Identifying and assessing your project stakeholders is a key step in order to build a good stakeholder engagement plan. And with reason: failure to identify who weighs in the balance and who doesn’t could lead to wasting a lot of time and money in the wrong places. Plus, it could also rhyme with work stoppages and important damage to your corporate image. Thankfully, through our work with clients, we’ve been able to put together a 4-step approach to make sure you identify key stakeholders, in addition to carrying out a rigorous assessment for each one through a meticulous stakeholder mapping process (which is now partly automated in Boréalis!).
But first things first, let’s begin with a clear definition of what, or who stakeholders are. According to the IFC:
“Stakeholders are persons or groups who are directly or indirectly affected by a project, as well as those who may have interests in a project and/or the ability to influence its outcome, either positively or negatively. Stakeholders may include locally affected communities or individuals and their formal and informal representatives, national or local government authorities, politicians, religious leaders, civil society organizations and groups with special interests, the academic community, or other businesses.”
Now that this is out of the way, how can an organization identify and assess its stakeholders in order to better communicate with them over time, especially while keeping its long-term objectives in mind?
A simple 4 step-approach to identify and assess your stakeholders
1. Determine stakeholder groups (methodology)
How do you categorize your stakeholders? You must think of the most relevant way to group them in order to streamline the message you’ll be communicating with each group. Try to define broader groups, that will include similar stakeholders, like for example:
|Governmental authorities and regulators
Local and national regulators
Public advisory boards
Populations living close to your project(s)
Vulnerable groups: women, elderly, etc.
Universities and other education institutes
|Businesses and commercial organizations
These are just some ideas to guide you, you should define groups that are relevant to your project, given your context, history, location, scope, etc.
2. Assess each group with stakeholder mapping
Once groups are clearly defined, you can deep-dive into the assessment of the stakeholders within each group. To do so, stakeholder mapping has proven to be the best method: while it used to be (and too often still is) a manual process, more and more organizations are shifting to an easier, more precise and less influenced-by-internal-stakeholders’-opinion way to crunch the data.
Typical stakeholder mapping charts look as follows:
Now imagine just that, on a wall covered in Post-Its!
Even if this method does provide a visually compelling demonstration of the stakeholder mapping exercise, it comes with several loopholes:
- It’s highly influenced by the people present when completing the exercise
Getting an entire community relations team in the same room to complete the exercise is quite a challenge. Plus, it’s very time consuming. If in the present people’s opinion, a certain community member isn’t taken into account (but turns out another community liaison officer who is absent at the time of the exercise found out they had tremendous influence on high significance stakeholders) and is left out of strategic decisions, well that can deeply hurt the project over time. Now just imagine what could be falling through the cracks if you have a team with dozens of field agents in contact with your stakeholders every day!
- It’s static
It doesn’t show or track stakeholder evolution. Sure, you can move a Post-It note or a dot on a whiteboard to change a stakeholder’s position on the map, but once you’ll have done this 2-3 times for 15 stakeholders, good luck remembering where they were the previous month. You can always play the devil’s advocate and tell me you can take pictures, well yes that’s one option. But I’m sure you’ll be remembering this article when time comes to try and read names on the picture of your wall of Post-Its.
- You can’t access it anywhere, anytime
Speaking about the picture of Post-Its, I hope you saved a copy on your iPad, your laptop, your smartphone, and other devices. You could also scribble the stakeholder map on a napkin and carry that everywhere. But what happens the day you find nothing else to sneeze in? Okay, I’m all jokes here, but more seriously, being able to carry and share your stakeholder map with team members who are physically remote, like for instance not on the project site, will definitely come in handy. Plus, how do you share relevant data with management?
Don’t get me wrong, if this is how you’re currently doing your stakeholder mapping, you’re still doing a lot better than people who are leaving their stakeholder engagement to chance, without proper identification of influencers. But since we’ve reached maturity in the Internet of things and that AI is occupying a more and more important place in the business world, shouldn’t we put the advantages it brings to good use? Well the answer is yes! Automated systems that can assist teams in shifting from biased assessments to stakeholder data based on facts, engagements and a mathematical analysis of all this. In order to get the job properly done, we found that several axes must be taken into account for stakeholder mapping. Not all axes have to be used every time, only the ones relevant to your analysis. But it can go up to 8 axes:
The 8 axes of stakeholder mapping
- Significance: a stakeholder’s potential to affect both the project or other factors (like high significance stakeholders) around it
- Power: a stakeholder’s ability to independently and unilaterally affect a project
- Urgency: are matters (issues, grievances, commitments, etc.) linked to this stakeholder urgent?
- Legitimacy: the perception of a stakeholder by others (not by the company or organization leading the project); if they perceive the stakeholder as legitimate, they might support or adhere to his causes
- Requirement: what this stakeholder needs from the project (job, information, attention, etc.) or from his relationship with others (social recognition)
- Proximity: a stakeholder’s physical distance from a project, also through his relationships with stakeholders who are physically close to the project
- Influence: a stakeholder’s effect on the way others think or behave, or on the way that things develop
- Interest: a stakeholder’s level of involvement with the project, or with other high significance stakeholders
Here’s an example of a stakeholder map that we produced in Boréalis:
3. Define a strategy for each group, according to your assessment
Now that stakeholder mapping is completed, the hardest part of the work is done! What’s left to do? Defining a strategy per group, per level of influence. For some groups, your communication strategy might be to not communicate, well at least for the time being. For others, you could have a monthly, weekly or even daily detailed communications plan if you’re in a phase of your project during which issues or interactions are more sensitive.
A good communication strategy to engage with your various groups should include:
|WHAT||Topics that need to be discussed, with sentiment
(negative, neutral, positive)
|WHY||Why are you addressing this subject with this group?
(prevention, reaction, general announcement)
|WHO||Stakeholder groups||In your team, who is in charge of communicating with them?
(CEO, Community Relations Agent, Public Affairs, etc.)
|HOW||How will you deliver your message?
(public consultation, letter or email campaign, etc.)
|How can stakeholders respond/react?
(Paper or web form, call center, etc.)
|WHEN||Establish a clear time frame for your communications
(daily, weekly, bi-monthly, etc.)
4. Measure the effectiveness of your communication strategy
Look back on your communication strategy, asking yourself some of the following questions:
- Did you respect your timeframe?
- Have all communications been carried out?
- What was the response from the various stakeholder groups?
- Did you respect and follow-up on your engagements?
- Have some elements changed among the stakeholder groups? (like for example have the high significance stakeholders changed?)
In other words, you want to review and measure your activities in order to begin the process once again. And again 3 months later. Or maybe 6 months later. The important thing to remember is that stakeholder engagement is an ongoing process that doesn’t end, unlike the sales funnel that ends with a closed deal. Measuring your performance will thus allow you to review how you communicate with stakeholders, your assessment for each group, opportunities they have to get in touch with your organization or project, etc.
And that’s it, once these 4 simple steps have been put in place, you’ll be able to carry out your engagement plan while making sure you’re addressing the right subject with the right groups of stakeholders. I hope this article helps you out and offers you a better understanding not only of how to identify your stakeholders, but also on how to properly analyze them in order to get the conversation going with the best possible understanding of your project’s situation!
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