5 steps to demystifying stakeholder engagement
All public value organisations know they should be engaging with their stakeholders. But for many, the real challenge is who, how or why they should be engaging, and what benefits they will gain.
The mere mention of stakeholder engagement in many organisations can create a sense of anxiety or frustration, as people expect the process to be time-consuming, irrelevant or one that only lets stakeholders raise complaints or problems.
In our experience, stakeholder engagement is one of the most useful things an organisation can do to achieve their public value outcomes. Effective stakeholder engagement provides a sense-check on new directions and approaches, introduces innovative ideas, identifies new partnership opportunities, and delivers an indirect marketing or publicity opportunity.
To help achieve the potential of stakeholder engagement and avoid the pitfalls of a mismanaged approach, the most important thing is to take time and plan your engagement rather than jumping straight in.
To plan successfully, you need to understand the outcomes you want to achieve, the time-frames you are working within, and the available budget. The ‘why‘ is just as important as the ‘how‘. Stakeholder engagement is a genuine way to understand the needs and desires of people who have an interest in the organisation or project, instead of a simple ‘tick-the-box’ exercise.
For public sector organisations, one methodology often used as a starting point is the Public Participation Spectrum from IAP2 (International Association for Public Participation). It is important to remember however that engagement needs to be tailored to the stakeholder, and any plans needs to be adapted and iterated to achieve the desired outcomes.
Identifying your stakeholders correctly ensures your engagement is a targeted exercise, helping keep your costs down and ensuring you achieve the outcomes in your plan. After identifying the relevant stakeholders, it is important to analyse them. The analysis can range from a basic assessment of each stakeholder’s role in a specific project, program or organisation, through to a map of their interests and influence.
Often, designing the engagement is the most difficult step, and as a result is where experience and skill are the most useful. Engaging with stakeholders is more than casually talking to people or doing a survey. Designing the appropriate survey or interview questions can make a big difference to a successful engagement. The design stage is where you work out the details –the activities you will undertake, who from your organisation will participate, the different approaches you will take for different stakeholders, and the tools you will need to deliver the engagement. Cube has experience in a range of methodologies to help you undertake this step.
The engagement is where you put everything you have planned, identified and designed into action. This is where you undertake surveys, run workshops, listen to people’s opinion, do vox pops, call for submissions, engage online, or run expos and town hall sessions. This step is usually the most expensive part of the process and can costs can escalate quickly depending on the number of people needed to deliver the engagement activities, the range of locations where the engagement will take place, and the tools needed to deliver the engagement.
Reporting on the analysis of the engagement activities is the final step in the process and is unfortunately the step most often rushed due to time constraints. Good reporting gives you the opportunity to put the engagement in the context of your objectives and organisational strategy, formulate actions and stakeholder communication messages from the findings, and share the engagement outcomes with your project team and the organisation’s leadership team.
Following these steps is a useful approach for both small and large scale stakeholder engagement. There are a wide range of options and approaches for each step in the process. For more complex projects, the most important consideration is whether your organisation has specialised internal or external capability to deliver stakeholder engagement effectively.
Stakeholder engagement is essential for all public value organisations, but it doesn’t have to be scary. Instead it can be a great opportunity for organisations to better understand their customers, develop new ideas and ensure stakeholder ownership and support for their programs and projects.
Keep an eye out for future Cube blog posts about different methodologies and approaches that can be used at each stage during the stakeholder engagement process.