Stakeholder engagement is as much about listening as it is about talking. But constructive conversations don’t happen on their own. That’s where we come in. 

While blankets of smog lying over our cities is a thing of the past, invisible air pollution still accounts for 40,000 premature deaths a year in the UK, with the impacts in Scotland concentrated in our urban areas. Against this backdrop the Cleaner Air for Scotland Strategy (CAFS), published in November 2015, sets out a series of actions aimed at making Scotland’s air quality the best in Europe. The Scottish Government's Programme for Government commitment on Low Emission Zones (LEZs) states: "We will take forward the actions set out in 'Cleaner Air for Scotland' - Scotland's first distinct air quality strategy - to reduce air pollution further. With the help of local authorities, we will identify and put in place the first low emission zone by 2018, creating a legacy on which other areas can build."

The bus sector will have an important role in helping to deliver this commitment and it is appropriate that they help shape how this might be achieved. With this in mind, Sniffer was asked by SEPA and Transport Scotland to provide an opportunity for bus operators to identify what impact LEZs might have on their business and their customers, and what role they could play or support they might need in successfully implementing LEZs.

We have been involved in air quality work since 2015, engaging different groups in the preparation and launch of the CAFS. The process has been influenced by the simple question – ‘who can bring about change’? We have, for example, worked with elected members in Scotland’s many local authorities on what the strategy means in relation to their responsibilities and what impact local decisions will have on achieving the objectives.

Sniffer acts as an impartial broker and balanced reporter, creating genuine and bespoke engagement processes that do not presuppose an outcome or point of view. This ensures that the wealth of expertise in stakeholder groups has the opportunity to be heard, captured and presented in a transparent, authentic and credible way.
Effective engagement is a two-way street, with genuinely open conversation where both parties gain insight from each other, ideas are generated and doors are opened for continuing discussions.

To look at how Low Emission Zones might work for bus operators and their customers, we brought together representatives from bus operators, bus manufacturers, retrofitting companies, transport partnerships, and representatives of passenger groups. An event in each of Scotland’s four major cities gave local participants a chance to discuss challenges and opportunities.

The workshops were designed to create maximum space for open discussion. The different groups had not previously been brought together around CAFS and it was important to be open to all the experiences and views. After exploring all issues participants wanted to include, we created clusters and themes to take key points forward and discuss these in more detail. Each of the topics was discussed in small groups, with Sniffer facilitators capturing nuances between locations and between opinions of individual stakeholders. This generated a great wealth of information for our clients, whilst allowing stakeholders the freedom to set their own agenda and discuss the issues that really mattered to them.

A key output from the project is a report on key findings and recommendations for CAFS partners, local authorities and the bus sector in relation to LEZs and the bus sector, which you can read here. Engaging in this way has motivated participants to seek greater involvement in decision-making processes. This is helpful as decisions involving a broader group of stakeholders have greater legitimacy and buy-in, creating advocates for the cause.