances transparency and can help demonstrate that the input is valued — with users as well as within project teams. This tool includes a series of templates developed by various project teams to support their needs related to tracking user input, and organizing their response. You may find one of these templates to be just what you need or be inspired to craft your own, drawing on one or more elements you see in these examples.
Access the templates: Google Sheets
Tip: Remember why you are engaging end users
Return to the concepts and planning tools from the project planning phase: the subsections "Getting to Know the Needs of End Users" and "Deciding Who Needs to Be Involved and How." Remind yourself (and others) why individuals are motivated to participate in your project and why their contribution is valuable to the project. Be sure to refer to your project timeline and overview documents to remind yourself when feedback is needed and what research decision that input will influence.
You may find that project advisors and end users offer many different ideas for your project, some of which may not be within your scope and budget. Discuss the types of project adaptations and adjustments that are acceptable to your funders after you receive the grant and before you begin your project.
Explain to your team and stakeholders the types of project changes that are possible and the type of feedback that would be most valuable to the project. For example, early in a project you could adjust your sampling locations in response to end user input, but you cannot change the overall purpose of the sampling. Similarly, you could change your stakeholder engagement strategies to be more appropriate to the people you are working with or add additional participants if they would help you better address your primary management need.
This information will help you craft meeting invitations and agendas that ensure the interaction is meaningful and productive for everyone involved.
Tip: Make sure meetings are well run and purposeful
Well-run, purposeful meetings get a lot done and generate enthusiasm and engagement for your project. Poorly run meetings do just the opposite. The difference in meeting outcomes is often tied to the level of pre-meeting planning and adequate preparation by participants. Busy end users may not clearly remember a discussion from a prior meeting.
Consider providing material to review in advance, with specific prompts to respond to before or during the meeting. Short read-ahead or work-ahead exercises can help ensure everyone has the background material at their fingertips and understands the current questions so they can actively contribute to a meeting.
Review these tips for effective meetings, which were developed for collaborative science projects.
Project example: Orchestrating large-scale workshops
Large, interactive workshops requires a lot of planning, time, and other resources. Learn about how the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve orchestrated such a workshop with style. See this case study or visit the project page.