Stakeholders and research impact

There is an inherent risk in PhD research to become very insular and self-centred. After all, you need to focus intently on one very small problem for a long time. To do this you also need to reduce, or at least balance, other distractions in your life. You limit time with family and friends so that you can study everything you need to know about your research niche, and you try not to be distracted by threads that will lead you in ever expanding directions. But research also needs to be outward looking. You need to consider all perspectives and possibilities. Ultimately you want to make a difference to a real-world problem.

All PhD research needs to contribute to the academic literature, but its impact needs to extend beyond academia to make an economic, social, cultural, or environmental contribution. The extent of research impact is assessed in terms of the difference it makes and how far it reaches. It is important to be able to explain why your research matters, identify who will benefit from the outputs of your research, and to know how to communicate that to the relevant stakeholders.

I started my research journey because I had a problem I wanted to better understand. For my research to have an impact, beyond my own personal interest, I need to understand who my stakeholders are, their expectations, and to be able to communicate my research findings in a way that resonates with them.

My research question relates to reducing plastic waste. Plastic enables a whole range of activities that make our lives more convenient, but we have not resolved the problem of the vast accumulation of plastic waste that results after a product has reached the end of its useful life. The plastics problem is being tackled from many angles, environmental, behavioural, political, and industrial.

I am interested in the factors that contribute to the use and disposal of single-use plastic in Disney theme parks. I am seeking to understand the practices facilitated by plastic to understand how these might be changed to reduce the use of single-use plastic in this context. The Disney Corporate Social Responsibility report 2021 notes the company’s desire to reduce single-use plastics and achieve zero waste to landfill by 2030. Considering the number of disposable items that are available at Disney theme parks, this is going to be quite a challenge. One that I would like to be able to assist with.

I have sought to engage Disney in my research, but I have not had any success in obtaining information or support. Nevertheless, it is a stakeholder in my research. It is not an active stakeholder at this stage, but the longer-term success of my research impact would benefit from its engagement. I appreciate that Disney’s reluctance to be involved may be related to corporate priorities, a desire to distance itself from potentially negative media, and a risk of overwhelm if it accepted the requests of every aspiring researcher. I will seek to share my research findings with Disney for practical application within the theme parks. The ultimate outcome would be a reduction in single-use plastic and plastic waste from within Disney theme parks and achievement of its 2030 zero waste to landfill target.

Beyond Disney, my research could have application in other similar venues and across a range of tourism and hospitality contexts, as well as more broadly for organisations working to reduce plastic waste. I will reach out to other academics and organisations operating within tourism and hospitality via email, social media (LinkedIn/WordPress), interest groups, journal papers, and presentations.

My fieldwork will involve following the plastic and observing the practices that it facilitates. There are no human participants in my research, though they will be around. While I hope that fellow guests at the Disney theme parks may at some point have an interest in my research results, they will not be captured in my research.

To provide a human perspective, I will write up my own experiences with plastic in the theme parks using an auto-ethnographic approach. I am currently working on my ethics application and the ethics committee will ensure that my methodology meets the university’s ethical standards. The university is also a stakeholder in my research and will be keen to ensure that I uphold its reputation. There are formal processes throughout my candidature to provide the university with updates on my progress.

In addition to analysing the plastic practices within Disney theme parks, I will review the policy and legislative documents that influence how plastic is used and plastic waste is managed in these locations. The results of this component of my research may be of interest to government and non-government organisations working to better manage plastics and its environmental impact. For example, my research could contribute to future iterations of documents like the NSW Government’s NSW Plastics Action Plan. To connect with these stakeholders, I will access the networks that I have developed over my years working for the NSW Government, as well as through social media (LinkedIn), industry workshops, and conferences.

I will continue to reach out to existing contacts and expand my networks to enhance the potential reach of my research across academic, government and corporate realms. The opportunities to reach a wider audience have grown with greater use of online platforms but it can be difficult to be seen amongst the plethora of information available.

As my research progresses, I will develop key messages that are tailored to each of the different stakeholders and dissemination techniques. For now, I am providing updates on my research via LinkedIn and my WordPress blog but there is nothing pushing people to the information on these platforms. I am connecting with academics and researchers in my school, in relevant schools across the university, and with those working in similar disciplines across the country.

In gaining a better understanding of my stakeholders needs now, I am aiming to be well placed to identify potential collaborations and share my research findings more broadly when the time comes.

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