In this blog, we’re covering five best practices to improve stakeholder engagement, but even just doing this research is a best practice in itself!
How do I Improve Stakeholder Engagement?
It’s easy to get stuck in the monotony of your activities and do the same things each day, especially as your project gets busy. However, it’s vital to remember that environments are constantly changing, as are your stakeholders, world events, and the issues faced by the communities you are engaging with. It's also important to remember that keeping stakeholder engagement effective is crucial to your project and organization's success. So, it’s always important to re-evaluate your processes to see what’s working well and be open to ideas that might work better.
Remember, stakeholder engagement is about continuous improvement. What you did last year, or during your last project might not work this time. Be open to learning from your past experiences and looking into other best practices that could improve your project moving forward.
When to Apply Best Practices?
Best practices are something to think about throughout the entire span of your project. Stakeholder engagement has phases, so as you enter a new phase or try a new tactic, it’s a great opportunity to evaluate and reflect on your processes or strategies and be critical of what worked and what didn’t.
The more often you reflect, the more opportunities you have to be responsive, incorporate feedback, and mitigate any risks as they arise.
5 Best Practices to Improve Stakeholder Engagement
1. Define What Success Looks Like
From the outset of your project, define your goals and what success would look like.
Often, we start by looking at what we must do (e.g., the standards we must meet for regulatory requirements or internal goals set by your organization). But is meeting these requirements your measure of success, or does it go beyond that?
Looking beyond what’s required, ask yourself what might success look like from the perspective of your communities and stakeholders? What would success look like from an organizational perspective in its journey to achieve its goals or priorities?
Ways you may define success:
- Your stakeholders and communities feel involved in your project.
- You’ve built a lasting partnership with your stakeholders and communities.
- KPIs or organizational goals are tracked and met.
- Commitments to involve communities to a specific level are fulfilled (e.g., a sponsorship commitment or a community social responsibility commitment).
Whatever way you define success, ensure it’s clearly defined early on, so your project and engagements can align with it.
A Tip from our Stakeholder Engagement Specialist: Discussing what success looks like with your stakeholders right from the beginning of your project is a great opportunity to help you build mutual understanding early on. This shared vision of success can help build social capital, which could help protect your organization and your partnerships as things change or issues arise.
2. Identify Your Stakeholders and Communities
Identifying your stakeholders and communities is one of the vital steps you'll take early in your project. Challenge yourself to think beyond just those who live in the area you're operating in. Consider everyone who could be impacted by your project and those who might have different interests or connections to the community members or the community itself that you may need to understand and manage.
Questions for identifying your stakeholders and communities:
- Are there specific interest groups that should be included?
- What kind of area are you in? Are you in a social service hub for different communities that you should engage?
- Does your demographic include an aging population? Are there family members or caregivers to include?
- Who might be impacted or interested in your project that you haven’t considered yet?
A Tip from our Stakeholder Engagement Specialist: Be open to adding new stakeholders and communities throughout this process as you learn more and talk to different people. The stakeholders you have at the beginning may look different than those you have at the end—growth will happen to your audience throughout your project.
Stakeholder mapping is a valuable exercise to help you identify all your stakeholders and communities. Learn how to do a stakeholder mapping exercise.
3. Set a Schedule for Communicating
Plan and set a schedule for communicating with your communities and stakeholders so you can focus on building trust and gaining useful information each time you interact. Without a set schedule, it’s easy to forget about people when you’re in the throws of your project. Weeks and months fly by, and you suddenly realize you’ve forgotten to follow up!
Instead, set and follow a schedule to show your stakeholders and communities they can count on regular updates from you (even when there’s nothing new to report—no news is still news!).
When setting your schedule, consider:
- How often will you commit to engaging?
- What kind of timeframe will you provide for updates?
- How will you ensure you’re consistent and honest in all your messaging?
- What’s your plan for communicating during emergencies or urgent scenarios? This will be beyond your set schedule.
A Tip from our Stakeholder Engagement Specialist: Consistency and honesty are essential throughout all your engagements. If you said the project will be completed in the fall after you already said it’ll be completed in the summer, you need to let stakeholders and communities know why this change occurred. Acknowledge the change, let them know why it’s changed, and show them you’re committed to keeping them updated throughout the change.
4. Keep Track of All Your Promises
You must follow through on any promises (or commitments/accommodations) you’ve made to your stakeholders and communities.
Whether you made big promises during the planning stages that you won't be able to fulfill until your project is complete or made small promises during an engagement session, it's essential to stay on top of them. Tracking all your promises will help you ensure you never forget one.
How to keep track of and fulfill your promises:
- Make sure they are logged so they can be fulfilled no matter who made the promise.
- Log all interactions with your stakeholders and communities (not just the promises), so you have a full history of engagement to learn from and use when promises do come up.
- Use a stakeholder engagement tool like Stakeholder Relationship Management (SRM) software to help you monitor the status of promises.
- Reporting is inevitable in stakeholder engagement. Make reporting on your promises easy by keeping everything tracked and organized in one location.
A Tip from our Stakeholder Engagement Specialist: If you have a team that tends to change often or you have multiple contributors, ensure you can keep track of every promise so it can be remembered no matter who made it.
Integrating your promises into your stakeholder engagement reporting can be a great way to stay on track and understand what still needs to be done. If you’ll be managing a lot of information or running various reports, an SRM can help you build these reports quickly and easily.
5. Remove Barriers to Participation
Understanding and removing barriers to participation that your communities and stakeholders may face can significantly improve the quantity and quality of your engagement.
To help remove barriers to participation, consider:
- How can you better understand your audiences?
- How are they engaging with you? As part of their workday or during their own time?
- How can you better tailor your communications to your audiences?
- Can you make your engagements more inclusive?
- Can you use different technologies or tactics that your audiences would prefer?
You’ve identified your stakeholders and communities as an essential part of your project, and you know their perspectives are valuable, so how can you help them participate in the conversation?
Practical options to help your audiences participate:
- Provide a virtual component
- Run meetings on multiple days or times
- Provide food
- Go to your stakeholders and into your communities for engagements
- Choose accessible and comfortable locations
- Use inclusive language
A Tip from our Stakeholder Engagement Specialist: If you’re not getting the kind of participation, you thought you would, you can always ask people, “how do you want to be engaged? Do you have any ideas or suggestions? Do you know what works well for your community?” You can also ask your stakeholders for feedback and input on your engagement process and adjust your tactics accordingly.
Don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never done before. If you are trying something new, you can communicate that to your stakeholders by saying, “we’re trying a new format and would like your feedback. Does this work well for you?”
Next Steps: Continue Learning About Trends and Best Practices in Stakeholder Engagement
Stakeholder engagement is constantly evolving, so reflecting on your progress and continuously learning about best practices is key to your project’s success. Ensure that your stakeholder engagement is always meaningful; check out our blog for tips!
If you’re interested in learning about five important stakeholder engagement trends with expert advice on more best practices, check out our blog with Kim Hyshka from Dialogue Partners.