The Institute of Social and Ethical AccountAbility's AA 1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard defines stakeholders as:
… those groups who affect and/or could be affected by an organisation’s activities, products or services and associated performance. Organisations will have many stakeholders, each with distinct types and levels of involvement, and often with diverse and sometimes conflicting interests and concerns.'
The same standard defines stakeholder engagement as '… the process used by an organisation to engage relevant stakeholders for a purpose to achieve accepted outcomes.'
Effective stakeholder engagement is a critical skill for your success as a senior executive within the NSW public sector. You can form strong working relationships within and across agencies by applying some key principles that enable inclusiveness, openness and appreciation of the diverse stakeholder perspectives and expertise needed to achieve common business objectives.
A robust stakeholder engagement model can guide you and other employees through the process of identifying and categorising key internal and external stakeholders, so you can engage with them in a timely manner using appropriate techniques.
Principles of engagement
Five key principles underpin effective stakeholder engagement and set the standard for consistent, open and honest working relationships.
Principle 1: Purposeful
Begin with clear objectives of what needs to be achieved.
Start by defining:
- who is important to engage with
- why engagement is important
- what outcomes you are hoping to achieve from the engagement
- which activities will be most effective for engaging with stakeholder groups.
Principle 2: Inclusive
Identify all relevant stakeholder groups and any necessary steps that will make it easy for them to be involved.
- Identify and facilitate the participation of individuals, groups, and organisations who contribute to, influence, or are affected by your work
- Provide clear, succinct and timely information (relevant to their participation).
Principle 3: Timely
Involve your identified stakeholders early and provide details of how and when they will be involved.
- Provide a clear explanation of the stakeholder engagement process, and discuss proposed timelines - including meeting schedules, information requests and feedback.
Principle 4: Respectful
Acknowledge and respect the expertise, perspective and needs of all stakeholders.
- Be open to alternative views and problem-solving ideas.
- Respect your stakeholders' expertise and appreciate the benefits of mutual learning.
- Adapt your communication style to meet the needs and preferences of your stakeholders.
Principle 5: Transparent
Be open and honest in your engagement and set clear expectations.
- Clearly explain the stakeholder engagement process, the role of your stakeholders, and how their input will inform the project.
The Stakeholder Engagement Framework
The Stakeholder Engagement Framework below has been adapted from the international standard developed by the Institute of Social and Ethical AccountAbility (2005).
The framework illustrates a five-step process for maintaining and supporting effective stakeholder engagement through planning, preparation, action, and evaluation of every engagement activity. The stakeholder engagement process is a comprehensive, dynamic, ongoing cycle.
Stage 1: Think strategically
- Think strategically about the business issues that need to be addressed and the relevance of each stakeholder group
- Create an initial stakeholder map for further analysis.
Stage 2: Analyse and plan
- Use the stakeholder map prepared in Stage 1 to identify the different stakeholder types.
- Consider the project objectives, stakeholder relevance and priority, existing relationships, available resources and organisational constraints.
Stage 3: Prepare and resource
- Consider stakeholders' competencies and capacity to engage.
- Take necessary action to address any barriers to effective engagement.
Stage 4: Design and engage
- Consider different engagement approaches.
- Outline the most appropriate engagement techniques for each stakeholder type.
Stage 5: Review and measure
- Evaluate and use input from stakeholders to achieve your project objectives.
- Follow up with stakeholders on the output of the engagement process.
- Review and refine the stakeholder engagement process.
- Plan follow-up activities.
Stakeholder engagement levels
The diagram below is adapted from the International Association for Public Participation Spectrum (2007) – recognised as the global standard for defining forms of engagement. It outlines varying levels of engagement with different types of stakeholders. The appropriate tools and techniques for facilitating the engagement process can vary according to the situation, and the time, skills and resources available to you.
Deliver one-way communication to educate stakeholders.
No dialogue; this is a telling-only’ approach.
Suggested activities include publishing:
- fact sheets and websites
- bulletins and letters
- corporate documents (such as annual reports)
- speeches, conferences papers and presentations
- media releases and advertising.
Seek information and feedback from stakeholders to inform internal decisions.
Limited dialogue; you ask questions and receive answers.
Suggested activities include conducting:
- focus Groups
- one-on-one meetings
- public meetings and workshops
- online Q&A sessions, feedback sessions and discussion forums.
Directly work with stakeholders throughout the engagement process to ensure their issues and concerns are considered.
Two-way communication, with equal learning from each party.
Suggested activities include facilitating:
- multi-stakeholders forums
- advisory panels
- consultative committees
- participatory decision-making processes
Take a partnership approach to developing mutually agreeable solutions and a joint plan of action.
Two way communication, with learning, negotiation, and authority to make decisions.
Suggested activities include putting together:
- reference groups
- joint projects
- multi-stakeholder initiatives
- The Canadian CED Network: The Stakeholder Engagement Manual - Volume 2: The Practitioner's Handbook on Stakeholder Engagement Handbook
- Good Governance Australia: Good Governance Guide - Stakeholder engagement (public sector)
- Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet: Cabinet Implementation Unit Toolkit - 3 Engaging stakeholders
Senior executive relationships
Supporting ministers in the exercise of their duties
Customer service in the NSW government sector
Collaborating - across government, not-for-profit and the private sectors
Dealing effectively with the media
Senior executive insights
As a senior executive, you must continually and consistently engage with diverse internal and external stakeholders to ensure government projects are successfully implemented. Key strategies for successful stakeholder engagement in this context involve:
- keeping the purpose at the centre of all project activities, which includes:
- having a clear and aligned description of the purpose of the project and of the engagement
- defining what success looks like , and building your approach ‘with the end in mind’
- striving to achieve commitment early on, from the highest level required to support the project
- clarifying and acquiring the resources essential to supporting the engagement process, which you can do by:
- drafting a project timeline to clarify the resources required and identify key due dates for delivery
- selecting a mixture of engagement strategies, and considering how you will use and disseminate the input
- ensuring the designed approach is underpinned by the five principles of engagement, by:
- trying to understand the various stakeholders’ perspectives
- ensuring all key stakeholders have an opportunity for their voice to be heard
- setting clear expectations among your stakeholders regarding the purpose and process of engagement, which includes:
- providing a clear explanation of the purpose and process of engagement
- being specific about what will and will not be covered
- selecting credible and respected project influencers by:
- enlisting the support of respected and trustworthy project champions to reiterate the purpose of the project and engagement, and motivate others to get involved
- measuring and evaluating progress, including:
- preparing an evaluation approach early on
- being flexible and responsive to any required change in approach
- establishing feedback loops, by:
- designing a communication plan early on, and adhering to your commitments about who, how, when and to whom the results will be disseminated.