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OASIIS: Promoting sustainable development

Citizen participation in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves

Clarissa Busch
Clarissa Busch
April 20, 2022

Here at Insights, we were intrigued when Colin Campbell, the founder of Assist Social Capital and creator of the OASIIS platform (Opening Access to Sustainable Independent Income Streams), which helps promote sustainable development in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, approached us with the plan for his new project.

The mission

Gather advice from local residents, businesses, community leaders and numerous international experts to form a set of recommendations for the leaders of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves around the world to help them effectively support local stakeholders towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. How do you accomplish such a complex feat of gathering, integrating and analyzing information (highly regionally focused, yet from around the world), all the while keeping participants engaged and up to date as well as linking strongly with international strategies?

As Colin had anticipated, the Insights method provided just the solution!

With financial support from the LADDER project, the European Association for Local Democracy (ALDA), the European Union and the Scottish government, the OASIIS-Insights team embarked on its complex mission. We began by setting up the consulting platform and inviting a few international experts from the Social Enterprise and Biosphere Reserve Network Working Group (Group A, see graph below) to both contribute their advice and provide feedback on the consulting question. Many were eager to contribute, and based on their insightful comments, we finalized the consultation question:

“How could the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (BR) designation help citizens contribute to inclusive and sustainable economic growth in their community? And how can businesses and social enterprises benefit and play a role?”

At the end of this test phase, we invited the experts to share the link to the online consultation with their wider networks to help us expand the geographical scope of the consultation.

Engaging various stakeholder groups

To mark the official launch of the project, we then sent invitations to two new groups, a total of roughly 500 participants. The first was a group of BR managers and UNESCO employees (Group B) who we suspected might be able to disseminate information about the consultation to their own networks, helping us gain further insights from a wider range of people. The second group consisted mainly of local BR stakeholders: local residents, local business leaders and social entrepreneurs (Group C). This marked the start of a lively international participatory decision process: Within the first hours, answers started coming in from all over the world.

One group we hadn’t specifically reached out to at this point were young people in Biosphere Reserves. So we were happy when, in the wake of the 2017 MAB Youth Forum, we were given the opportunity to invite the Youth Forum participants (Group D) to get involved in our consultation. They, too, seemed eager to participate – they began submitting answers as soon as we had sent the invitation and, as we had hoped, they brought a new perspective to the discussion.

Integrating Online & Offline

The finale of the project appropriately took place offline, in the beautiful Appennino Tosco Emiliano Biosphere Reserve in San Romano in Garfagnana, Italy. Here, we had the opportunity to involve local residents and international visitors (Group E) in the conversation through one of the offline-to-online channels in our stakeholder engagement toolkit: text messages sent straight to the consultation platform by the participants.

When the consultation phase ended in late October, we had collected close to 200 answers with over 480 highlights from more than 40 different nations.

The OASIIS consultation provided a great example of how separately involving diverse stakeholder groups can lead to high engagement among a wide array of participants, which yields varied and valuable answers and, ultimately, helpful insights.

The analysis yielded 13 insights, which were used to draft a catalogue of recommendations published in the Community Insights Report and which will provide a basis for citizen and business engagement in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves all over the world.

OASIIS: Promoting sustainable developmentClarissa Busch