By Gabriele Bammer
How can all those who have something relevant to contribute to a research project be identified? In particular, how can we find those who, through their experience of being affected by or dealing with a problem, can provide:
- a more comprehensive understanding of the problem
- ideas about ways to address the problem
- insights into how the research can best support policy and practice change on the problem in government, business and civil society?
A wide-ranging and inclusive initial process of identifying stakeholders ensures that key individuals and groups are not missed and that the broadest range of knowledge and perspectives is found, for both understanding and acting on the problem. In the identification process it is also important to include stakeholders who disagree with each other and those who hold unpopular views.
The process of identifying stakeholders should not be conflated with the process of selecting those to be invited to participate in the research. It is unlikely that everyone identified can be included in the research, but having a good understanding of the stakeholder landscape can improve the selection process.
Four approaches to identifying stakeholders are presented and can be used separately or in combination. They have different starting points and seek to open fresh ways of identifying who might have something to offer the research in understanding and supporting action on the problem. There are overlaps among the approaches.
Approach 1. Interrogating the problem and the research
Asking pertinent questions about the problem and the proposed research is one way to identify a wide range of stakeholders. Such questions include:
- Which individuals and groups are likely to be affected by the research findings? Who, although not directly affected, may be interested in the results of the research? Is there any stakeholder who should benefit from the research?
- Is there an Indigenous or local community perspective?
- Are there government, business or civil society policies emerging or in existence that will be affected by the research? If so, who are the key decision makers and others involved?
- Who is responsible for making decisions that might affect support for the research or its findings?
- Who has been or is involved in similar projects?
- Who is likely to have a negative view of the research? Who is likely to have particular concerns?
- Who is likely to see the problem in a different way or through the lens of a connected problem?
- Who is likely to have different values about the problem?
- Who can cast light on the contextual issues affecting the research, such as the history of the problem and attempts to deal with it, cultural issues, place-related issues or political issues?
- What should count as expertise?
Approach 2. Using networks
Networks can help identify relevant individuals or groups of stakeholders through three processes: brainstorming, snowball accumulation and promoting the research.
- Brainstorming can usefully occur with other members of the research team, other academic colleagues, stakeholders who have already been identified, and academics and stakeholders who have worked on similar problems. The process involves rapid-fire contributions with no holding back or self-censoring. This allows everyone to contribute their suggestions. Hearing what others propose can also spark new suggestions about relevant stakeholders.
- Snowball accumulation is an iterative process where newly identified stakeholders are asked who else should be included, and this process proceeds until no new stakeholders are identified.
- Promoting the research through social and mainstream media, public talks, talks to stakeholder groups and so on can be used to encourage stakeholders to identify themselves or others as potentially suitable stakeholder participants.
Approach 3. Using a checklist of stakeholder categories
A checklist of relevant categories of stakeholders can be a useful trigger for identifying individuals, groups and representatives. Categories can include:
- government departments, politicians, policy makers and advisers (local, national, international)
- other national or international policy makers or policy groups (eg., peak bodies and agencies)
- non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
- business and industry
- local communities
- affected groups, such as patients, residents, workers in particular occupations
- landowners and managers
- professional groups, such as nurses, surveyors, police, veterinarians
- the media
- the general public.
It can also be helpful to tabulate information on such stakeholders, as shown in the example below. Identifying what the identified stakeholders would contribute to the research and why they might wish to become involved can also spark ideas about other relevant stakeholders.
Approach 4. Building a mind map
This involves identifying the major groups of stakeholders who are placed at the centre of the map. Each group is then divided into subgroups, which are mapped progressing outwards, with greater degrees of specificity. This is illustrated in the example below.
The critical next step is to select―from all the stakeholders who have been identified―which stakeholders to invite to participate in the research. This is covered in the next blog post.
Furthermore, even a comprehensive attempt to identify stakeholders may miss some who turn out to be crucial. It can therefore be helpful to revisit the stakeholder identification process during the course of a research project, especially if research priorities have changed. The project also needs to be flexible enough in its processes and budget to allow additional stakeholders to be included.
Anything to add?
Particularly welcome are additional processes for identifying stakeholders and lessons from experience.
If you are new to stakeholder engagement, is there anything else on identifying stakeholders that would be useful?
Sources and references:
The main source is the work on stakeholder engagement by Durham and colleagues, from which the four approaches are derived. The first three have been modified. These authors, in turn, drew on the work of others, which is cited in the reference below.
Durham E., Baker H., Smith M., Moore E. and Morgan V. (2014). BiodivERsA Stakeholder Engagement Handbook. ERA-NET BiodivERsA: Paris, France. (Online – open access): http://www.biodiversa.org/702
Biography: Gabriele Bammer PhD is Professor of Integration and Implementation Sciences (i2S) at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at The Australian National University in Canberra. She is also a member of blog partner PopulationHealthXchange.
The Stakeholder Engagement Primer comprises the following blog posts:
- a. Why a primer? b. Defining stakeholders (October 14, 2021)
This blog post:
- Identifying stakeholders (October 21, 2021)
Still to come:
- Selecting stakeholders (October 28, 2021)
- Options for engagement (November 4, 2021)
- Choosing engagement options (November 11, 2021)
- Making engagement effective (November 18, 2021)
- Listening and dialogue (November 25, 2021)
- Generating ideas and reaching agreement (December 2, 2021)
- Evaluating engagement (December 9, 2021)
- Advanced skills (December 16, 2021)