This paper examines the effect of having a third-party scientific expert present in stakeholder interviews. The study was conducted as part of a larger project on stakeholder engagement for natural resource management in the Verde Valley region of Arizona. We employed an experimental design, conducting stakeholder interviews both with and without an identified scientific expert present. Our sample consisted of 12 pairs of interviewees (24 total participants) who we matched based on their occupation, sex, and spatial proximity. For each pair, the scientific expert was present as a third party in one interview and absent in the other. We used a word-based coding strategy to code all interview responses for three known areas of sensitivity among the study population (risk, gatekeeping, and competence). We then performed both quantitative and qualitative analyses to compare responses across the two interview groups. We found that the presence of a scientific expert did not have a statistically significant effect on the mention of sensitive topics among stakeholders. However, our qualitative results show that the presence of a scientific expert had subtle influences on the ways that stakeholders discussed sensitive topics, particularly in placing emphasis on their own credibility and knowledge. Our findings indicate that researchers may be able to pursue collaborative, interdisciplinary research designs with multiple researchers present during interviews without concerns of strongly influencing data elicitation on sensitive topics. However, researchers should be cognizant of the subtle ways in which the presence of a third-party expert may influence the credibility claims and knowledge assertions made by respondents when a third-party expert is present during stakeholder interviews.
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