Stakeholder engagement primer: 4. Options for engagement

By Gabriele Bammer


What options are available to researchers for including stakeholders in a research project in order to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the problem, provide ideas about addressing it and help the research to support policy or practice change? Can different stakeholders be included in different ways? Can the same group of stakeholders participate in different ways in various aspects of the research? What obligations do researchers have to participating stakeholders over the course of that project?

It can be useful to consider 5 ways in which researchers can include stakeholders in a project:

1. Inform:
Researchers provide stakeholders with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the research.

2. Consult:
Researchers obtain stakeholder feedback on the research.

3. Involve:
Researchers work directly with stakeholders to ensure that stakeholder concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered in the research.

4. Collaborate:
Researchers develop equal partnerships with stakeholders for undertaking the research.
(The terms co-construct, co-create, co-design, co-innovate and co-produce are variously used to describe such collaboration.)

5. Support:
Researchers provide input as requested to stakeholder-led research.

For each option, the quality of the engagement matters. An essential component is making the engagement two-way, with researchers also having obligations to the stakeholders as the research progresses. These obligations are expressed as the following promises:

1. Inform promise:
We will keep you informed.

2. Consult promise:
We will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge your concerns and aspirations, and provide feedback on how your input influenced the research.

3. Involve promise:
We will work with you to ensure your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the research and we will provide feedback on how your input influenced the research.

4. Collaborate promise:
We will include you as an equal partner in designing and conducting the research.

5. Support promise:
We will provide advice and assistance as requested to help you design and conduct your research.

In moving from ‘inform’ to ‘support’ stakeholders have increasing influence on the research. A framework (i2S Stakeholder Engagement Options Framework) summarising the five options for stakeholder participation and the related promises to stakeholders is shown in the figure below.

i2S Stakeholder Engagement Options Framework (modified from the IAP2 (International Association for Public Participation) public participation spectrum). Source: Gabriele Bammer

Mixing and matching options

The spectrum of options also highlights the possibility of mixing-and-matching options across different stakeholders and different aspects of the research. In particular there can be:

  • different strategies for different stakeholders participating in the same aspect of the research.
    For example, in designing a questionnaire, one stakeholder may be consulted, while another is invited to collaborate.
  • different engagement strategies for the same stakeholders in different aspects of the research.
    For instance, a stakeholder may be informed about the project overall, consulted on the design of a questionnaire and the interpretation of the results and invited to collaborate on using the results to support policy and practice change. Another example occurs when the research consists of several sub-projects: a stakeholder may be informed about the overall design of the research, invited to collaborate in one specific sub-project and be consulted on another sub-project.

In research I led on the feasibility of prescribing heroin to treat heroin dependence, we employed this mixing-and-matching approach. For example, the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community collaborated on some projects and were supported to undertake their own research for other projects. Illicit drug users and police were involved in three major ways. First, both groups, as a whole, were informed about the research using a variety of mechanisms tailored to the specific group. Second, police representatives collaborated in designing and interpreting a survey of police; similarly drug user representatives collaborated in a survey of their peers. Finally, representatives of police and drug users were consulted about how the research findings would be presented to policy makers.

Anything to add?

Particularly welcome are examples of how you used any of the options to engage stakeholders, how you mixed and matched options, and how you kept your promise to stakeholders.

If you are new to stakeholder engagement, is there anything else on options for engagement that would be useful?

If you have engaged with stakeholders in your research, what would you add to the description above? Is there anything you wish you had known when you engaged with stakeholders? Do you have lessons from experience to share?

Sources and references:
The main source for the i2S Stakeholder Engagement Options Framework is the International Association for Public Participation public participation spectrum, which is designed for governments and other decision makers to strength the democratic processes of community and stakeholder engagement. The first three options (‘inform’, ‘consult’, ‘involve’) transferred seamlessly, but substantial modifications were required for ‘collaborate’ and for the fifth option, which was changed from ‘empower’ to ‘support.’ The International Association for Public Participation website provides information on how their spectrum was developed.

International Association for Public Participation (IAP2). (2018). IAP2’s public participation spectrum. (Online): (PDF 160KB).

The i2S Stakeholder Engagement Options Framework supersedes the “research-modified IAP2 spectrum.”

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:

1. a. Why a primer? b. Defining stakeholders (October 14, 2021)
2. Identifying stakeholders (October 21, 2021)
3. Selecting stakeholders (October 28, 2021)

This blog post:
4. Options for engagement (November 4, 2021)

Still to come:
5. Choosing engagement options (November 11, 2021)
6. Making engagement effective (November 18, 2021)
7. Listening and dialogue (November 25, 2021)
8. Generating ideas and reaching agreement (December 2, 2021)
9. Evaluating engagement (December 9, 2021)
10. Advanced skills (December 16, 2021)

6 thoughts on “Stakeholder engagement primer: 4. Options for engagement”

  1. Hi Gabriele, I also have enjoyed the stakeholder engagement primer and think it will be a very useful resource for students and researchers. I’m wondering if you have seen this paper by Key et al. 2019 which also adapts the IAP2 spectrum of community engagement to a research context. There’s some convergent evolution there. When I have taught about this spectrum, I have done what Katrin suggest above, and indicated the relative time commitment to research and project administration versus engagement activities as you move along the spectrum.

    • Great idea, thanks. Is this the paper you are referring to:
      Key KD, Furr-Holden D, Lewis EY, Cunningham R, Zimmerman MA, Johnson-Lawrence V, Selig S. The Continuum of Community Engagement in Research: A Roadmap for Understanding and Assessing Progress. Prog Community Health Partnersh. 2019;13(4):427-434. doi: 10.1353/cpr.2019.0064. PMID: 31866597.

      One difference, though, is that the i2S Stakeholder Engagement Options Framework is not conceived as a continuum, with some options as more desirable than others. Instead it is about helping researchers pick the most appropriate option for the particular circumstance.

  2. A useful set of posts, Gabriele. I also like the structure provided by the table. What comes to mind are thoughts around what are the stakeholder perspectives and their needs, abilities, and motivations.

  3. This is a very clear way of thinking about stakeholder engagement. Especially in larger and more complex project I think the matrix (the options framework table) can be used to actually track which stakeholder or group you engage with in what way, by adding them to the cells. This would serve as a reminder what promise you made to each of them (perhaps also indicating a duration) and help to keep it!
    As an additional layer, I suggest that adding the estimated time commitment to each cell would make it more visible that stakeholder engagement takes time. It may already be woven into the research workplan, but we tend to forget or underestimate the time that informing, involving, supporting etc. actually take!


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