Sustainability (and such)

Stakeholder engagement

It’s all about the dialogue in stakeholder engagement, whether dealing in sustainability or AIDS and poverty reduction. Yet what, exactly, are some of the proven tools to determine which stakeholders should be included in global interventions?

Businesses typically look at stakeholder segments ranging from customers and media to employees and shareholders, and rely on tools such as Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats (SWOTs) to identify participants for the next big thing.  See page 29 of the Werther & Chandler text for more about how a SWOT kicks off a strategic planning process.

In contrast, public funders often offer a specific framework for stakeholder analysis; for instance, the World Bank hands out resources for a four-step social assessment and participation process.

Some examples of public participation are the Sustainability Framework explored by the International Financial Corporation, as well as multi-sector approaches used in anti-corruption and construction initiatives. I recommend a template that has helped me include the people strand in  public health and sustainability initiatives; specifically, the Environment Department of the World Bank advises how to formulate stakeholder participation.

This framework can be a strong indicator of how a project might be very important to a specific population with very limited power; for instance, rural populations are critical to HIV/AIDS projects but have cultural and other factors that limit influence. It helps to determine the interests of each group, appropriate forms of participation, and what’s needed to include groups with limited voices.

Definitions first.  The World Bank defines “stakeholders” as “people, groups, or institutions which are likely to be affected by a proposed intervention (either negatively or positively), or those which can affect the outcome of the intervention.” These include the borrower, the marginalized (especially those often excluded due to a lack of power and information, such as indigenous, landless, and other minority populations), and other groups.

So, how to whittle down such a possibly long list?  Step 1 begins with how to identify key stakeholders by asking these questions:

  • Have opponents and supporters been identified?
  • Who might benefit?  Who might be adversely impacted?
  • Have vulnerable groups been included?
  • And what are the relationships between these stakeholders?

Once this list is made, Step 2 examines stakeholder interests and how the project or policy would positively and negatively affect those interests.  It’s tricky, to uncover the hidden expectations and resources that might affect your project.  However, by this point, one must move beyond merely looking at public records to talking with stakeholders about the true scenario.

And such rich qualitative research strengthens Step 3, gauging how stakeholders control strategic resources, display organization, and exert personal connections (informal influence).To my mind, this is both essential AND hyper-sensitive; as outlined by Chela Sandoval, such analyses must speak to, against, and through power for social identities.

At this stage, I like to build visual tools such as grids and tables.  For instance, a grid of influence and importance map out different stakeholder groups.  In addition, a spreadsheet can assemble the data from all four steps with these categories: Name of stakeholder group; interest(s) at stake; effect on project (1-5 scale); importance for project success (1-5 scale); and degree of influence.  Such visuals help complete Step 4, which pinpoints how communication figures into stakeholder involvement.

Yes, it’s all about the dialogue. Whether using the World Bank’s principles of stakeholder engagement or  corporate principles, involvement is key —whether you’re empowering, collaborating, or consulting – that engage all angles of people, planet, and profits.

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