Which Stakeholder Mapping Method Should You Use?
See a detailed overview of stakeholder mapping, including historical models, their limitations, and a new (and better) way to map your stakeholders.
Stakeholder mapping is an important tool for stakeholder professionals and project managers, as it allows us to analyze stakeholders, develop stakeholder management plans, and more effectively engage with stakeholders.
But very few people use stakeholder mapping to its full potential — in part, because the most commonly used stakeholder mapping models are problematic.
So let’s explore the concept of stakeholder mapping, its benefits, the different models of stakeholder mapping, which stakeholder mapping method you should use, and how to improve your stakeholder mapping processes.
What is Stakeholder Mapping?
Stakeholders are the people, groups, or organizations that are impacted by (or have an impact on) your project, organization, or work.
Stakeholder mapping is part of the stakeholder analysis process. It involves assigning attributes or levels to each stakeholder based on their characteristics in relation to the project or work. For example, you might mark up each stakeholder as being low impact, medium impact, or high impact.
Many stakeholder mapping models use charts to visualise all their stakeholder attributes in one place, understand where one stakeholder sits compared to others, identify trends, or organize stakeholders into groups based on shared attributes.
But why go to all this effort?
Benefits of Stakeholder Mapping
When it’s done well, stakeholder mapping can help you better understand and organize your stakeholders, as well as support stakeholder management and engagement objectives, like:
- Managing your social license to operate
- Providing evidence of engagement
- Improving efficiency (i.e. reducing risk and delays)
- Identifying stakeholder interests to support success and avoid conflicts
- Developing a more comprehensive list of potential stakeholders
- Supporting an appropriate frequency of engagement
- Identifying the most effective and efficient engagement strategies
- Measuring how engagement activities impact stakeholders over time
We share more details about the benefits of stakeholder analysis (and by extension, stakeholder mapping) inside our guide to stakeholder analysis.
So, how do you actually do stakeholder mapping?
Common Stakeholder Mapping Models
There are a number of different stakeholder mapping models, but let’s take a look at some of the most common methods used.
1. Salience Model
Salience refers to how prominent or noticeable something or someone is. This stakeholder mapping model is used to classify stakeholders on the attributes of power, legitimacy, and urgency. You can use the venn diagram to show how these attributes intersect, resulting in seven stakeholder groups with varying degrees of power, legitimacy, and urgency.
From there, these seven groups can be assigned to three categories for prioritization.
The idea behind this model is that you can quickly identify which stakeholders may need the most attention. But it does have a number of issues and limitations (more on that later).
2. Stakeholder Knowledge Base Chart
The Stakeholder Knowledge Base Chart, found in Gower Handbook of Project Management, is used for mapping stakeholders based on how much they know about a project and their attitude towards it. It includes the following quadrants:
- Aware / Opposition – These stakeholders may be a risk and require management.
- Aware / Support – These stakeholders are worth keeping informed so they can continue to champion your project or work.
- Ignorant / Opposition – Increasing the understanding of these stakeholders may help to change their attitude.
- Ignorant / Support – Engaging with these stakeholders will help to keep them onboard and strengthen their support.
This approach may be used to tailor communication and engagement strategies to different stakeholder groups, but as we’ll soon see, it has some limitations that are worth considering.
3. Power/Interest Grid
The Power/Interest Grid is used to map stakeholders onto four quadrants, based on their level of power or influence, and their level of interest. Each quadrant requires different actions or levels of engagement:
- High power / high interest – Manage closely, regularly engage, and manage expectations
- High power / low interest – Meet their needs, keep them satisfied, and actively consult
- Low power / low interest – Monitor and provide information as needed
- Low power / high interest – Keep informed and maintain interest
The model suggests that depending on where each stakeholder is positioned, you may need to engage with them more or less frequently, with more or less intensity. It presents a simple way to classify stakeholders and tailor your engagement strategy. But like the other models here, it also has its limitations.
4. Power-Predictability Matrix
The Power/Predictability Matrix is very similar to the Power/Interest Matrix, but has a focus on predictability rather than interest.
People are often unpredictable — but some more than others.
The idea behind this model is that greater levels of unpredictability (combined with higher power) can present more of a challenge in stakeholder management. It is supposed to identify which stakeholders require closer monitoring, higher levels of satisfaction, faster responses, and a more hands-on approach. Once again, this matrix isn’t perfect, and we’ll discuss why below.
5. Stakeholder Relationship Mapping
Stakeholder relationship maps can help you visualize how stakeholders are linked. Some mapping tools allow you to show the strength of relationship and degree of influence, while also placing stakeholders on a scattergram according to other attributes, like their level of involvement, and sentiment.
This can help with understanding power and influence and potential ways to group stakeholders. But it doesn’t cover everything.
6. Stakeholder Mapping Spreadsheets
While you can use software or even pen and paper to map stakeholders onto a grid or chart, a lot of stakeholder mapping is done in spreadsheets. Columns can be added to make note of any attributes, alongside stakeholder contact info. Attributes may include topics of interest, level of impact, positive/negative/neutral sentiment, and more.
This approach offers a lot of flexibility, but (you guessed it!) also has some issues that are worth considering. So, let’s explore these issues…
Problems with Common Stakeholder Mapping Models
Just because everyone (or nearly everyone) is doing it, doesn’t mean it’s right.
That certainly applies to the historical or more commonly used stakeholder mapping models. Historical being the key word here, with many of these models created some 30 years ago. It’s safe to say that the world of stakeholder engagement and public participation has evolved significantly since then… and the stakeholder mapping methods have not.
One major difference for today’s stakeholders is power.
Power used to be more hierarchical, centrally held by governments and businesses that sometimes shared it with the community — but only if they had to.
These days, power is less tightly held and can change all the time. Technology (and especially social media) has changed the way people connect, communicate, and influence. Even relatively insignificant community members can easily pull together large groups of people on an issue.
For example, we’ve seen many organizations be publicly called out for poor behaviour. Even one negative comment online could cascade into community-driven action that impacts shareholders and influences change. So, we need to think about power in a much more dynamic way.
Stakeholder expectations have changed, too.
These days, stakeholders expect to have a greater say in decisions than they used to. Even if they aren’t significantly impacted by a project, many people would still expect to be informed and have the opportunity to voice their concerns.
Language has also shifted in the last few decades.
Some of the languages used to describe stakeholders could be considered offensive in today’s world. With greater social and cultural sensitivity, the language used in many stakeholder models is overdue for an update.
Finally, we need stakeholder mapping models that provide value.
Many stakeholder maps end up as pretty diagrams that sit in a beautiful report at the start of the project, never to be referred to again. This is unsurprising, since a lot of stakeholder maps don’t really tell people much — at least, not enough to influence the program or ongoing behaviors.
We need stakeholder mapping models that we can actually use to inform actions, reporting, and analysis throughout the entire project.
Analyzing Common Stakeholder Mapping Models
Here’s a summary of the problems and limitations we’ve found with the top stakeholder mapping models:
Learn more about why you should leave the spreadsheets behind here
Our Approach to Stakeholder Mapping
At Simply Stakeholders, we looked at how we could reimagine stakeholder mapping so that it would be useful. We wanted a more multidimensional model, with the ability to segment by contact groups.
Our preferred method (which is built into the Simply Stakeholders software product) is the 3 Is:
Each stakeholder should be given a value for each attribute, on a spectrum from very low through to very high. These attributes can be visually mapped on pie graphs, stacked bar graphs, or scatter plots.
Inside Simply Stakeholders, we can also filter by engagement, sentiment, and contact groups based on the 3 Is, allowing you to see how well you’re engaging with different types of stakeholders. That way, you can quickly figure out which stakeholders aren’t engaging well or who should be prioritized based on positive or negative sentiment.
Plus, one of the key charts on the Simply Stakeholders dashboard tracks who you are engaging with based on their stakeholder mapping. This can show you where the gaps are in your engagement efforts. And it can help you demonstrate that you’ve been engaging with all your stakeholders — including those most affected by your project or work. You can reference this in consultation reports to help demonstrate that you’ve done the right thing.
This integrated approach brings stakeholder mapping to life in a really practical, meaningful way. Because they’re linked to your stakeholder relationship management and contact records, your stakeholder maps become a living, breathing tool that you can constantly refer to and keep up-to-date throughout the course of the project.
3 Stakeholder Mapping Tips
Before we wrap things up, let’s touch on three final tips that will help you get more from your stakeholder mapping process.
1. Use Multiple Mapping Methods
It’s ok to use a number of different stakeholder mapping and analysis methods. It might even make sense for you to use more than one model in order to look at your stakeholders through different lenses and deepen your understanding.
2. Reference Stakeholder Maps Regularly
Ideally, stakeholder mapping should add value to and influence the entire engagement process — and not just be something that’s done at the start of the project or work and then set aside. Bring your stakeholder maps into discussions, planning, and reporting. Use them to develop strategies and track your progress.
3. Update Stakeholder Maps Regularly
Stakeholder maps are a powerful tool for monitoring change, especially if your stakeholder tools can track historical data like interest, influence, and impact over time. Not only this, but you can get far more accurate insights into stakeholders after the project begins by getting their input, so don’t be afraid to update your stakeholder attributes throughout the project.
We talk more about this in our blog on stakeholder analysis mistakes.
Stakeholder Mapping Features Inside Simply Stakeholders
Ready to get started with more modern, effective stakeholder mapping?
If you use Simply Stakeholders for managing your stakeholders, our built-in features allow you to visualize stakeholders according to their influence, interest, and impact. Plus, you can use our AI-driven sentiment analysis to see how stakeholders feel about your organization, issue, or project — and track how this changes over time.
With stakeholder mapping capabilities linked to your stakeholder records, you can easily reference the insights and use them for planning, reporting, and analysis — plus, keep them updated as your project or work unfolds.