Knowing your audience

Problems encountered Mapping Stakeholders…. and some suggested solutions

By 7 September 2015

Thinking about mapping the stakeholders of your research or simply knowing where to start can be a tricky business.

There are a plethora of advice manuals, slideshares, ‘how to’ guides, exercises, and online tools and tricks that can help you map the stakeholders of your research. Just a few examples of exercises include: Brainstorming, PIPA, Netmap, AIIM, the Power/Interest Matrix and the multiple other adaptations or cross cutting blends of two or more tools. Yet, it is all too easy to get sidetracked, or bogged down within a particular category of stakeholder, or just stuck! It is also possible to spend a long time diligently mapping stakeholders and then realise that you have no priorities or plans for engaging with the stakeholders that you have identified.

Going beyond the ‘usual suspects’ to find stakeholders that you had not already thought about, or stakeholders who are further removed from your research can seem like an impossible task.

I recently facilitated a workshop on Stakeholder Mapping for researchers and during an introductory session we discussed the common problems that researchers and knowledge brokers face whilst trying to unpack who the stakeholders of their research really are. Some examples of problems that researchers and brokers commonly encounter included:

  • finding stakeholders for research that has no clear beneficial impacts (or even negative impacts);
  • identifying stakeholders who are sufficiently interested in very nuanced or fine grained research findings;
  • exploring entirely unknown stakeholders for new research projects;
  • sourcing relevant stakeholders for older or newly reopened projects, and finding ways of re-engaging with them;
  • utilising networks of stakeholders from failed research proposals and carrying over relevant contacts to larger projects or re-developed research proposals;
  • connecting different levels of stakeholders to form a coherent engagement plan. For example, by connecting the local to the global;
  • drawing together very disparate or non-traditional groupings of stakeholders;
  • mapping stakeholders in an environment or context that is not receptive to evidence or openly oppressive of the discourse that the research is communicating;
  • mapping stakeholders of research with direct government funding or  research outcomes which conflict with funders’ interests;
  • distilling stakeholders from highly collaborative or complex research projects.

And the list could go on…

Whilst there are no easy solutions to the thorny problems that researchers face when thinking about and mapping the stakeholders of research, there are some tricks that have proven to be effective in helping researchers and brokers to think differently about stakeholders.

  1. Give yourself a time limit. If you are completing an exercise like a Netmap or AIIM give yourself half an hour, or an hour, then stop and evaluate. Knowing when to stop mapping is the biggest hurdle you need to overcome.
  2. Map with others. Stakeholder mapping is most effective when you have stakeholders in the room, but if this is too tricky then try mapping with colleagues. Troubleshooting problems and thinking outside the box is enabled when you have other people to bounce ideas off.
  3. Record your conversation. Often if you are completing an exercise on paper you may struggle to write something down, the most interesting information is often hidden in the questions that you are asking each other and the general conversation you are having whilst completing the task.
  4. Ditch the piece of paper and linear thinking! If prescribed exercises are not proving fruitful then ditch formal exercises and start to think differently. Map your online stakeholders using online tools or browse online stakeholders using social media.
  5. Think about your stakeholders’ stakeholder if you get stuck. If you have one or two really important stakeholders, or you are stuck within a certain type of stakeholders, ask yourself who influences those stakeholders? This is called the snowballing method.

Some particularly resilient problems remain unsolved, such as, how to scope relevant stakeholders from past projects and find ways to re-engage them. The only method at present that researchers and intermediaries might use to tackle this problem is collaborative brainstorming and crowdsourcing solutions from others’ tried and tested efforts.

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