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Who do we mean by 'the public'?

The people we wish to involve are often referred to by one of the following terms, which are often used interchangeably, but they do not mean the same thing.

  • Public: the community or people in general
  • Stakeholders: those who have an interest in a particular decision, either as individuals or representatives of a group. This includes people who influence a decision, or can influence it, as well as those affected by it.
  • Community: ‘all the people living in one district’; ‘a group of people with shared origins or interests’

These terms relate to each other as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 - Relationships between the public, stakeholders and communities

When starting to consider who should be involved in the decision-making process, start with the big picture. It is easy – and wrong – to focus solely on the ‘locals’. Other, vital, stakeholders might be missed and, while it is not practical to involve the entire public, it is still important to think about those people from minority groups, or who are traditionally under-represented, but who may still have an interest. It is also very important to consider people who are not currently users of forest resources and services, but who might form part of a target group or become forest users in the future.

Different categories of community (i.e. ‘of place’ and ‘of interest’) often overlap (Box 1). People who share a community of place might still belong to different – and sometimes conflicting – communities of interest. For example, within a particular village (i.e. a community of place) the people with an interest in a local forest might include those who enjoy mountain-biking and those with an interest in horse-riding. These two different communities of interest may have different expectations about forest design or woodland management.

Box 1 - Overlapping 'communities of place' and 'communities of interest'

The concept of the ‘forest or woodland catchment’ can help to unravel some of these complicated connections. Not only can ‘communities of place’ and ‘communities of interest’ overlap, a ‘community of interest’ is likely to include users and interest groups who travel from beyond the immediate area. The ‘public’ and the ‘community’ will include a complex social and interest-based mix of people of different ages, gender, ability and religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. All abilities, needs and perspectives should be taken into consideration, as far as possible (Box 2).

Box 2 - Understanding local demographics and woodland catchments

Identifying stakeholders
Individual foresters, rangers or office staff will often have a good idea of who has an interest in woodlands and forestry. Getting together in a group and sharing that knowledge is an important part of identifying the full range of stakeholders. Brainstorming with other agencies/organisations involved in similar activities, or those working in similar locations, is also a good way of identifying stakeholders. Using a mind-map (Figure 2) can help people to think of stakeholders beyond the usual local community and the more obvious user groups.

Figure 2 - An example of a stakeholder mind-map

Building a mind-map proceeds by first identifying the major groups of users near to the centre of the diagram and then detailing these groups towards the outside of the picture. This helps to identify which segments of the public should be included, and appropriate ways of engaging each group of stakeholders. For example:

  • Are there particular groups or affected parties that are particularly significant to achieving specific aims or objectives?
  • Are there particular groups of people who are likely to find themselves in conflict with one another or present particular challenges to successfully achieving forestry and woodland management objectives?
  • Is it possible to identify sub-groups that might be particularly important to connect with for ensuring that engagement is truly representative (e.g. disabled hikers, first-time day visitors, or immediate neighbours from a minority group)?

But there may still be significant gaps. It is important to take time to evaluate initial stakeholder lists, compare them against information about an area, and decide if more needs to be done to identify less well-known and less obvious stakeholders. Additional methods of identifying stakeholders include:

Other ways of identifying stakeholders include:

  • Secondary data (e.g. historical records, correspondence files, newspaper articles, census information).
  • Government statistics and data, such as census information, which provide information about a local area and its demographic characteristics that should be taken into account.
  • Self-selection (i.e. promoting the planning process to the public and encouraging those with an interest to make themselves known). This is likely to lead to narrow representation, with the most regular visitors to a forest, or the people most active in the community, most likely to turn up unless steps have been taken to reach the broadest range of people in the most appropriate manner.
  • Snowballing (i.e. one stakeholder helps to identify another stakeholder). This is an effective way of establishing contacts with communities of interest and minority groups once an initial contact has been made.
  • Using lists of organisations, charities and networks to find specific groups, organisations and agencies who represent particular sections of the community of place or communities of interest.
  • Asking forums and consultative groups used by local government and other organisations (e.g. the police, local authorities, town councils, the fire brigade, job centres).

Considering and finding stakeholders appropriate to the engagement process is an important way of ensuring that decision-making processes and the facilities and services provided by woodland managers are suited to the widest group of users.