Are more stakeholders better?

Eleanor Sterling (biography)

Community member post by Eleanor Sterling

Participatory modeling, by definition, involves engaging “stakeholders” in decision making. But determining which stakeholders to involve, when, and how is a delicate balance. Early writings on stakeholder engagement methods represent engagement along a linear continuum from non-participatory to citizen-controlled decision making.

Non-participatory methods could include stakeholders passively receiving pre-set information, with no input to content or delivery (eg., public information campaigns). Fully collaborative partnerships (eg., participatory action research projects) involve co-creation of knowledge, co-identification of issues, and co-framing of and implementation of solutions.

Arnstein (1969) called attention to the potential for manipulatory engagement, noting that in these instances engagement is about powerholders creating the illusion of genuine engagement, for instance through positioning key stakeholders as high profile figureheads who, in reality, have no say in decision-making.

The figure below shows the eight stages of participation as per Arnstein (1969) (depicted in the original paper as rungs on a ladder), see also the blog post by Katrin Prager on the difference between co-creation and participation.

(Adapted from Arnstein 1969)

This overall framing is normative, with the non-participation end of the spectrum “bad” and the full engagement side considered “good”. However, experience in engaging diverse stakeholders shows that it can be difficult to bound the list of interested parties. Further, engaging all stakeholders using the same methods at all stages of an initiative can be cumbersome and prevent progress.

Work with colleagues on stakeholder engagement in biodiversity conservation (Sterling et al., 2017) shows that different methods might be used at different times of a project stage to best target the needs of stakeholders and organizers. As illustrated in the figure below, participation is an ongoing and iterative, non-linear exchange with varying groups of stakeholders engaged in dynamic ways across the life cycle of a project or activity.

The intensity of engagement increases as stakeholders move towards the center. The central square represents stakeholders and organizers who provide project framing and guidance that is central to decision-making throughout the cycle. Other shapes represent diverse stakeholder groups who are engaged at different times and degrees of intensity. In this hypothetical example, the square could be local elders who co-lead the project, the circle could represent a women’s civic engagement group, the heptagon could represent a researcher, and the triangle a neighboring community.


Intensity of engagement for different stakeholder groups over project life cycle (illustration by Nadav Gazit, from Sterling et al., 2017)

The potential for engagement fatigue, in which involvement in a project has a negative impact on the stakeholder, is another reason to consider a more dynamic approach to engagement. However, this is a multifaceted issue, as research has shown particular types of engagement, such as when stakeholders are consulted but not actively involved in decision-making, are more likely to result in fatigue.

What has your experience been in engaging stakeholders? Have you developed any effective ways to identify and differentiate the various stakeholders relevant to your project?

Arnstein, S. R. (1969). A Ladder of Citizen Participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 35, 4: 216-224.

To find out more:
Sterling, E. J., Betley, E., Sigouin, A., Gomez, A., Toomey, A., Cullman, G., Malone, C.,
Pekor, A., Arengo, F., Blair, M., Filardi, C., Landrigan, K. and Porzecanski, A. L. (2017).
Assessing the evidence for stakeholder engagement in biodiversity conservation.
Biological Conservation, 209: 159-71. Online (DOI): 10.1016/j.biocon.2017.02.008

Biography: Eleanor Sterling PhD is Chief Conservation Scientist at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History. Building on her interdisciplinary training and experience, she bridges biological and socio-cultural perspectives and integrates them into management strategies for integrated ecological and human systems. She has over 30 years of field research and community outreach experience in both terrestrial and marine systems around the globe and is considered a world authority on the aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascarensis), a nocturnal lemur found only in Madagascar. She focuses her current work on the intersection between biodiversity, culture, and languages and explores the factors influencing resilience from a biocultural approach. She is a member of the Participatory Modeling Pursuit which is part of the theme Building Resources for Complex, Action-Oriented Team Science funded by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC).

Where are the stakeholders in implementation science?

Community member post by Allison Metz and Annette Boaz

Allison Metz (biography)

Should implementation science make more room for consultation, collaboration and co-creation with stakeholders? Would finding more active roles for stakeholders in implementation science be a promising approach to increasing the use of research evidence for improvements in policy and services?

The goal of implementation science is to promote the sustainable implementation of research evidence at scale to improve population outcomes, especially in health and human services. Nevertheless, the mobilization of research evidence on the frontlines of health and human services has been quite limited, especially in public agencies serving the vast majority of consumers. Continue reading

Is co-creation more than participation?

Katrin Prager
Katrin Prager (biography)

Community member post by Katrin Prager

Co-creation, and related terms like co-design, co-production, co-construction and co-innovation, are becoming increasingly popular. Upon closer scrutiny they share many characteristics with participatory processes. Is there a difference between the two – co-creation and participation – and if yes, what is it?

Let us first look at participation. Not all participatory processes are the same. They differ with regard to who is involved, who initiated the process and for what reason, the anticipated outcomes, the duration, the context in which it takes place, and who has control over the process and outcomes. Continue reading