What do we mean by stakeholders and their interests?
Why identify and analyze stakeholders and their interests?
Who are potential stakeholders?
When should you identify stakeholders?
How do you identify and analyze stakeholders and their interests?
The Community Tool Box is a big fan of participatory process. That means involving as many as possible of those who are affected by or have an interest in any project, initiative, intervention, or effort. We believe strongly that, in most cases, involving all of these folks will lead to a better process, greater community support and buy-in, more ideas on the table, a better understanding of the community context, and, ultimately, a more effective effort. In order to conduct a participatory process and gain all the advantages it brings, you have to figure out who the stakeholders are, which of them need to be involved at what level, and what issues they may bring with them. The same is equally true whether you’re building support for a new or ongoing effort, even if the process that led up to it wasn’t strictly participatory. Maximizing Community Stakeholders' Engagement is a video by Tom Wolff that works as a great supplement to this section; both offer thorough examinations of how to find and involve the right stakeholders and respond to their needs.
What do we mean by stakeholders and their interests?
Stakeholders are those who may be affected by or have an effect on an effort. They may also include people who have a strong interest in the effort for academic, philosophical, or political reasons, even though they and their families, friends, and associates are not directly affected by it.
One way to characterize stakeholders is by their relationship to the effort in question.
- Primary stakeholders are the people or groups that stand to be directly affected, either positively or negatively, by an effort or the actions of an agency, institution, or organization. In some cases, there are primary stakeholders on both sides of the equation: a regulation that benefits one group may have a negative effect on another. A rent control policy, for example, benefits tenants, but may hurt landlords.
- Secondary stakeholders are people or groups that are indirectly affected, either positively or negatively, by an effort or the actions of an agency, institution, or organization. A program to reduce domestic violence, for instance, could have a positive effect on emergency room personnel by reducing the number of cases they see. It might require more training for police to help them handle domestic violence calls in a different way. Both of these groups would be secondary stakeholders.
- Key stakeholders, who might belong to either or neither of the first two groups, are those who can have a positive or negative effect on an effort, or who are important within or to an organization, agency, or institution engaged in an effort. The director of an organization might be an obvious key stakeholder, but so might the line staff – those who work directly with participants – who carry out the work of the effort. If they don’t believe in what they’re doing or don’t do it well, it might as well not have begun. Other examples of key stakeholders might be funders, elected or appointed government officials, heads of businesses, or clergy and other community figures who wield a significant amount of influence.
While an interest in an effort or organization could be just that – intellectually, academically, philosophically, or politically motivated attention – stakeholders are generally said to have an interest in an effort or organization based on whether they can affect or be affected by it. The more they stand to benefit or lose by it, the stronger their interest is likely to be. The more heavily involved they are in the effort or organization, the stronger their interest as well.
Stakeholders’ interests can be many and varied. A few of the more common:
- Economics. An employment training program might improve economic prospects for low-income people, for example. Zoning regulations may also have economic consequences for various groups.
- Social change. An effort to improve racial harmony could alter the social climate for members of both the racial or ethnic minority and the majority.
- Work. Involving workers in decision-making can enhance work life and make people more satisfied with their jobs.
- Time. Flexible work hours, relief programs for caregivers, parental leave, and other efforts that provide people with time for leisure or taking care of the business of life can relieve stress and increase productivity.
- Environment. Protection of open space, conservation of resources, attention to climate change, and other environmental efforts can add to everyday life. These can also be seen as harmful to business and private ownership.
- Physical health. Free or sliding-scale medical facilities and other similar programs provide a clear benefit for low-income people and can improve community health.
- Safety and security. Neighborhood watch or patrol programs, better policing in high-crime neighborhoods, work safety initiatives – all of these and many other efforts can improve safety for specific populations or for the community as a whole.
- Mental health. Community mental health centers and adult day care can be extremely important not only to people with mental health issues, but also to their families and to the community as a whole.
As we’ll discuss in more depth further on, both the nature and the intensity of stakeholder interests are important to understand.
Why identify and analyze stakeholders and their interests?
The most important reason for identifying and understanding stakeholders is that it allows you to recruit them as part of the effort. The Community Tool Box believes that, in most cases, a participatory effort that involves representation of as many stakeholders as possible has a number of important advantages:
- It puts more ideas on the table than would be the case if the development and implementation of the effort were confined to a single organization or to a small group of like-minded people.
- It includes varied perspectives from all sectors and elements of the community affected, thus giving a clearer picture of the community context and potential pitfalls and assets.
- It gains buy-in and support for the effort from all stakeholders by making them an integral part of its development, planning, implementation, and evaluation. It becomes their effort, and they’ll do their best to make it work.
- It’s fair to everyone. All stakeholders can have a say in the development of an effort that may seriously affect them.
- It saves you from being blindsided by concerns you didn’t know about. If everyone has a seat at the table, concerns can be aired and resolved before they become stumbling blocks. Even if they can’t be resolved, they won’t come as surprises that derail the effort just when you thought everything was going well.
- It strengthens your position if there’s opposition. Having all stakeholders on board makes a huge difference in terms of political and moral clout.
- It creates bridging social capital for the community. Social capital is the web of acquaintances, friendships, family ties, favors, obligations, and other social currency that can be used to cement relationships and strengthen community. Bridging social capital, which creates connections among diverse groups that might not otherwise interact, is perhaps the most valuable kind. It makes possible a community without barriers of class or economics, where people from all walks of life can know and value one another. A participatory process, often including everyone from welfare recipients to bank officers and physicians, can help to create just this sort of situation.
- It increases the credibility of your organization. Involving and attending to the concerns of all stakeholders establishes your organization as fair, ethical, and transparent, and makes it more likely that others will work with you in other circumstances.
- It increases the chances for the success of your effort. For all of the above reasons, identifying stakeholders and responding to their concerns makes it far more likely that your effort will have both the community support it needs and the appropriate focus to be effective.
Who are potential stakeholders?
As we discussed, there are primary and secondary stakeholders, as well as key stakeholders who may or may not fall into one of the other two categories. Let’s examine possible stakeholders using that framework.
Beneficiaries or targets of the effort
Beneficiaries are those who stand to gain something – services, skills, money, goods, social connection, etc. – as a direct result of the effort. Targets are those who may or may not stand to gain personally, or whose actions represent a benefit to a particular (usually disadvantaged) population or to the community as a whole.
Some examples are:
- A particular population – a racial or ethnic group, a socio-economic group, residents of a housing project, etc.
- Residents of a particular geographic area – a neighborhood, a town, a rural area.
- People experiencing or at risk for a particular problem or condition – homelessness, lack of basic skills, unemployment, diabetes.
- People involved or participants in a particular organization or institution – students at a school, youth involved in the justice system, welfare recipients.
- People whose behavior the effort aims to change – delinquent youth, smokers, people who engage in unsafe sex, people who don’t exercise.
- Policy makers and agencies that are the targets of advocacy efforts.
Those directly involved with or responsible for beneficiaries or targets of the effort
These might include individuals and organizations that live with, are close to, or care for the people in question, and those that offer services directly to them. Among these you might find:
- Parents, spouses, siblings, children, other family members, significant others, friends.
- Schools and their employees – teachers, counselors, aides, etc.
- Doctors and other medical professionals, particularly primary care providers.
- Social workers and psychotherapists.
- Health and human service organizations and their line staff – youth workers, welfare case workers, etc.
- Community volunteers in various capacities, from drivers to volunteer instructors in training programs to those who staff food pantries and soup kitchens.
Those whose jobs or lives might be affected by the process or results of the effort
Some of these individuals and groups overlap with those in the previous category.
- Police and other law or regulation enforcement agencies. New approaches to violence prevention, dealing with drug abuse or domestic violence, or other similar changes may require training and the practice of new skills on the part of members of these agencies.
- Emergency room personnel, teachers, and others who are legally bound to report possible child abuse and neglect or other similar situations.
- Landlords. Landlords’ legal rights and responsibilities may be altered by laws brought about by campaigns to stop discrimination in housing or to strengthen tenants’ rights.
- Contractors and developers. Open-space laws, zoning regulations, and other requirements, as well as incentives, may affect how, where, and what contractors and developers choose to build.
- Employers. A workplace safety initiative or strengthened workplace safety regulations, health insurance requirements, and other mandates may affect employers’ costs. Those that hire and make a commitment to workers from at-risk populations may also have to institute worker assistance programs (personal and drug/alcohol counseling, for example, as well as basic skills and other training).
- Ordinary community members whose lives, jobs, or routines might be affected by an effort or policy change, such as the location of a homeless shelter in the neighborhood or changes in zoning regulations.
Government officials and policy makers
These are the people who can devise, pass, and enforce laws and regulations that may either fulfill the goals of your effort or directly cancel them out.
- Legislators. Federal and state or provincial representatives, senators, members of parliament, etc. who introduce and pass laws and generally control public budgets at the federal and state or provincial levels.
- Governors, mayors, city/town councilors, selectmen, etc. The executives that carry out laws, administer budgets, and generally run the show can contribute greatly to the success – or failure – of an effort.
- Local board members. Boards of health, planning, zoning, etc., through their power to issue permits and regulations, can be crucial allies and dangerous opponents.
- State/federal agencies. Government agencies often devise and issue regulations and reporting requirements, and can sometimes make or break an effort by how they choose to regulate and how vigorously they enforce their regulations.
- Policy makers. These people or groups often have no official power – they may be “advisers” to those with real power – but their opinions and ideas are often followed closely. If they’re on your side, that’s a big plus.
Those who can influence others
- The media
- People in positions that convey influence. Clergy members, doctors, CEOs, and college presidents are all examples of people in this group.
- Community leaders – people that others listen to. These might be people who are respected because of their position of leadership in a particular population, or may be longtime or lifelong residents who have earned the community’s trust over years of integrity and community service.
Those with an interest in the outcome of an effort
Some individuals and groups may not be affected by or involved in an effort, but may nonetheless care enough about it that they are willing to work to influence its outcome. Many of them may have a following or a natural constituency – business people, for instance – and may therefore have a fair amount of clout.
- Business. The business community usually will recognize its interest in any effort that will provide it with more and better workers, or make it easier and more likely to make a profit. By the same token, it is likely to oppose efforts that it sees as costing it money or imposing regulations on it.
- Advocates. Advocates may be active on either or both sides of the issue you’re concerned with.
- Community activists. Organizations and individuals who have a philosophical or political interest in the issue or population that an effort involves may organize to support the effort or to defeat it.
- People with academic or research interests related to a targeted issue or population. Their work may have convinced them of the need for an intervention or initiative, or they may simply be sympathetic to the goals of the effort and understand them better than most.
- Funders. Funders and potential funders are obvious key stakeholders, in that, in many cases, without their support, the effort won’t be possible.
- Community at large. When widespread community support is needed, the community as a whole may be the key stakeholder.
When should you identify stakeholders and their interests?
Regardless of the purpose of your effort, identifying stakeholders and their interests should be among the first, if not the very first, of the items on your agenda. It’s generally the fairest course you can take, and the one that is most likely to keep your effort out of trouble.
- If you want to involve stakeholders in a participatory process, the reasons are obvious. They should be part of every phase of the work, so that they can both contribute and take ownership.Their knowledge of the community and understanding of its needs can prove invaluable in helping you to avoid mistakes in your approach and in the people you choose to involve.
- If your intent is a participatory action research project, stakeholders should be included in any assessment and pre-planning activities as well as planning and implementation. That way, they’ll understand the research process and project much more clearly, and can add to them.
- If you want your process to be regarded as transparent, stakeholder involvement from the beginning is absolutely necessary. The community will only believe in an open process if it’s truly open.
- If your effort involves changes that will affect people in different ways, it’s important that they be involved early so that any concerns or barriers show up early and can be addressed.
- In situations where there are legal implications, such as the building of a development, involving stakeholders from the beginning is both fair and can help stave off the possibility of lawsuits down the road.
In short, in most cases, the earlier in the process stakeholders can be involved, the better.
How do you identify and analyze stakeholders and their interests?
The first step in identifying and addressing stakeholder interests is, not surprisingly, identifying the stakeholders. We’ve discussed in general terms the categories that stakeholders might fall into, but the list is different for each community and each effort. It’s an important part of your job to determine who all your stakeholders are, and to try to involve them in a way that advances your goals.
Once you’ve identified stakeholders, the next task is to understand their interests. Some will have an investment in carrying the effort forward, but others may be equally intent on preventing it from happening or making sure it’s unsuccessful. Stakeholder analysis (also called stakeholder mapping) will help you decide which stakeholders might have the most influence over the success or failure of your effort, which might be your most important supporters, and which might be your most important opponents. Once you have that information, you can make plans for dealing with stakeholders with different interests and different levels of influence.
In identifying stakeholders, it’s important to think beyond the obvious. Beneficiaries, policy makers, etc. are easy to identify, whereas indirect effects – and, as a result, secondary stakeholders – are sometimes harder to see. A push for new regulations on a particular industry, for instance, might entail greatly increased paperwork or the purchase of new machinery on the part of that industry’s suppliers. Traffic restrictions to control speeding in residential neighborhoods may affect commuters that use public transportation. Try to think of as many ways as possible that your effort might bring benefits or problems to people not directly in its path.
Given that, there are a number of ways to identify stakeholders. Often, the use of more than one will yield the best results.
- Brainstorm. Get together with people in your organization, officials, and others already involved in or informed about the effort and start calling out categories and names. Part of the point of brainstorming is to come out with anything that comes to mind, even if it seems silly. On reflection, the silly ideas can turn out to be among the best, so be as far-ranging as you can. After 10 or 15 minutes, stop and discuss each suggestion, perhaps identifying each as a primary, secondary, and/or key stakeholder.
- Collect categories and names from informants in the community (if they’re not available to be part of a brainstorming session), particularly members of a population or residents of a geographic area of concern.
- Consult with organizations that either are or have been involved in similar efforts, or that work with the population or in the area of concern.
- Get more ideas from stakeholders as you identify them.
- If appropriate, advertise. You can use some combination of the media – often free, through various community service arrangements – community meetings, community and organizational newsletters, social media, targeted emails, announcements by leaders at meetings and religious gatherings, and word of mouth to get the word out. You may find people who consider themselves stakeholders whom you haven’t thought about.
Discovering and understanding stakeholder interests
As we’ve mentioned several times, stakeholder interests may vary. Some stakeholders’ interests may be best served by carrying the effort forward, others’ by stopping or weakening it. Even among stakeholders from the same group, there may be conflicting concerns. Some of the many ways that stakeholder interests may manifest themselves:
- Potential beneficiaries may be wildly supportive of an effort, seeing it as an opportunity or the pathway to a better life… or they may be ambivalent or resentful toward it. The effort or intervention may be embarrassing to them (e.g., adult literacy) or may seem burdensome. They may not understand it, or they may not see the benefit that will come from it. They may be afraid to try something new, on the assumption that they’ll fail, or will end up worse off than they are. They may be distrustful of any people or organizations engaged in such an effort, and feel they’re being looked down on.
- Some stakeholders may have economic concerns. Sometimes these concerns are merely selfish or greedy – as in the case of a corporation with billions in annual profits unwilling to spend a small part of that money to stop its factories from polluting – but in most cases, they are legitimate.
A classic case is that of the conflict between open space preservation and the opportunity to sell land for development. Farmers and other rural residents often have almost no other assets but their land. If, by selling it, they can become instant millionaires and live comfortably in retirement after working very hard for very little all their lives, why should they be expected to pass up that opportunity in favor of open space preservation?
In some U.S. states, farmland has been preserved by the state’s paying farmers the development value of their land (or something close) in return for a legal agreement to always keep the land in cultivation or open space. Conservation easements – agreements never to develop the land, no matter how many owners it goes through – sometimes are negotiated on the same basis.
- Economic concerns may also work in favor of an effort. An initiative to build one or more community clinics can provide construction jobs, orders for medical equipment, jobs for medical professionals and paraprofessionals, and economic advantages for the community. It might be backed, therefore, by unions, equipment manufacturers, professional associations, and local government, largely for economic reasons.
- Business people may have concerns about such things as universal health care or regulation. While these may be good for the larger society, they may actually hurt some businesses. Especially for very small business, where a slight change in profits may mean not a drop in share price, but the inability to sustain one’s livelihood, this is a big issue. Businesses may have economic concerns in the opposite direction as well. Violence prevention might bode well for businesses in areas that people are hesitant to frequent because of the threat of violence, and it might also reduce the risk of losses and physical harm to the business owners themselves. Thus their positive interest in an effective violence prevention effort.
- Organizations, agencies, and institutions may have a financial stake in an effort because of funding concerns. Their ability to be funded for conducting activities related to the effort may mean the difference between laying off and keeping staff members, or even between survival and closing the doors.
- Efforts that concern issues that are controversial for cultural reasons, such as abortion and gay marriage, may be enthusiastically supported by some segments of the community and fiercely opposed by others. While such hot-button issues may not be resolvable, it’s important to understand the positions of stakeholders on both sides.
- Ideological as well as cultural differences may also drive stakeholder interests. Those who believe that government shouldn’t be seen as the source of anything but the most basic services that people obviously can’t provide for themselves – the military, roads, police, public education – might oppose government-funded programs to help the poor, maintain public health, or provide other services that others deem necessary for the well-being of the community.
- Legislators and policy makers may be concerned with public perceptions that they’re wasting public money by funding a particular effort. (On the other hand, they can be convinced to spend the money by the perception that an effort is one the public is greatly in favor of, or one that will return more than is being spent.)
- The jobs of organization staff members engaged in carrying out an effort can be drastically changed by the necessity to learn new methods, increases in paperwork, or any number of other requirements. Depending on the situation, they may be more than willing to take on these responsibilities, may have ideas about how they can be made less burdensome, or may resent and dislike them.
Mandates that don’t directly affect various professionals may affect them indirectly. The jobs of police, teachers, therapists, medical personnel, and others can be changed by changes in laws, regulations, or policy. Increased or decreased emphasis on enforcement or treatment for drug-related offenses can place new obligations on police and others, even if they haven’t been involved in deciding on the changes. Reporting requirements for child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and other types of crimes may affect the work of teachers, doctors, nurses, therapists, and others.
- Family concerns may enter into stakeholder interests as well. Parents in many places can now be reported for child abuse for applying punishments like spankings with a brush or belt that their own parents may have used as a matter of course. Without discussing the rights or wrongs of the issue, it’s important to understand that some people will see this as protecting children and others as interfering with parental rights.
You don’t have to – and in fact shouldn’t – guess what stakeholder interests are. Ask them what’s important to them. If there are stakeholders that aren’t willing to be involved, try to talk to them anyway. If that isn’t possible, try to find out their concerns from others who are likely to know. Most stakeholders will be more than willing to tell you how they feel about a potential or ongoing effort, what their concerns are, and what needs to be done or to change to address those concerns.
Stakeholder analysis/stakeholder mapping
Let’s suppose, then, that you’ve identified all the stakeholders, and that you understand each of their concerns. Now what? They all have to understand what you want to do, you have to respond to their concerns in some way – at least by acknowledging them, whether you can satisfy them or not – and you have to find a way to move forward with as much support from stakeholders as you can muster.
Stakeholder analysis (stakeholder mapping) is a way of determining who among stakeholders can have the most positive or negative influence on an effort, who is likely to be most affected by the effort, and how you should work with stakeholders with different levels of interest and influence.
Most methods of stakeholder analysis or mapping divide stakeholders into one of four groups, each occupying one space in a four-space grid:
As you can see, low to high influence over the effort runs along a line from the bottom to the top of the grid, and low to high interest in the effort runs along a line from left to right. Both influence and interest can be either positive or negative, depending on the perspectives of the stakeholders in question. The lines describing them are continuous, meaning that people can have any degree of interest from none to as high as possible, including any of the points in between.
The people we’ve described as “key stakeholders” would generally appear in the upper right quadrant.
The purpose of this kind of diagram is to help you understand what kind of influence each stakeholder has on your organization and/or the process and potential success of the effort. That knowledge in turn can help you decide how to manage stakeholders – how to marshal the help of those that support you, how to involve those who could be helpful, and how to convert – or at least neutralize – those who may start out feeling negative.
An assumption that most proponents of this analysis technique seem to make is that the stakeholders most important to the success of your effort are in the upper right section of the grid, and those least important are in the lower left. The names in parentheses are another way to define the same stakeholder characteristics in terms of how they relate to the effort.
- Promoters have both great interest in the effort and the power to help make it successful (or to derail it).
- Defenders have a vested interest and can voice their support in the community, but have little actual power to influence the effort in any way.
- Latents have no particular interest or involvement in the effort, but have the power to influence it greatly if they become interested.
- Apathetics have little interest and little power, and may not even know the effort exists.
The World Bank, which is responsible for this characterization, couches it in generally positive terms, assuming that those in the upper right will promote the effort. In fact, they could be either promoters or staunch opponents, and the same – with different degrees of power and interest – goes for the other three sections of the grid. In many cases, there will be people in both camps in each quadrant, and among the tasks of the organization(s) conducting the effort are to turn negative influential stakeholders to positive, and to move as many current and potential supporters as possible closer to the top right of the chart.
Interest here means one or both of two things: (1) that the individual, organization, or group is interested intellectually or philosophically in the effort; and/or (2) she or it is affected by it. The level of interest, in this second sense, corresponds to how great the effect is. A welfare recipient who stands to receive increased benefits, child care, and employment training from a back-to-work program, for example, has a greater interest in the effort than someone who simply thinks the program is a good idea, but has no intention of being involved in it in any way.
Influence can be interpreted in several ways:
- An individual or group can wield official power in some way – as a government official or agency, for example.
- As an administrator, board member, or funder, an individual or group has some power over the organization conducting the effort.
- Another possibility is influence as a “community leader” – a college president, hospital CEO, clergy member, bank president, etc. These people are often listened to as a result of their positions in the community, and may hold one or more actual or honorary positions that give them even more influence: chair of the United Way campaign, officer of one or more corporate or non-profit boards, etc.
- Key stakeholders are often connected to large networks, and thus can both reach and sway many community members. Such connections can be through work, family, long generations or years of residency, membership in many clubs and organizations, or former official status.
- Great influence can be exercised by people (or, occasionally, organizations) that are simply respected in the community for their intelligence, integrity, concern for others and the common good, and objectivity.
- Some people and organizations exercise influence through economics. The largest employer in a community can exert considerable control over its workforce, for example, or even over the community as a whole, using a combination of threats and rewards.
Influence and interest can be either internal or external to the organization or the community. Most of the descriptions above pertain to external influence and interest, but they could be internal as well. Organizations and institutions as well as communities have official and unofficial leaders, people in positions that confer power or influence, people with large networks, etc. In addition, those who actually carry out the effort – usually staff people in an organization – can have a great deal of control over whether an effort is conducted as intended, and therefore over its effectiveness.
Stakeholder analysis is only useful if it’s used. Stakeholder management is where analysis and practice meet. It allows you to use the analysis to help gain support and buy-in for your effort. Although, as we’ll see, it can be quite helpful in health and community work, the stakeholder analysis model we’re using comes out of business, and is largely meant to help people make sure to get the power on their side for any project they attempt. Community-based and community-focused organizations and institutions may be more likely to have other purposes in mind when the issue of stakeholder management arises.
A big question here is whether the whole concept of stakeholder management is in fact directly opposed to the idea of participatory process, where everyone has a voice. In practice, we all try to manage people constantly, from attempting to convince a skeptical three-year-old that broccoli tastes good to motivating students and employees to do their best.
If management turns into manipulation, without any respect for the other person or organization involved, it’s definitely not in the spirit of participation. Persuasion, negotiation, education, and other methods of managing stakeholders that acknowledge their concerns, however, do not violate that spirit, and are often a necessary part of making a participatory process work.
The first step in stakeholder management is to understand clearly where each stakeholder lies in the grid. Someone that has both a major interest in and considerable power over the organization and/or the effort – a funder, for example, or a leader of a population of concern – would go in the upper right-hand corner of the upper right quadrant. Stakeholders with neither power nor interest would go in the lower left-hand corner of the lower left quadrant. Those with a reasonable amount of power and interest would go in the middle of the upper-right quadrant, etc. Eventually, the grid will be filled in with the names of stakeholders occupying various places in each of the quadrants, corresponding to their levels of power and interest.
The next step is to decide who needs the most attention. In general, the business people who use this model would say that you should expend most of your energy on the people who can be most helpful, i.e., those with the most power. Powerful people with the highest interest are most important, followed by those with power and less interest. Those in the lower right quadrant – high interest, less power – come next, with those with low interest and low power coming last.
Another way to look at stakeholder management – and remember that all the people and groups we’re talking about here are stakeholders, those who can affect and are affected by the effort in question – is that the most important stakeholders are those most dramatically affected. Some of those, at least before the effort begins, may be in the lower left quadrant of the grid. They may be too involved in trying to survive – either financially or physically – from day to day to think about an effort to change their situation.
So…your stakeholder management depends on what your purpose is in involving stakeholders. If your purpose is to marshal support for the effort or policy change, then each group – each quadrant of the grid – calls for one kind of attention. If your purpose is primarily participatory, then each quadrant calls for another kind of attention.
Stakeholder management for marshaling support for the effort, especially for advocacy or policy change:
- The promoters – the high influence/high interest folks – are the most important here. They’re the ones who can really make the effort go, and they care about and are invested in the issue. If they’re positive, they need to be cultivated and involved. Find jobs for them (not just tasks) that they’ll enjoy, and that contribute substantively to the effort, so they can feel responsible for part of what’s going on. Pay attention to their opinions, and accede to them where it’s appropriate. If their ideas aren’t acted on, make sure they know why, and why an alternative seems like the better course. As much as possible, make them integral parts of the team.
When people who could be promoters are negative, the major task is to convert them. If you can’t, they become the most powerful opponents of your effort, and could make it impossible to succeed. Thus, they need to be treated as potential allies, and their concerns should be addressed to the extent possible without compromising the effort.
- The latents – high influence/low interest. These are people and organizations largely unaffected by the effort that could potentially be extremely helpful, if they could be convinced that the effort is important either to their own self-interest or to the greater good. You have to approach and inform them, and to keep contact with them over time. Offer them opportunities to weigh in on issues relating to the effort, and demonstrate to them how the effort will have a positive effect on issues and populations they’re concerned with. If you can shift them over to the promoter category, you’ve gained valuable allies.
Once again, there’s the possibility that these folks could be negative and oppositional. If that’s the case, it might be best not to stir a sleeping dragon. If they’re not particularly affected by or concerned about the effort, even if they disapprove of it, the chances are that they’ll simply leave it and you alone, and it might be best that way. If they begin to voice opposition, then your first attempt might be at conversion or neutralization, rather than battle. If that doesn’t work, then you might have to fight.
- The defenders – low influence/high interest. In the business model, since these people and organizations can’t help you much, you can simply keep them informed and not worry too much about involving them further. In health and community building, however, they can often provide the volunteer time and skills that an effort – particularly an advocacy initiative – needs to survive. These are often the foot soldiers who stuff envelopes, make phone calls, and otherwise make an initiative possible. They are also often among those most affected by an effort, and thus have good reason to work hard for or against it, depending on how it affects them.
- The apathetics – those with low interest and low influence. These people and organizations simply don’t care about your effort one way or the other. They may be stakeholders only through their membership in a group or their position in the community; the effort may in fact have little or no impact on them. As a result, they need little or no management. Keep them sporadically informed by newsletter or some similar device, and don’t offend them, and they won’t bother you or get in the way.
While this formulation is no more compelling than other similar ones, it has the advantage of giving a label to each quadrant. We’ll use these labels in the rest of the section for convenience.
Stakeholder management for developing a participatory process or including marginalized populations:
The model of stakeholder management described above isn’t applicable only to business. Organizations must cultivate supporters in support of any effort. Deciding whom to cultivate by analyzing how much they can help is a standard part of health and community service work, as well as of advocacy. If your purpose is primarily to create a participatory process, however, you’ll try to create an effort that takes all perspectives into consideration, hashes out differences, and makes participants its owners. Stakeholder management in that situation means trying to attract representatives of all stakeholders, and treating them all as equals and colleagues, while at the same time leveling the field as much as possible by providing training and support to those who need it.
The four-cell grid is still useful here, but the attention given to those in each quadrant will be different from that in the other model. Here, the largest amount of attention may go to the people in the two lower quadrants, since those with little power often have less experience in such areas as meeting and planning, and less confidence in their ability to engage in them. They’ll definitely need information about what they’re being invited to do, and they might need training, mentoring, and/or other support in doing it.
A successful participatory process may require that the people in the upper right quadrant – the promoters – understand and buy into the process fully. They can then help to bring stakeholders in the other positions on board, and to encourage them to participate in planning, implementing, and evaluating the effort. That means working with the promoters to explain the concept of participation fully and to convince them that pulling all stakeholders in is the best way to accomplish your – and their – goals. They might also serve as mentors or partners to those who are not used to having seats at the table.
Obviously, not all stakeholders in the lower two quadrants are low-income, unused to managing things, or lacking in educational and organizational skills. Some simply don’t see themselves as much affected by the effort. Others may have no influence in this particular situation, though they may have a great deal in other circumstances.
Very often, however, those who do lack skills and experience find themselves in those two lower quadrants. When that’s the case, they may need training and other support in order to participate fully. That may be one aspect of stakeholder management, and it may help to move them into positions of more influence and teach them how to exercise it.
The tasks of converting the negative or skeptical still exist in this situation, as does the need to create interest among the latents – those stakeholders who could be helpful, but don’t have a strong investment in the effort. Often, the stories of those who have or will benefit from the effort can be effective motivators for people who might otherwise be indifferent. Such stories are particularly powerful if the listeners know the people involved, but never suspected the difficulties they face.
If the latents become involved, their influence can help to greatly strengthen the effort. The more people, groups, institutions, and organizations with influence that are involved, the greater the chances are for success. The task with latents is to convince them that they are true stakeholders, and that the effort will benefit them either directly or indirectly. If it’s not direct, the benefit in question may be as removed from them as increasing the community’s tax base by making more people employable, or creating a more just community by eliminating discrimination.
Bringing people and organizations into the process and moving them toward the upper right quadrant of the stakeholder grid generally demands that you keep them involved and informed by:
- Treating them with respect
- Providing whatever information, training, mentoring, and/or other support they need to stay involved
- Finding tasks or jobs for them to do that catch their interest and use their talents
- Maintaining their enthusiasm with praise, celebrations, small tokens of appreciation, and continual reminders of the effort’s accomplishments
- Engaging them in decision-making
- Employing them in the conception, planning, implementation, and evaluation of the effort from its beginning
- In the case of those who start with little power or influence, helping them learn how to gain and exercise influence by working together and developing their personal, critical thinking, and political skills
Evaluation of the stakeholder process
As with anything else you do, it’s important to monitor and evaluate how well stakeholders have been identified, understood, and involved in the course of your effort. It’s obviously best to involve stakeholders from the very beginning, but it’s never too late to learn from what you’ve done so that you can improve your work. Evaluation of the stakeholder process should be an integral part of the overall evaluation of the effort, and stakeholders themselves should be involved in developing that evaluation. They can best tell you what did and didn’t work to pull them in and keep them engaged.
Here are some evaluation questions you might consider:
- What could you have done to better identify stakeholders?
- Which strategies worked best to involve different populations and groups?
- How successful were you in keeping people involved?
- Did you provide any training or other support? Was it helpful? How could it have been improved?
- Did your stakeholder analysis and management efforts have the desired effect? Were they helpful?
- Did stakeholder involvement improve the work, effectiveness, and/or political and community support of the effort?
The answers to these and similar questions could both help you improve the current effort and make a big difference the next time – and there will be a next time – you involve stakeholders.
Keeping at it to keep stakeholders involved
That brings us to the final piece of working with stakeholders. As with any other community building activity, you have to keep at it indefinitely, or at least as long as the effort goes on. New stakeholders may need to be brought in as time goes on. Old ones may cease to be actual stakeholders, but may retain an interest in the effort and may therefore continue to be included. You have to maintain stakeholders’ and supporters’ motivation, keep them informed, and/or continue to find meaningful work for them to do if you want to keep them involved and active. Understanding and engaging stakeholders can be tremendously helpful to your effort, but only if it results in their ownership of it and long-term commitment to it. And that depends on your continuing attention.
Stakeholders of an effort are those who have a vested interest in it, either as those who develop and conduct it, or as those whom it affects directly or indirectly. Identifying and involving stakeholders can be a large part of ensuring the effort’s success. In order to gain stakeholder participation and support, it’s important to understand not only who potential stakeholders are, but the nature of their interest in the effort. With that understanding, you’ll be able to invite their involvement, address their concerns, and demonstrate how the effort will benefit them.
Managing stakeholders – keeping them involved and supportive – can be made easier by stakeholder analysis, a method of determining their levels of interest in and influence over the effort. Once you have that information, you can then decide on the appropriate approach for each individual and group. Depending on your goals for the effort, you may either focus on those with the most interest and influence, or on those who are most affected by the effort.
As with any community building activity, work with stakeholders has to continue for the long term in order to attain the level of participation and support you need for a successful effort.
Maximizing Community Stakeholders' Engagement is a comprehensive video from Tom Wolff, which offers a thorough exploration of why it is important to involve all stakeholders, and how to do so.
Mind Tools - Stakeholder Analysis: Winning Support for Your Projects is a business-oriented method, but can be applied elsewhere as well.
Reference for Business - Stakeholders is an article on stakeholder perspective from Reference for Business, Encyclopedia of Business, 2nd ed. Business oriented.
A description of Stakeholder Analysis from the Guide to Managing for Quality, a joint effort of Management Sciences for Health and UNICEF.
World Bank - Stakeholders provides perspective on stakeholder analysis.