5 ideas for engaging with your stakeholders
Stakeholder focus groups
Engaging with the important and interested stakeholders is key to success. Focus groups can provide you with the quality information that you need and ensure that those key people feel that they have been involved and listened to. Don't be afraid to include your difficult stakeholders in these groups if you facilitate these meetings well you stand a good chance of turning them into project champions. At the very least you will be better able to keep an eye on them.
Successful Stakeholder Engagement means engaging with a wide range of project stakeholders. Surveys are a useful way of gathering feedback from a large number of people. They can be delivered via the web, email, face to face, or over the phone. There are freely available guides on designing stakeholder surveys on the web and there are plenty of free survey building tools. Make sure you design your survey to ask both open and closed questions and use a combination of scoring e.g. 1 ; 6 and free text areas to draw out detailed feedback.
To fully understand an issue and draw out a particular stakeholder's perspective you could arrange to interview the most influential stakeholders. This is a great opportunity to gather intelligence and to build rapport. However, interviewing is going to take up a lot of time so only use this engagement technique for the most important issues and with the most influential stakeholders. For example the project manager of a large construction project wouldn't necessarily interview members of the public, but might well interview the local MP or councillor.
Every project is likely to have large number of stakeholders who fall into the show consideration or least important category (see Step 2: Stakeholder Analysis
). These stakeholders are not highly influential, but they can still cause you problems if you don’t keep them informed. Emails, newsletters and leaflets reach a wide audience. They can raise the profile of your project and give you an opportunity to showcase successes. Balance the frequency of communications against the time you have available and bear in mind that some people may not read your carefully crafted letter. Try to ‘piggy back’ on an existing publication to save time and add credibility to your message.
Websites and podcasts
I strongly recommend that every project has a freely accessible shared area where news, information, dates and key documents can be stored. A website or webpage is ideal as you can use it to communicate with all of your stakeholders - more influential stakeholders can be given access to privileged areas to complete surveys or attend online focus groups. Like a newsletter you can showcase your success, but in addition stakeholders can access your website any time. They can ‘pull’ information from your site when they need it rather than you having to ‘push’ it out to them.
Most companies have existing intranet/internet which you can use without needing web design skills. Remember that you need to put aside time to update and market your website. You could also consider using podcasts, keeping a blog or setting up a stakeholder forum.
Combining and targeting stakeholder engagement approaches
Each of these approaches has pro and cons when it comes to engaging
with your stakeholders. You should combine these approaches and use a channel that is appropriate to the interest and influence of your stakeholder audience. For example:
Stakeholders falling into the least important category
need only be engaged via open days or through the website. It would be a waste of your resource to include them in a focus group. However, those important groups that aren’t particularly interested may really benefit from involvement in one to one interviews and this might be the only way that you can draw them out.
Think about combining these approaches to dig into the detail on particularly important issues. For example, if your survey results show that there are a lot of concerns about a particular area do some more research by interviewing key respondents. If the interviews show that more needs to be done form a stakeholder focus group to address the concerns.