Stakeholder Engagement and Empowerment Options

Policy advocacy

In helping my clients to develop advocacy campaign plans and stakeholder engagement strategies, I often find the assumption we start with is that the client has ‘the message’ and everyone else with an interest is seen as ‘the audience’.

Discussion inevitably ensues about the focus on ‘public interest’ versus a possible perception of ‘vested interest’. The framing of the message is one issue, but the medium is also the message, so the selection of the communication vehicle, who the organisation chooses to partner with, who acts as spokesperson, and what mechanisms will work best to achieve the desired policy outcome, all require careful consideration as well.

The header chart above draws attention to four models of participation in policy and service design:

  • Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation identifies the options available to governments seeking to engage with citizens on public policy issues;
  • The Stakeholder Matrix approach suggests options available when campaign coordination committees are planning engagement with parties known to have an interest in an issue;
  • The RASCI project management approach offers a mechanism for project managers to assign one or more roles to project team members and stakeholders; and
  • The Co-Design Process model describes major steps or stages in the process of solving a problem or developing a product or service with a focus on user experience and requirements

These four models are generally used for different purposes at different times. Consequently, their common elements are not necessarily drawn to attention. The light blue horizontal bars in this chart highlight elements which could be considered similar, or comparable, across all models. They speak to the degree of empowerment available to those ultimately affected by decision-making processes, ranging from passive audience to empowered co-design partners. Of course, with greater involvement comes greater responsibility and accountability, and that too needs to be recognised by all participants.

Polarity or Partnership

The choices available when considering other stakeholders (who may have an interest in your advocacy issue) are broadly outlined in the schematic below. You can see the other parties as having no overlapping interest, having a broadly aligned interest, being allies with some shared interests, or as partners with mostly a common interest. In my experience, the closer you can come to an alliance or partnership, the more you will be recognised as acting in the ‘public interest’.

Stakeholder Analysis

The well-known stakeholder matrix divides interested parties into four groups according to the extent of their interest and influence in the matter. The chart below re-orients the usual quadrant chart to emphasise the vertical axis, and the hierarchy of choices in the level and types of stakeholder engagement available to you.

Stakeholder Proximity and Engagement

The chart below overlays the traditional onion diagram, showing internal, external, and public interest rings, with characterisations of stakeholder dispositions, whether they be supporters, opponents, bystanders, or undecided on the issue. For each of these groups, different types and frequency of engagement are suggested. This chart draws heavily on excellent material developed by Dr Mike Clayton, author of The Influence Agenda.

Effective advocacy

Advocacy campaigns which seek public benefit will usually be more effective if they engage and involve the group for whom improved outcomes are sought. Advocates who provide services for needy client groups may only be seen to be promoting their own business interests if their bids for additional resources (to meet special needs in the community) do not involve the ultimate stakeholders.

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