Stakeholder engagement – best practice guide

person pointing at board for planning session

Allison Hendricks

12 August 2019

General Stakeholder Management

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Stakeholder engagement – best practice guide

What do stakeholder engagement best practices look like? Understanding best practices (and following them) can help build your confidence when engaging with stakeholders, while ensuring you achieve the best possible outcomes for your project, organization and any stakeholders.

We’ve put together a list of best practices for stakeholder professionals based on our own experiences, the International Association for Public Participation’s (IAP2) core values, and International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) key components of good stakeholder engagement.

From initial stakeholder engagement planning to communication, compliance and reporting… here are 14 stakeholder engagement best practices…

1. Make a plan

Your first step should always be to make a stakeholder engagement plan. A basic plan should outline who your stakeholders are, why you need to engage them, how you’ll engage them and what outcomes you need to aim for. With a plan in place, you can ensure you have capacity within your organization to follow through with stakeholder engagement and make the most of your resources. Finally, a plan will guide you through each step, from defining stakeholders to reporting on what outcomes you’ve achieved.

2. Define your stakeholder list

As part of your stakeholder plan, you’ll need to identify your stakeholders. List out all the different individuals, groups and organizations who are affected by or may have an influence on your project or organization. Once you have your stakeholder list, you’ll know who you need to engage and you can start planning the messages and methods that make sense for your specific stakeholders. 

3. Define your key stakeholders

Don’t just stop at your stakeholder list – if you’ve done this properly, you’ll probably have more stakeholders listed than you can realistically engage with on a deep level. 

So, decide which people and groups on your list are key stakeholders – those who you’ll need to engage with more, and those whose participation is critical to your project. Use the Stakeholder Mapping fields of Influence, Interest and Impact to segment your stakeholders. Then you’ll be able to prioritize your time and resources, focusing your efforts on them, while still broadly engaging the remainder of your stakeholder list.

4. Tailor your communication and message

The same method of delivering or presenting your message probably won’t be right for all your stakeholder groups. Stakeholder engagement best practice means you should tailor the information to different stakeholders so that it addresses the issues they’re most concerned about, and provides it in a format that is most accessible to them.

5. Be inclusive

Recognize that your stakeholders are diverse and it’s your responsibility to offer a fair chance for all stakeholder groups and individuals to participate. You can do this by:

  • Getting real data on who your stakeholders are and how they prefer to communicate
  • Ensuring information is accessible in different formats (audio, video, text, online, offline, in-person, different translations)
  • Planning measures that help you reach a culturally and linguistically diverse community
  • Planning engagement activities and communication that maximize the opportunities for people with disabilities to participate
  • Checking that the language you use does not exclude any stakeholders

6. Communicate clearly

Stakeholder engagement best practice 101? Clear communication. Here are some ways you can communicate more clearly:

  • Present the facts objectively
  • Be as transparent as possible
  • Explain what’s uncertain vs what’s certain
  • Show how stakeholders can share their perspective and participate
  • Explain how stakeholder involvement will impact on decisions made
  • Disclose information early on 
  • Continue to communicate throughout the life of your project
  • Share contact information and how stakeholders can request more information

7. Listen

Communication should be two-way. Give your stakeholders opportunities to:

  • Respond
  • Interact
  • Exchange information
  • Ask questions

And actually listen to what they’re saying and address their issues. That’s the key to engagement and participation, especially when you are dealing with controversial or sensitive projects and issues. Doing so will enable you to demonstrate transparency in your reporting – showing exactly how you have responded to stakeholder feedback.

8. Respond quickly and follow up

Go beyond just listening and respond to any concerns or grievances raised by stakeholders. Demonstrate that you’re willing to have a conversation and engage in meaningful discussion on issues.

9. Be flexible and ready to adapt

Stakeholder engagement isn’t about controlling people and making them your puppets. It’s about collaboration. Your stakeholders’ contributions, perspectives and concerns should be taken into consideration and should influence the decisions made. Following stakeholder engagement best practice means you welcome constructive feedback and that you’re open to making changes and adapting. 

10. Encourage participation from beginning to end

Get your stakeholders involved from the very start so they have every opportunity to participate and contribute, and even have a say on how and when they can participate. It’s their right as stakeholders (who will be affected by the decision) to be involved in the decision-making process. And don’t leave them out at the end of the process, either. Your stakeholders should have access to reports on how their participation has impacted the project or decision. 

11. Track interactions

Use stakeholder engagement software to record details on any conversations you have with stakeholders, whether phone, email or in-person. This stakeholder engagement best practice is extremely practical – tracking your communication and interactions will help you discover issues, see who is (and isn’t) engaged and share information as a team.

Stakeholder engagement software will also enable you to track issues and conversations across multiple channels (such as workshops, social media, media, surveys) and have visibility of issues and trends across all these channels.

12. Define what success looks like

You can follow all the stakeholder engagement best practices, but if you don’t actually monitor engagement levels, process and outcomes and know what you’re looking for, you won’t know if you’ve been successful. So, set reasonable expectations about the kind of engagement you want to see and the minimum standards of engagement you’d like to see. For example:

  • 100 community members at an upcoming planning meeting. Ideally set some goals around representation of those 100 people, for example around demographics or location
  • 250 survey responses or perhaps a percentage of the affected population
  • 10 phone or email conversations per week throughout the project
  • Response times for follow up tasks and complaints
  • Satisfaction rating for issue resolution

Define these metrics in your plan with goals, timelines and benchmarks. And be realistic about your expectations – you won’t change the world overnight. 

13. Provide updates and reports

We’ve already touched on this, but reporting is essential. You owe it to your stakeholders so they can know how your organization or project has performed, what the outcomes were and how they influenced them. The right stakeholder engagement software can help you provide reports and updates that are ready to share.

14. Use a stakeholder engagement tool

Last but not least, all organizations who are serious about stakeholder engagement best practices need a stakeholder engagement tool or system in place. If you follow the best practices set out above and implement them using the best possible stakeholder engagement software, you’ll get more out of your resources and maximize your chances of success. 

Ready to get started? Sign up for your free 7-day trial or contact us if you have any questions about setting up your stakeholder engagement system.

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