What is Stakeholder Engagement?
Stakeholder engagement is a highly relevant activity, an ongoing process, that builds relationships between parties enabling information exchange. This process allows stakeholder affected by decisions of organisation in question to contribute to the decision-making process.
The process of stakeholder engagement is voluntary, open and active dialog, that identifies current position of all parties included, outlines objectives and outcomes, and identifies how to achieve them. Parties that are included in the engagement can change but the process of engagement is continues.
For stakeholder engagement to be effective there are some requirements: willingness and motivation of stakeholders to participate (Gunton et al., 2010); inclusivity of all possible interests (Reed, 2008); equal access to information and knowledge (Gunton et al., 2010; Gopnik et al., 2017). Some barriers in the process of engagement can be identified as well such as: the participation is more tokenistic (cosmetic) rather than active (Pomeroy and Douvere, 2008; Echler et al., 2009; Gopnik et al., 2017; Flannery et al., 2018); unfamiliarity with the processes and activities of the organisation in question (Water, 2018); public can have deeply rooted value and belief system (local fisherman for e.g.) affecting the trust level in organisation in question (Jentoft and Knol, 2013).
The main value of engagement with stakeholders lies in understanding of dialogue dynamics and enabled participation (Luoma-Aho, 2015). Generally, engagement is referred as interaction between stakeholders and organisation where interaction influences stakeholder thoughts, actions and emotions toward organisation (Broodie et al., 2011). The benefits of quadruple helix stakeholder engagement by development of collaborative network are evident through access to knowledge, development of scientific competence, obtaining competitive advantage through acceleration of ideas, but significant challenges still remain: how to manage such relationships.
Stakeholder engagement – role of QH in GRRIP
Quadruple helix stakeholders for GRRIP project represent a group of all stakeholders in one place with function of reflecting societal needs. They are expected to participate in development (co-create) action plan for RRI interventions within demo sites. They will serve as a reflection group where sites will demonstrate openness with QH. Through mutual learning and interaction QH will support demo sites in development of sustainable inclusion of QH involvement. Role of QH in GRRIP project is to co and includes several points.
Throughout QH engagement this reflexive working group will support institutionalising RRI and ensure that it is reflective to societal needs throughout the process
Step 3: Build trust
Third step of stakeholder engagement is trust building process as a fundamental part of this process. In order to build trust, you need to consider different aspects of QH platform such as inequity of the relationship, differential power of different stakeholders, language and cultural barriers (in QH platforms that include international stakeholders), ways of operating etc. To build trust, information must be shared both ways followed by willingness of both parties to understand others’ viewpoint (Jeffery, 2009).
The crucial part of trust building is good alignment of the interests and objectives of your organisation with stakeholders that you intend to engage. For the trust building process you need to consider common obstacles (consult previous step), identify the ones that you anticipate to encounter when engaging with your QH stakeholders and work on gaining trust of stakeholders by addressing the identified obstacles/issues.
Step 4: Co-creation
Communication with your stakeholder is a first level of engagement aiming to raise awareness by allowing participating stakeholders to explore, transform and build their opinions and perspective (Fung, 2006; Akhmouch and Clavreul, 2016). Process of consultation with stakeholders should be (Jeffery, 2009):
- Representative – QH list of stakeholders comprised of full range of stakeholders affected by organisation. Do not think only on big, vocal and sympathetic stakeholders, consider also small stakeholders, they can be a valuable asset in stakeholder engagement. Pay attention to inclusive representation: When choosing stakeholders, it is important to include all four types of stakeholders in the cohort.
- Responsive – by doing work in preparation phase you should be able to present information, proposals, ideas to stakeholders that correspond to their expectations and interests. Previous steps should provide inputs for responsive consultations.
- Context focused – stakeholders need to get detailed and complete picture of organisations motivation. It is important to keep QH interested and motivated work within the step two should provide information how to keep motivated different QH for the QH engagement process and RRI.
- Complete – appropriate background information, provided by internal knowledge management system (stakeholder management group) will allow stakeholders to form conclusions. For engagement to be complete in preparatory work in step 2 will provide you with QH specific data to tailor approaches for each QH category.
- Realistic – in consultation with stakeholders there is expected percentage of trade off of expectations, needs and objectives, which can be positive and strengthening the process of trust building. It is very important to accurately present your intentions and expectations.
Organisation needs to know expectations of QH stakeholders and communication with QH is the key. A structured approach built upon your understanding about importance and expectations of your stakeholders will result in effective communication (Bourne, 2010). Several techniques can be used in process of consultation with stakeholders (Jeffery, 2009):
- Personal interviews
- Focus groups
- Public or “town hall” meetings
- Participatory tools
- Stakeholder panels
- Online tools
Prior to consultation organisation must decide which stakeholder to consult and the appropriate mechanism that will be utilised having in mind local conditions and characteristics of the stakeholder. This could mean that different techniques will be used for different stakeholders. GRRIP chose to trail workshops as a method of engagement, but due to COVID-19 online tools are also valid option for the engagement. Further we will discuss how different stakeholders can be engaged using workshops and how can on line tools be used for inclusive interactive engagement of all QH types.
Considering current feedback, during Planning for Change workshop in June (2020), from the case study demo sites, physical meetings supplemented with online tools are the preferred way of engagement.
Industry stakeholders can require development of industry specific tools for top management commitment and leadership, context analysis, materiality analysis, experiment and engagement, validation and AP design/implementation and monitoring/evaluation. Also as indicated industry is oriented toward their commercial objectives and can be difficult to engage them without establishing a sort of „paid relationship“. For GRRIP industry stakeholders could be engaged through workshops.
Workshops are main envisioned engagement tool for QH stakeholder engagement. For industry to be meaningfully engaged it is necessary to develop workshop theme in correspondence with industry goals and objectives. As stated, one way of making RRI exciting for industry stakeholders is connecting specific RRI keys to ISO and CEN standards regarding management systems in the areas of social responsibility, sustainability, innovation, quality and risks- such as ISO 26000, ISO 31000, ISO 9001 and ISO 56000 (trust building). When designing the workshop time could be one of the crucial determining factors weather QH stakeholder will engage, bear in mind the availability of the stakeholder and deliver clear timelines for the workshop. Short agenda with clear indication of expected contribution will facilitate the trust building. Facilitator will be the main moving force of the workshop, make sure that they are well trained and have the skills to initiate fruitful discussion
For the policy makers key aspect of meaningful engagement within GRRIP project can be aligning demo site RRI processes with policy instruments. One way to do this is to choose RRI keys that can align with their interest, e.g. concerning funding policies, RRI assessment and indicators as a pre-requisite for national calls participation, etc. Similarly, in interaction with Academia by selecting RRI researcher specific pillars (Ethics, Open Access, gender) you can ensure their participation.
Best practices from other projects analysed in indicated that having a Citizen’s office: a series of citizens’ meeting in which social needs can be put forth to science, can be useful for engagement with this stakeholder. Second tool was a public debate with actors from academia and civil society on a topic of high public attention. The citizen´s office and debates were considered as very effective by the project officer
If we are organising a workshop for all stakeholders together, specific interests but also a common interest should be identified and interactive engagement should be facilitated. Since COVID-19 enforced virtual meetings inclusion of interactive tools (e.g. mentimeter) that could be used in physical, virtual and even hybrid type of meetings (physical and virtual) should be considered.
Recent events with Covid-19 have proved that a society is very adaptable and there is a huge increase of online interaction driven by “virtual by necessity”. Online stakeholder engagement can now be seen as a crucial mechanism for long-term dynamic stakeholder relationships. The most important lesson learned from past few month is that web can overcome limitations of time and distance and it can be a good tool in allowing anonymity to encourage greater stakeholder involvement (Jeffery, 2009).
By switching to online, organisation is no longer restricted to mass communication campaigns, presented information if organised well in easily searchable format can be appealing to large number of individual stakeholders in different times. On-line communities can serve for members to share information and a way of engaging with external stakeholders (Barrett et al., 2016; Wilkin et al., 2018).
Organisations can have multi-stakeholder dialog using online tools such as engagement hubs or portals. Recent example is the Waveney Pathfinder project, led by Waveney District Council in partnership with Suffolk County Council and the Suffolk Coastal Futures project, focusing on coastal frontages at Corton and Easton Bavents. The Coastal Change Hub is an important tool used in the project to engage with local communities in managing the effects of coastal erosion. The hub works as a focal point for the provision of information such as fact sheets, video clips and technical reports, communication from the project team and feedback from local communities through forums and online surveys. The outputs of the project will be the production of reports identifying short- to long-term options for how coastal change can be managed. While offline stakeholder engagement in such a project is important, online communication tools enhance the effectiveness of offline two-way dialogue with multiple stakeholders.
Social media can provide new opportunity for societal actors to be informed, they can easily use such platforms to identify common interests and express their opinions and in this way internet can be powerful tool in stakeholder engagement (Lutz and Hoffmann, 2013).
Using online tools organisation can engage much wider group of stakeholders with no limitations of geographic location, travel options, time and resource consuming issues associated to offline engagement. Online toolkits can be an effective in minimisation of risks associated with consumer rejection, help building trust in an organisation and improve the quality of decision making process.
To read the first two steps recommended by the GRRIP Project follow the links below: