Stakeholders: Who is Making Your Decisions?

Sue Cass, PublicEngagement

Desired results are often easier to achieve and change is more readily accepted when there is a participatory process. In other words, when everyone who has an interest or a “stake” in an important event or decision-making process is involved, it’s usually more successful. In organizational and community environments, stakeholders play a tremendous role and can have a significant impact on everything from creating policy to fostering shared values to promoting a certain level of client service. Stakeholders are a critical part of orchestrating and shaping the direction of a successful event or change process.

 Who Are The Stakeholders?

The easy answer to this question is: “it depends”. It really does depend on the issue and its level of importance. When we refer to stakeholders, generally we’re talking about anyone and everyone who has an interest in the issue at hand and the outcomes of any decision related it. In the case of an important community issue (e.g.  a major redevelopment project), this could mean the residents, local merchants, land developers, even politicians and political interest groups serving the area.

Different issues affect some people more than others, and there are distinctions between primary and secondary stakeholders. But it’s more important to remember that there are always stakeholders on both sides of an issue. And whether they are affected negatively, positively, in a major or minor way, they are all stakeholders and their interests need to be factored into designing and facilitating the process for addressing any important issue.

Why Do We Need to Engage Them?

Wouldn’t it just be easier to have decision makers and those intimately familiar with an issue make decisions for us? In some respects, this is true. But on the other hand, in the interest of gaining the most diverse set of data, generating innovative ideas and garnering collective wisdom, involving all important stakeholders is a more effective strategy. Stakeholders have varied interests. Listening to the various ideas and opinions and putting them all together is an easier, more efficient way of defining the issue and the larger context at hand. It also contributes to engaging collective will to support the end decision. From a moral perspective, including multiple stakeholders builds social capital and promotes equity.  

Consequences of Not Including Stakeholders

What happens when we overlook stakeholders? Can a facilitated process achieve the intended results without all the diverse voices at the table? If the goal is to deliver a quality service and outcome with positive results, neglecting important interests will have negative consequences and could result in anger, lack of collaboration in moving from decision to implementation, or even having to scrap or redo an entire project.

The bottom line? It’s crucial that all important stakeholders and interests are included in the process of addressing important issues. As a facilitator, negotiating with a client to make sure that the relevant stakeholders are engaged at appropriate points is critical for success. After all, closed-door conversations and decisions about important organizational, community or policy issues without comment and input from the people that matter are never a good idea. Consider it a fundamental value of good practice to have the kinds of discussions with clients to ensure they understand the importance of identifying and making a space for engagement of all interested stakeholders in developing and implementing an important decision-making process.

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