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Simulating a stakeholder meeting: bringing our human practices to the next level

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

What are the main arguments in favour and against Cattlelyst, a biofilter for methane and ammonia specific for cattle stables? To answer this question the WUR iGEM 2021 took the opportunity of giving a guest lecture and guiding a class of master’s students in Plant Biotechnology in a simulation of a stakeholder meeting. During this event, we aimed to deepen our knowledge about the viewpoints of people who are directly or indirectly impacted by Cattlelyst. Here we’ll tell you about our experience and share with you four lessons that we’ve learned from it.

We have been invited by Dr Zoë Robaey as guests in the course “Dilemmas in Food Safety and Security” at WUR, coordinated by Jet Vervoort. This course touches upon themes such as Responsible Research and Innovation, therefore iGEM projects are suitable case studies. Half of the team prepared a presentation to introduce the structure and values of the iGEM competition and describe our project, Cattlelyst. We wanted the audience to understand the big picture around Cattlelyst. For this reason, we explained both a) the environmental problems caused by the emissions of methane and ammonia as well as b) the societal consequences of the increased measures put in place to reduce their concentrations. Only after this, we described our idea, its design and safety principles.

To involve the class in our responsible innovation development process, we organized an exercise to simulate a stakeholder meeting inspired by a teaching tool inviting students to role play different stakeholders. The purpose of the simulation was to find conflicts and synergies between different stakeholders while defending their interest. The idea came from trying to map out the dilemmas concerning our project.

In this exercise, the class of students was divided into five groups, each one corresponding to a relevant stakeholder for our project. For each stakeholder type, we prepared a sheet describing the interest of the stakeholder group. For instance, Farmers and Politicians are examples of two stakeholder types that were included in the simulation. Farmers are stakeholders of Cattlelyst because they are the group that might have to invest to install the biofiltration system and comply with the regulations. Politicians are relevant stakeholders too because they want to reduce the emission of the two polluting gasses to meet the national and European goals of 2030. The background information we provided during the presentation helped in framing the complexity of the environmental and socio-political situation. The groups of students had to impersonate the perspective of their assigned stakeholders and decide whether Cattlelyst is a solution in line with their interests or not. Additionally, the groups were asked to think about synergies and contrasts with the other stakeholder types. For instance, they had to find answers to questions like: does the interest of the farmers align with the one of the politicians with regards to the acceptance of Cattlelyst? In the end, a representative of each stakeholder presented the group’s stance on Cattlelyst. This was followed by a plenary discussion with arguments on why certain stakeholder interactions might be favoured and where instead conflicts could arise.

It was a very positive experience for us and the students as well. Our first longer presentation on iGEM and on our project was successful. The students had “on point” questions on our design, which made us proud of showing how hard we’ve been working on it! In addition, we were surprised by how well the activity worked out in the online environment. All the students were engaged and enthusiastically participating. They impersonated their role very well, trying to put themselves in the shoes of the stakeholder type. We are very thankful to Jet for giving us this opportunity and to the class for welcoming us and showing interest. We definitely advise any other iGEM team to do a simulation of a stakeholder meeting. We'll use our experience to help you with that by sharing a guide with tips we’ve learned from the simulation we made! But first, here are four reasons why we found this experience valuable:

  1. In human practices we are encouraged to reach out to stakeholders and people often do interviews. Doing a stakeholder simulation is the perfect way to take the outcome of the interviews to the next level.

  2. Would you like to organise a meeting with real stakeholders? A simulation helps to prepare for this “next next level” in your human practices. You could see the stakeholder simulation as an intermediate step between interviewing single stakeholders and having a meeting with representatives of stakeholder groups.

  3. To arrange a simulation it is important to give the participants enough information to clearly understand their role, therefore such an activity comes hand in hand with the opportunity of practicing your presentation skills. We understood the importance of adapting our story to the audience and we gained confidence in answering questions related to Cattlelyst.

  4. By simulating a stakeholder meeting we were able to assess different points of view, allowing us to anticipate particular opinions from the real stakeholders we meet with in the future.

So, what do we do with the outcome of the simulation? We still have to elaborate on it. For its evaluation, we will investigate which opinions emerged from the stakeholder simulation matched the ones that we heard from the interviews. Additionally, we will look for answers to questions such as “what arguments in favour and against Cattlelyst were the most recurring?” and “Do we see on which aspects the stakeholders might have the most contrasting opinions?”. With this information, we will direct our research and prepare for the real stakeholder meeting.

Therefore, stay tuned! You will be able to read more about this in the future when we will post all our findings and the development of Cattlelyst’s human practices in our iGEM page (i.e. wiki). We are curious to know your opinion: have you ever heard of stakeholder simulations before or was the concept new to you? Let us know, send a message or an email to Are you a member of an iGEM team and you would like to do a simulation yourself? Get in touch, we are working on a guide that might help you starting out!

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