5 Essential Steps to a Stakeholder Engagement Plan

Posted by Britney Blomquist on July 20, 2021

With extra tips and resources to help you create a strategic plan for better project outcomes.

What is a Stakeholder Engagement Plan?

A stakeholder engagement plan is a strategic step-by-step process on how you and your team will communicate with your stakeholders for positive project outcomes.

Some of the benefits of creating a strategic stakeholder engagement plan include:

  • Reduce project risks
  • Manage your resources more effectively
  • Facilitate team collaboration
  • Gain buy-in
  • Meet timelines
  • Build trust and better relationships with stakeholders and communities

To help you as you develop your stakeholder engagement plan, today we’re talking about five essential steps to a stakeholder engagement plan with several additional tips and resources to help you on your stakeholder engagement journey.

Printable stakeholder map canvas for stakeholder mapping

5 Essential Steps to a Stakeholder Engagement Plan

Step 1: Clarify the goal of your plan and any requirements you must meet

To create the best plan for your team and your project, you need to understand your desired outcomes (or goals) for this plan (e.g., build positive stakeholder relationships, meet regulatory requirements, gain approval, etc.).

This is an important first step because a stakeholder engagement plan created with your goal(s) and necessary requirements in mind will help you and your team make aligned and strategic decisions for more positive project outcomes.

Tip: Reflect on any previous plans and projects

If you’ve run a project in the past, are there any learnings you can take from your previous plans to help guide this one? What about from members on your team?

  • Did anything work particularly well?
  • Did you encounter any unexpected obstacles?
  • Were specific team members particularly well-suited for certain roles and responsibilities?

Use these learnings as a guide to help strengthen your next plan!

Step 2: Conduct a stakeholder analysis

Once you understand what you’re hoping to accomplish with this plan, it’s time to focus on the stakeholders and communities you’ll be engaging by conducting a stakeholder analysis.

Want to learn more about stakeholder analysis? Check out our blog!

While stakeholder analysis can have several parts, three key elements include:

  • Stakeholder identification
  • Stakeholder mapping
  • Understanding your stakeholders

Stakeholder Identification

stakeholder mapping

Before you can begin engaging, you must figure out who your stakeholders are, and this process needs to be done thoroughly.

To make sure you’re identifying all necessary stakeholders and community members, we always recommend making this a team exercise and considering every person or group who could be affected or interested in your project, either positively or negatively.

Need help identifying your stakeholders? Check out our blog on 9 Questions to Help Identify Your Stakeholders!

Stakeholder Mapping

Now that you know who your stakeholders are, it’s time to prioritize them by organizing your stakeholders into groups.

A popular stakeholder mapping canvas is Mendelow’s Power-Interest Matrix, which helps you categorize stakeholders based upon their level of interest (high/low) and level of influence (high/low) on your organization or project.

Want to learn more about stakeholder mapping? Check out our blog on How to do a Stakeholder Mapping Exercise!

Understand your Stakeholders

After stakeholder identification and mapping, you need to take the time to more closely understand your stakeholders. You’ll want to learn about their perspectives, interests, concerns and opinions on your organization and project.

Once you understand their perspectives, you can assess where they stand regarding your project (i.e., support, object, conditional, undecided or neutral). With this information, you’ll have a better idea of the key messages they need to hear and how best to engage moving forward strategically.

Tip: Use software to understand your stakeholders

stakeholder engagement

Stakeholder Relationship Management (SRM) software works as your teams’ single source of truth for all your stakeholder engagement information, which is beneficial in many situations, like when you’re preparing to engage with a stakeholder that you’ve already communicated with on previous projects.

By utilizing an SRM like Jambo to organize and manage your stakeholder information, you'll have access to all the data you and your team have logged for each of your organization’s projects. When engaging with a stakeholder who was part of a previous project, you can quickly jump into the SRM to see what kinds of information they've shared previously (e.g., what they value, their concerns, perspectives, any issues they previously raised, etc.). Access to this history of engagement will help you be one step ahead and understand what kinds of conversations might be vital for this project.

Interested in learning how SRM software can help you understand your stakeholders better? Check out our blog!

Step 3: Identify how you will engage with your stakeholders

stakeholder mapping

There are several considerations when planning for stakeholder engagement:

  • How will you engage stakeholders? (i.e., what tactics will you use like email, brochure, focus group, survey, website, one-on-one meetings, etc.)
  • How often will you engage with stakeholders?
  • How will you report back to stakeholders with updates, changes and questions?
  • How will stakeholders be able to reach out to you or your organization

A useful way to guide your engagement is by choosing levels of engagement for your stakeholder categories (i.e., the categories from your stakeholder mapping exercise).

An excellent tool for identifying which level of engagement is best for your stakeholder categories is the Spectrum of Public Participation, developed by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2). The IAP2 Spectrum identifies five different levels of participation: inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower.

Once you decide on your level of engagement, you’re ready to choose your specific engagement tactics (i.e., how you’ll engage with stakeholders).

Tip: Create key messages

Don’t forget about your key messages! Take some time to consider your stakeholder’s engagement category (i.e., their level of interest/influence), along with their perspectives and the level of engagement you’ve chosen for each category to help guide what information each stakeholder will need to hear from your organization.

Key messages should be identified early and be clear and concise so that everyone on your team can understand and use them. Utilizing strategic key messages can help you and your team communicate consistently with stakeholders, which can help build trust in your organization.

Tip: Utilize two-way communication channels

When we say “two-way communication channels,” we mean communication that allows you to reach out to your stakeholders with a channel for them to respond to you.

Sending out a brochure to stakeholders with no information on how to contact you is considered a one-way communication method because, while you can contact them, they cannot contact you. One-way communication methods can certainly be useful in some situations, but it’s important to remember that your stakeholders may have valuable information and opinions on your projects, and it’s beneficial to hear their feedback.

Step 4: Create a clear step-by-step process

Now that you understand the goal of your project and have a clearer understanding of who your stakeholders are, their perspectives and how you’ll engage with them, you’ll need to develop a step-by-step process using the information you’ve already identified. This process will be the blueprint for you and your team to put your plan into practice.

Include elements like:

  • Your stakeholder engagement plan goals
  • Any regulatory requirements that must be met
  • Your stakeholder analysis information
  • How you'll be engaging

Don't forget to consider elements like:

  • Your budget
  • Roles and responsibilities for your team
  • Timelines and deadlines
  • Key messages
  • Potential issues that could arise and how you'll respond if they do

Tip: Monitor and update as necessary

Stakeholder engagement can be complicated, and things can change quickly, so you’ll need to adjust and update your plan regularly and ensure you communicate those updates to your team.

Step 5: Choose how you'll record all your stakeholder engagement and plan for reports

As you begin engaging with your stakeholder and communities, you’ll be collecting a lot of information. You need to ensure this information is well-organized, accessible and easy to find for your team, as you’ll likely need to share updates on your engagement information and use it to guide your plan.

A few situations where you'll benefit from having organized stakeholder information and the ability to run detailed reports:

  • Sharing progress with your team or other teams in your organization (especially specific to a topic, issue, or commitment)
  • Sharing progress and updates with management
  • Showing that you're meeting engagement regulatory requirements or other requirements such as Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) requirements
  • Sharing updates with stakeholders
  • Gaining valuable insights on your project (e.g., how many people are you engaging? Where are you engaging? How many issues have been raised? Etc.)

Spreadsheets for recording stakeholder engagement

spreadsheets

While many organizations are still trying to use spreadsheets to manage their stakeholder engagement information, this isn’t the best method for stakeholder management as spreadsheets leave you, your team, and your project open to unnecessary risks and challenges.

To learn more about why spreadsheets aren't the best option for recording stakeholder engagement, check out our blog on 10 Reasons Why it's Time to Break-up with Spreadsheets!

Stakeholder Relationship Management (SRM) software for recording stakeholder engagement

The best way to manage all your stakeholder relationships and communications with stakeholders is with Stakeholder Relationship Management (SRM) software.

Our SRM, Jambo, helps you take your stakeholder management process to the next level by keeping your stakeholder information organized, accessible, searchable and easy to understand. Plus, with Jambo’s ability to run concise reports in minutes, you can save time and stay focused on meeting your project’s goals as efficiently as possible.

Want to learn more about SRM software and why it's the best option? Check out our comprehensive blog on What is SRM?

Next Steps: Download your free resource to help you build your stakeholder engagement plan

Now that you understand a few of the critical elements of a stakeholder engagement plan, we’ve developed a free resource to help you get started!

As stakeholder mapping is a critical and valuable step, we’ve designed this free printable stakeholder mapping template. Click the image below to get your free copy now!

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Topics: Stakeholder Relationship Management Software, Stakeholder Relationship Management, Stakeholder Identification