Stakeholders and Bystanders

Heaven knows it's easy to feed the fires of controversy when we don't agree about the ocean's problems. Don't agree exactly what they are, what caused them, and, most emphatically, on what to do about them. It can help to start with stakeholders.


Stakeholder: One who is involved in or affected by a course of action.

The hard work of getting stakeholders together is not not always recognized. Ocean Frontiers makes films to showcase such successes. My favorite example, since I'm from the Boston area, was how folks came to agreement about Massachusetts Bay. The problem was clear enough: ships and fishing boats coming into port were striking endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Click image to get films for private showings and fundraisers!

Click image to get films for private showings and fundraisers!

Stakeholders at the table had to include the fishing and shipping communities; their stake in the game was their livelihood. Scientists provided many observations of the whales' migration and foraging paths. (They did not include an artist until the lovely painting by 13-year old Annie Williams went on the film's DVD cover.)

The results: they moved the shipping lanes*. It's a great example of how getting all the stakeholders to the table can get things done.



Bystander: One who is present, but not involved.

But what about those of us who are not stakeholders? Since we're meeting on this blog about oceans, you're at least interested. We're watching. We're bystanders.

Even bystanders, though, can have different biases and personal connections to the ocean. Some bystander positions might be:

Position                       Bias                                 Action

Neutral bystander         none                               none
Reporters                     assumed to check facts    reports
Polarized media            obvious biases                 reports to selected audience
Advocates                    call for change                 highlight; protest>change
Artists                          personal experiences       create works
Do any of these positions reflect where you are today? Where you've been? Where you're headed? My own have shifted from neutral to artist and, now, an advocate. Feel free to join in with your comments.

And maybe, now that you think about it, it's only a matter of time until you consider yourself a stakeholder.

*More Info
In June, shipping lane changes went into effect in San Francisco Bay. For more on this and other California ports visit

Ocean Frontiers films are coming to PBS television. Check for your local viewing times

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