6 steps to engage with Quadruple Helix stakeholders

6 steps to engage with Quadruple Helix stakeholders

on October 22, 2020

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 voluntaryopen 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 the understanding of dialogue dynamics and enabled participation (Luoma-Aho, 2015). Generally, engagement is referred to as the 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 the development of collaborative network are evident through access to knowledge, development of scientific competence, obtaining a competitive advantage through the 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 1: Identify, plan and understand

The first step to effectively engage with stakeholders is to identify who they are (Akhmouch and Clavreul, 2016). The identification of stakeholders includes several activities. Firstly, you need to develop a list of stakeholders, categorise them according to mutuality (how important is the stakeholder to the project) and what they expect. You need to document each stakeholder’s influence and relationship to the organisation (Bourne, 2010).

In order to establish meaningful relationships with stakeholders, you need to identify basic objectives that you as an organisation want to achieve, issues you want to address and stakeholders that you want to engage. In order to understand your stakeholders, you have to “dig deeper” to understand their decision-making process, their expectations from you, what objectives are they seeking and how did they influence you previously (Jeffery, 2009). 

As a first step toward QH stakeholder engagement, you need to define your stakeholders within all QH categories, the mapping of QH should be based on current and ideal collaborations. (Figure 1.)

During the mapping of stakeholders for the QH platform, all four stakeholder groups should be included. The stakeholders will engage in defining future stakeholder engagement strategy and action plan creation for RRI “interventions” within the site. Table 1 gives an overview of the perceived contribution of different QH categories in the engagement with demo sites. Throughout the consultation process why and how QH contributes can be refined remaining fluidity of the engagement process.

Step 2: Internal preparation and alignment

The next stage of engagement includes internal alignment with stakeholders, recognition of commonalities between you and stakeholders. The success of engagement with stakeholders is much dependent on the ability to align the interests and objectives of your organisation with stakeholders. This does not mean that your objectives and interests must be identical. For a coordinated approach, some good practices indicate the involvement of the internal stakeholder management team to support coordination with stakeholder platform, regular communication and feedback and to connect the stakeholder engagement process to processes within the company (Jeffery, 2009).  At least one person from case study demo sites should be included in the coordination/support of QH stakeholder engagement in order to maintain regular communication and collect feedback from QH. Coordinator/stakeholder management team would serve as a broker/mediator bringing across expectations/reflections of stakeholders/societal needs back to site and vice versa.

When you identify who are your key players and who you want to engage with, it is important to motivate your stakeholder to participate. The motivation of QH can be achieved firstly through training, providing necessary information regarding RRI as a concept and making RRI terminology understandable and familiar to different QH categories. It is noted by the survey and indicated in 4.2.3. document that over 50% of respondents to the survey that they have low familiarity with RRI. Having this in mind each demo site should consider if the adaptation of the terminology to the local context/language is necessary as indicated in T4.2.3. QH stakeholder perspective document.

One of the barriers identified by the SoA (3.2. and 4.2.1.) is lack of time and resources, by motivating your stakeholder you are emphasising that benefits from the engagement will be worth “sacrificed” time and resources.


Most common barriers to RRI industrial uptake that can be extrapolated to the resistance of industry in engaging with GRRIP sites in RRI-embedding processes. These include lack of RRI expertise, limited resources, the challenges of fulfilling all RRI functions (pillars) within the company and the project partners and value chain actors, the unclear added value of RRI approaches and the lack of long-term vision among others.

Examples from other projects suggest some lessons learned in overcoming these barriers

  • Link RRI with 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
  • RRI provides a complementary approach compared to existing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices, adding a specific focus on the R&I process and based on three key actions:
  1. Integrate analysis of ethical, legal and social impacts from the early stages of product development (reflection and anticipation)
  2. Perform stakeholder engagement to inform all phases of product development (inclusiveness)
  3. Integrate monitoring, learning and adaptive mechanisms to address public and social values and normative principles in product development (responsiveness)
  • There is a need to provide specific industry tools for top management commitment and leadership, context analysis, materiality analysis, experiment and engagement, validation and AP design/implementation and monitoring/evaluation
  • Use good practices and case study dissemination to raise RRI awareness in the industry
  • Develop systems and processes to protect key intellectual property rights, data and personnel
  • Assess the obstacles that result in academia working at a slower pace than industry.

All these lessons learned should be considered while aligning the interests and objectives of your organisation with industry stakeholders. Aligning interests with SDGs could also be a useful way to bridge conversation across many sectors


Type of stakeholder can be very bureaucratic and opposing general resistance to change, RRI aspects shall be of direct interest to its researchersmutual learningaccess to know-how on tools (i.e. JERRI self-assessment toolkit on ethical aspects), processes (interdisciplinary by nature) and the imperative requirement to adapt for a better and more responsible way of doing science as to better serve societal needs.

In engaging with academia, GRRIP sites are generally advised to use the most attractive specific RRI keys for researchers: ethics, Open access, gender and diversity to open a more holistic discussion on how to strengthen RPOs social role in the site territory of action. Ethics and Open Access is something that most researchers are very familiar with. By including these pillars when engaging with academia, discussions will be more easily facilitated due to the researcher’s familiarity with specific RRI pillar. Even such an approach has its benefits, we need to consider the benefits of a more holistic approach to embedding RRI. By sticking to specific “more familiar” RRI keys we are retaining the “status quo” with no chance of growth, by including other RRI keys through a more holistic approach we are offering a way QH to grow. Considering other, not so “attractive”, RRI keys we offer openness and inclusiveness and a way to facilitate dialogue between different QH categories rather than choosing exclusively one RRI key that could be interesting to one QH category.

Reflection workshops with focus groups can be organised to reflect on joint challenges/lessons/processes and create a trust for sustained alliances with other RPOs, university and multi-spheres institutions. Identify regional and national champions to be brought forward and benchmarking on science quality as gender equality, transdisciplinary, or open access. GRRIP sites can propose to join forces among themselves as i.e establish a new role (i.e. Ethics adviser) co-founded and serving a network of institutions or organise joint training courses

Policy makers

The close involvement of policymakers at different levels in the site RRI process can help in identifying explicit (i.e. migration policies, work permits, statistics laws, etc.) and implicit policy instruments (i.e. funding programs, tax incentives, RRI assessment and indicators as a pre-requisite for national calls participation, etc.) that need to be strengthened or redefine to support the sites- use as pilots – for RRI structural change.

The involvement of policymakers at the national level is important and sites can attract their participation by justifying their need of data and experiences/expertise to support the monitoring of the UNESCO RS/SR recommendation on a 4-year basis, and in particular, the gender equality issues that has a special organisational structure and priority in many European Member states. The promotion of success stories, at the national and local levels, can also inspire change in other stakeholders and shall be done in cooperation with policy-makers covering the different territorial levels. Policymakers can participate in special focus groups discussion or/and be part of the Advisory board for the project/sites.

Civil society

QH platforms can facilitate engagement and openness to QH. Case study demo sites should identify value areas and actions that might be of mutual benefit; consider:

  • How an institution supports the community in the area of innovation;
  • Be careful of hidden stakeholders (e.g. fishermen and their wives; wives doing a lot of administration for fishermen);
  • Finding opportunities for inclusion of QH around community and innovation.

GRRIP institutions cannot be expected to produce stakeholder engagement solely through their specific efforts, but depend also on the existence of a broader engagement ecosystem that reduces transaction costs and stabilises expectations across categories of stakeholders.

Step 3: Build trust

The third step of stakeholder engagement is the 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 the willingness of both parties to understand others’ viewpoints (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 in. For the trust-building process, you need to consider common obstacles (consult the 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 the 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 a full range of stakeholders affected by organisation. Do not think only of 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 the 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 a detailed and complete picture of organisations motivation. It is important to keep QH interested and motivated work within step two should provide information on how to keep motivated different QH for the QH engagement process and RRI.
  • Complete: appropriate background information, provided by the 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 an expected percentage of the 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 the expectations of QH stakeholders and communication with QH is the key. A structured approach built upon your understanding about the 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
  • Workshops
  • Focus groups
  • Public or “town hall” meetings
  • Surveys
  • 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. SoA 3.2. and T4.2.1. addressed best practices and lessons learned from other projects, based on their findings presented guidelines suggest possible tailoring of different engagement techniques to different types of stakeholders. GRRIP chose to trail workshops as a method of engagement, but due to COVID-19 online tools are also a valid option for the engagement. Further, we will discuss how different stakeholders can be engaged using workshops and how can online 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 the 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 as stated in T4.2.1. Also as SoA D3.2. the 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 the main envisioned engagement tool for QH stakeholder engagement. For the industry to be meaningfully engaged it is necessary to develop a workshop theme in correspondence with industry goals and objectives. As stated in T4.2.1. 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 whether QH stakeholders will engage, bear in mind the availability of the stakeholder, and deliver clear timelines for the workshop. Short agenda with a clear indication of expected contribution will facilitate the trust-building. The 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 policymakers, key aspect of meaningful engagement within GRRIP project can be aligning demo site RRI processes with policy instruments as indicated in T4.2.1. 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 SoA 4.2.1. 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. The 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 types of meetings (physical and virtual) should be considered.

Online tools

Recent events with Covid-19 have proved that society is very adaptable and there is a huge increase in 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 the past few months 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 a large number of individual stakeholders in different times. Online 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. A 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 opportunities for societal actors to be informed, they can easily use such platforms to identify common interests and express their opinions and in this way the internet can be a powerful tool in stakeholder engagement (Lutz and Hoffmann, 2013).

Using online tools organisation can engage a much wider group of stakeholders with no limitations of geographic location, travel options, time and resource-consuming issues associated with offline engagement. Online toolkits can be effective in minimisation of risks associated with consumer rejection, help building trust in an organisation and improve the quality of decision-making process.

Step 5: Respond and implement

The fifth step of meaningful stakeholder engagement is to respond and implement. After the organisation is completed the consultation with stakeholders, analysis of the obtained data should be completed. What suggestions were presented, any concerns raised and what are the priorities that need to be addressed. In order to manage identified issues, you should follow simple steps:

  • Initial outline of measures to manage issue
  • Assess measures to manage issue: time; cost; capacity; effectiveness
  • Consult with stakeholders and organisation department re-measures
  • Develop management plan: objectives; measures; responsibilities; targets
  • Monitor and evaluate progress and adjust necessary

Step 6: Monitor, evaluate and document

The final stage of stakeholder engagement is monitoring, evaluation and documentation. There are various international standards available to be used as a reference point (Appendix 1), this should be done by case study working group (broker), some of possible steps are represented in Box 2. Lessons learned will drive future engagement and are a critical aspect of stakeholder engagement process.

Box 2: Possible steps of monitoring and evaluation

  1. Are project outputs, outcomes and impacts in the process of stakeholder engagement identified, verified and understood by the organisation?
  2. Are there any baseline data about attitude and stakeholder actions prior to the engagement in order to compare with post-engagement data?
  3. Are stakeholders going to participate in the monitoring and evaluation? How?
  4. Is there any measurement and reporting systems to permit track changes in stakeholder dialog?
Possible steps of monitoring and evaluation
1.     Are project outputs, outcomes and impacts in the process of stakeholder engagement identified, verified and understood by the organisation?
2.     Are there any baseline data about attitude and stakeholder actions prior to the engagement in order to compare with post-engagement data?
3.     Are stakeholders going to participate in the monitoring and evaluation? How?
4.     Is there any measurement and reporting systems to permit track changes in stakeholder dialog?

This process of evaluation and feedback by stakeholders will be used for the adaptation of action plans developed (WP6) by site and also to tailor the RRI interventions.

Monitoring and evaluation is an ongoing process, and documenting, reporting and clear record keeping will enable the strengthening of stakeholder relationships with the organisation. Appropriate feedback to stakeholders is necessary in order to keep interested into organisation and also to ensure the fair relationships with stakeholders. The quality of relationships with stakeholders can vary over time and it is important to regularly review the state of relationships and level of their satisfaction. There should be at list a yearly survey by an independent party including baseline data and standard questions to allow benchmarking. Through the survey, organisation can evaluate the satisfaction level of engaged stakeholders and adjust their engagement process if necessary.

Here you can see the whole report.