Stakeholder Engagement in Controversial Environments

I’ve recently being working on a Stakeholder Engagement Strategy around a controversial issue that’s divided a community.

In this case it’s been in partnership with an experienced collegue. This has been extremely valuable in continually checking each others assumptions.

Often a key activity in an engagement process is to have a forum or meeting with the key stakeholders in the same room at the same time.

And too often, the success of these activities are measured by the number of attendees.

Given the high level of anxiety caused by the issue, we initially though that any kind of public forum could be adding fuel to an emotional fire.

So it was clear that we really needed to do our homework on this. Here are the steps we took:

1. Indepth stakholder mapping using the model developed by Peter Sandman
2. Identification of level of engagement using IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation (and client feedback)
3. Focused on working with Key Stakeholders before ‘going public’

Our aim with Key Stakeholders was to build relationships. We needed to better understand the impact of the issue within the community. A series of phone calls helped us to do this – these also helped to build a relationship, as we also had useful information to share.

Interestingly each Key Stakeholder recommended against holding public forums. Their suggestion (mirroring our thoughts) was to reach key people in the community through their representatives and representative bodies. In this case there are many, so there was less chance of the ‘unheard voices’ being missed.

The key learning from this has been to think about:
Purpose – what is the aim of the stakeholder engagement process?
Outcome – what will the engagement process result in?
Process – what’s the most effective (not efficient) way to do this?

Note that this process was not about ‘numbers.’ Not about getting as many people involved as possible. We went with the Dorothy Strachan mantra of ‘Involve the least amount of people with the most diverse amount of views.’

PS – if you’d like some assistance in developing your own stakeholder engagement strategy, please contact me
PPS – definitely interested in your views on this topic.

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Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer has over 25 years experience in working with organisations, businesses, managers and communities and at a state, national and international level. He designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of state, national and international conferences.

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