Breakin’ it Down: Analyzing Global Stakeholders

This post is part of a series on Stakeholder Engagement sponsored by Jurat Software.

By Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D., Faculty, Presidio Graduate School

It’s all about the dialogue in stakeholder engagement, whether dealing in sustainability or AIDS or 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 MBA tools such as Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats (SWOTs) to identify participants for the next big thing.  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.

This framework can be a strong indicator of how important a project might be to a specific population with very limited power; for instance, rural populations are critical to water projects but often face cultural and other barriers that limit influence. It helps to determine the interests of each group, appropriate communication, and what’s needed to include those 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 representations.  For instance, a grid can map out the importance and influence of different stakeholder groups. In addition, a spreadsheet assembled during Step 4 can assemble all data from and identify exactly how stakeholders can participate.

Yes, it’s all about the dialogue. Whether using the World Bank’s principles of stakeholder engagement or a similar set of principles, the people strand is key —whether you’re empowering, collaborating, or consulting – that engages all angles of power.  And, although such qualitative measures are time-consuming, you’ll include more stakeholder voices that might be missed in the overall context.

 Nancy Van Leuven teaches MBA and MPA courses in sustainability at the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco.

[Image Credit: PlanetObserver on Flickr]

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