Extracts as shown on warmwell front page on August 14th

Future structure of Stakeholders meetings: Stakeholders or Animal Health Forum

 

Proposal from Mary Marshall (7 March 2002):

 

I suggest that an aim should be to provide a multidisciplinary input to address an issue by including all organisations and individuals with a legitimate interest in the issue (=stakeholders).  This would help policy makers and those affected by the policies to keep each other informed of their concerns.  How this can be put into practice may be a slowly evolving process.

 

Ultimately, this could encompass something along the lines of the US Animal Health Association (USAHA; see www.usaha.org ) on an EU basis, with links to the USAHA.  The mission of USAHA is to be a forum for communication and coordination among State and Federal governments, universities, industry, and other groups on issues of animal health and disease control, animal welfare, food safety and public health.   It conducts much of its business through a committee system. The association has 32 active committees, 8 of which are species oriented and 24 of which are subject oriented.  Its membership is composed of "Officials" (Government Units), "Allied Organisations" (non-profit organisations interested in animal health science), "individuals" (those interested and/or working in animal health science) and "non-voting Junior" (students of veterinary medicine or related fields).   If members agree, the challenge may be to have some sort of authority invested in this group.

 

An intermediate goal might be to set up an independent body with an independent secretariat, which would organise regular meetings of stakeholders to discuss animal health issues.  The UK Tropical Forest Forum (TFF; see www.forestforum.org.uk ) could provide a useful model, with its Large Meetings and Working Groups.  "The UK Tropical Forest Forum is an independent association created in 1990 in response to the growing concern within Britain for the future of the tropical forests. The Forum is open to all British-based [and overseas] governmental, non-governmental, public and private organisations, companies and individuals, with an interest in the sustainable utilisation and conservation of tropical forests."  DEFRA financially sponsors the TFF Bushmeat Working Group, in cash and in kind (meeting room and refreshments).  Note that the TFF is successful by persuasion (see notes below).

 

 

Proposal

 

At the beginning, it would not require more than ad hoc planning.  It could develop directly from DEFRA’s Stakeholders meetings, as a Stakeholders Forum, with two coordinators, one from DEFRA and one independent, and ad hoc Working Groups developed as required.

 

1 The current participants at the Stakeholders meetings should be expanded to include individuals and organisations which are involved in the issues: representatives of animal breed and welfare societies, smallholder organisations, the RCVS and BVA, the private and commercial sector (including countryside and tourist organisations), academia, the IAH (especially Pirbright), and central and regional government departments (including Trading Standards and Customs and Excise).  Consideration should be given to assistance with funding for representatives who have no outside sources of funding to enable them to participate in the meetings (e.g., voluntary representatives from some of the smallholders and breed associations).

  

2. The database of current participants seems to be restricted to contact by e-mail.  I would suggest backing this up with postal addresses, since e-mail addresses are not permanent, and if one representative moves on to another job, that organisation may no longer be receiving information.

 

3. Invitations to make contact and to participate should be posted on the DEFRA, and other, websites.

 

4. Meetings should be announced by DEFRA on the internet and by mail along with their normal CPH mailshots.

 

5. The minutes of meetings should be made available on the internet.  During the meetings, anything of a confidential nature could be clearly stated as such in order not to hinder free and open discussion.  (See the proceedings of the Forest Forum Working Groups for a model, www.forestforum.org.uk )

 

6.  Agendas, background papers and hyperlinks should be made available on the internet by the Forum coordinator(s).

 

Since the increased number of attendees would mean the loss of the conviviality of sitting around a table, some other means should be sought to maintain this. 

 

5. One possibility might be, at least during "peacetime", for Large Meetings to take place at least twice a year and to last at least one full day, with two or three long breaks to allow for corridor discussions.  One of the Large Meetings could be in London and the other in Birmingham or further north.   These meetings would include all members and cover a broad spectrum of issues.  Working Group meetings could meet as and where necessary.  On a larger (and future) scale, consideration could be given to the format of the USAHA meetings, where the doors are open and people freely wander from one room to another.  (note, I later pointed out to DEFRA that attendance at TFF meetings is usually low, around 20%, since members feel they are adequately informed through minutes posted on the website.)

 

6. All participants at meetings should wear name tags which clearly identify their name and their organisation.  These can be printed direct from the address list onto sticky labels.

 

 

Reasons

 

As a representative of one of the lesser breed species, camelids, my initial contact with DEFRA was by formal letters.  At a time of crisis, it is perhaps understandable that this proved inadequate.  It was not until Rodney Newth, representing the breed society (the British Llama and Alpaca Association), and I invited ourselves to the Stakeholders meetings, that progress was made towards a more reasonable treatment of camelids.  My initial reaction to the Stakeholders meetings was of intrusion into a small, established, convivial group.  This feeling was generated more by some of the other stakeholders than by DEFRA staff.  In fact, DEFRA staff have consistently been friendly, helpful and open-minded.  I regret that we did not invite ourselves sooner. It was with some sadness that I heard at the last meeting, in February 2002, the representative of the British Goat Society saying that this was the first time he attended a Stakeholders meeting and wished to protest against goats being grouped with sheep. We went through this months ago, and received very fair treatment.  I would hope that in future all key players will be included in the consultation process.  Trade is important, but other interests should also have a voice.

 

I suspect that DEFRA staff might equally benefit from personal contact with representatives of a broad spectrum of interests.  One of the most tragic aspects of the early months of the FMD outbreak was the lack of mutual understanding between policy makers and those on the ground.  Certainly one lesson that can be learned is that a freer flow of information would probably have avoided some of the misunderstandings and consequent anger generated on all sides.  This applies not only to the Ministry, but within some of the larger organisations, such as the NFU, which would have benefited from a dialogue in an informal atmosphere of cooperation.  Perhaps some of the decisions taken might have been different.  If everyone could have heard the views of scientists like Paul Kitching in opposition to the contiguous and 3 km culls, perhaps the modellers might not have been able to have such a dominant influence leading to a new, untried and draconian policy.   I appreciate that this is a contentious view, but strongly feel that it should have been debated at the time.

 

 

 

Notes on the Tropical Forest Forum and its relevance to a new Stakeholders or Animal Health Forum:

 

The TFF was set up over 10 years ago by the Government’s Nature Conservancy Council in response to a suggestion emerging from the IUCN UK Committee.  It is supported by a combination of government subvention and membership subscription.  Membership is around 1000 people, with some located overseas.  The director of TFF is the UK representative (focal point) in the European Tropical Forest Research Network (ETFRN) whose secretariat in the Netherlands is funded by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Research. 

 

The TFF has a small advisory group (six people, of which my partner John Palmer is one), which meets about once a year and mainly deals with funding.  An eminent person chairs the Large Meetings and the part-time director chairs the Working Group meetings.  There is a well organised website, where minutes of all the meetings are posted and with hyperlinks to other UK, EU and international capabilities and initiatives.  The website aims to provide a gateway to relevant websites and organisations working on topics relevant to tropical forests - whether of a scientific, commercial trade, environmental interest or development nature. 

 

In parallel, for forest sector issues there is a Government internal coordinating committee of all departments with an interest in forests, the “Whitehall Forestry Group”, comprising the Forestry Commission, DEFRA, DFID, the FCO and DTI. (Does something like this exist for animal health issues?)  Members of the Whitehall Forestry group frequently attend TFF meetings, especially the TFF Forest Policy Working Group.  Andrew Bennett, who is DFID Under Secretary of State and also Chief Natural Resources Adviser, usually comes to one Large Meeting a year (and contributes to discussions, often provoking vigorous debate).   This suggests that all stakeholders find that this system works, at least within the British context.

 

Previous Conservative administrations and the current Labour administration have both expressed at least some commitment to an open style of government.  At least within tropical forestry, the government agencies responsible have felt that it is better to listen to different points of view at a formative stage in policy making, rather than to deal with flak from social and environmental NGOs, concerned academics and the private sector after policy has been developed behind closed doors solely within the government sector.  The membership covers all kinds of stakeholders from radical NGOs through to highly conservative private sector timber traders.

 

The TFF is a purely neutral mechanism.  It is not an advocacy body; it does not pass resolutions; does not infringe any official authority and does not threaten anybody.  The TFF has no official status and it is clearly understood that anyone who wants to actually exert pressure has to do it through other means.  Nevertheless, there are observable and acknowledged changes in government policy that are attributable to the TFF.  The TFF works because it is informal and because everybody around the table has an equal status.  It is simple, but relies on people being reasonable.  What do members get from it?  A partial view of the way government works.  It gives government more confidence when 30 diverse people around a table agree that a given action or policy would be sensible, or at least acceptable.  People can see that there have been observable changes in government policy. 

 

 


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~"It is up to us to ensure that DEFRA hears our concerns. They do listen to and consider (if not always act on) the evidence that we present,"

~"I have also argued from the start that there are alternatives to the 20 day rule" Dr Keith Sumption (30 July)

~Stakeholders Meetings: "a broader representation of stakeholders, including independent and Pirbright scientists...major items and decisions should be available on the internet."

~ "Suggestion: an open and public discussion between the chairmen of the two inquiries, participants to include stakeholders and scientists to resolve conflicting recommendations"