Stakeholders

When we consider the problem of social acceptance we must be careful to take into account any social agency that could be concerned with our problem. In this respect "stakeholders" is a key concept.

What do we mean by stakeholders? In general they can be thought of as those people who have an interest in a particular decision, either as individuals or as representatives of a group of people. This includes people who influence a decision, or can influence it, as well as those who are affected by it. In other words any social group which is directly or indirectly involved with the matter can be viewed as a stakeholder, such as all people living in a site area, all people concerned with environmental issues, all people working in the energy field, all people living in large polluted cities, etc. This way to define stakeholders permits us to take into consideration the various components that contribute to the formation of public opinion and, even more importantly, to avoid neglect of such factors which could arise should our subject strike any sensitive topics in the public. What we mean is that strong reactions can sometimes be elicited and action be taken by previously unknown and unconsidered social groups. It is important to be able to anticipate whether a certain subject could cause particular reactions in the public, in people who are not usually active in taking decisions. Social decisional processes are quite complex and being able to understand the factors which could have a determining influence is greatly facilitating.

Let us consider an example. Recently in Italy it was possible to observe what can happen when stakeholders (in its broadest sense) are not taken into account and thus are not consulted, informed or prepared. In Scanzano, Basilicata, the government had decided to create a dangerous-waste disposal landfill in a site which was considered very safe from a scientific point of view. Unfortunately the local public had not been consulted and no one suspected that a very strong feeling against this waste disposal could arise. In fact, the reaction was so strong that the entire population in the region was actively involved, and for weeks the main roads and railway lines were blocked (with many people sleeping under the stars) until the government had to finally change its decision. What had happened? The area is still a rather well-preserved, uncontaminated region with beautiful landscape, where tourism is expected to increase, and has recently seen the substantial development of organic agriculture. The development potential of this area therefore relies on it being a clean environment. Radioactive waste disposal, even the disposal of low level radioactive waste (such as medical and radiological waste), did not fit with the idea of the local population as how to preserve a clean environment. It was felt that the central government was just interested in discharging at this site something "they didn't know where to put". One can easily understand why this waste disposal site had then come to be considered as such a life threatening issue.

A more common definition for stakeholders is all those social agencies that, in one way or another, have a recognised power to decide or to influence decisions regarding a certain subject, such as local or central administrators, politicians, environmental associations, citizens' associations, scientific centres, etc.. In an even more restricted meaning we can also consider the so called "opinion makers" to be stakeholders, such as specialised journalists, eminent scientists or writers, singers or actors etc.

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