Planning Stakeholder Engagement

Submitted by Ben Smith 20th July 2011 15:36

Planning the Engagement

(see also Participatory Processes)

Once the stakeholders have been identified it is important to assess the following:

  • Interests: relate each stakeholder to the problems which the project is trying to address
  • Influence: the extent to which the stakeholders are able to persuade or coerce others into making decisions, and following certain courses of action.
  • Importance: the priority to be given to satisfying stakeholders needs and interests through the project.

Effective use of stakeholders requires that decision-makers use the right stakeholders in the right place at the right time and undertake appropriate analysis of the elicited information. The techniques available are diverse and care must be taken to ensure that appropriate tools are chosen. If you are just looking to find out the answer to a specific question from a representative sample of stakeholders it may be most appropriate to do a simple survey. If you want to formulate the issue itself and determine the key concerns surrounding it or want to reach a consensus on management objectives more complex approaches will be required e.g. facilitated meetings, visioning.

One of the advantages of using participatory techniques is that they are flexible. If one technique does not seem to be working you can abandon it and use another. This flexibility needs to be planned into the process to allow time to get feedback from the participants and for refection by the facilitators. This is often a group process, which may include representatives of the stakeholders themselves, where ideas are suggested and discussed in the small group before being presented to all the stakeholders. In order to be most effective it is thus useful to be aware of a number of techniques.

Ground rules for effective engagement

  • Clarity: Be clear about the aims and objectives of engagement. Also be clear about how the engagement fits in with official decision-making procedures. Work towards a shared definition of the problem, acknowledging the differences in problem perception.
  • Learning process: Everyone involved in the process must be prepared to learn.
  • Support and capacity building: Less well endowed groups need to be given training and capacity building support to enable them to engage on an equal footing with the other stakeholders.
  • Transparency. Records of the process, methods, outcomes must be kept and participants invited in an open manner. The procedures needed to do this should be agreed.
  • Build trust: use processes to overcome stereotypes and build an atmosphere that encourages equity, fairness, honesty and integrity of participants.
  • Create a safe, supportive environment. People work better (increase their effectiveness) if they work on the basis of an agreed set of rules. Hemmati (2002) notes that people value communicating about the way they communicate or 'metacommunication.
  • Management of information: access to information can be a form of power Everyone's perception is valid. Level the playing field; some have fear of things being oversimplified (e.g. scientists); need to accept that communication and decision-making is not purely a rational process, people's feelings attitudes and irrationalities and processing of information need to be taken into account and respected. Coordination of different types of information; value based, scientific; experiential.
  • Time for the design stage: if the process fails through bad planning then this may lead to a situation that is worse than before with more conflicts and distrust.
  • Time for the process: Allow time to develop the process, build partnerships and strengthen networks between stakeholders. It takes time to raise awareness and build trust so that the public see the value of becoming involved.
  • Listening: move from debate to dialogue
  • Cultural sensitivity: cultural issues may affect peoples ability to contribute.
  • Conflict resolution: If conflict is likely conflict resolution techniques should be part of the design. Concealing conflict cannot lead to consensus. (Hemmati, 2002).
  • Retain some flexibility : One of the advantages of using participatory techniques is that they are flexible. If one technique does not work you can use another. This flexibility needs to be planned into the process to allow time to get feedback from the participants and for refection by the facilitators.
  • Create appropriate structures and institutions: e.g Mikalsen, transparent and inclusive.
  • Be realistic: short term interests inevitably take over when resources are scarce (also at election time). Most stakeholders are responsible to a specific constituency. To get over reluctance to deal with climate change and the feeling that other things are more urgent don't have to present this as just climate change but climate change as part of environment - bring together MEAs, PRSPs etc.
  • Communication: encourage: clarity of speech; equitability; listening to others; take others seriously. Keep in check factors of social influence, charisma, eloquence. Everyone has the same amount of speaking time.