Friday, 25 July 2014

It’s stakeholder mapping Jim but not as we know it

By James Georgalakis

What happens when you create fictitious organisations working on make-believe influencing scenarios and ask a bunch of people who have never worked together before to develop stakeholder maps for them? Quite cool stuff actually.

At a recent IDS short course designed to provide a broad overview of research and policy communications we included a section on stakeholder mapping tools. Over the past decade I have run many workshops which included some form of stakeholder mapping exercise. But whether the sessions took place with civil society organisations in Malawi, researchers in Nepal or social workers in Ukraine, context was always key. During all these capacity building events we worked on real scenarios. So what were we to do in a single day with 25 participants from a broad range of think tanks, universities, NGOs and consultancies, two thirds of whom had never undertaken any kind of stakeholder mapping before? Make it up of course!

We simply created five pretend scenarios based on very different policy contexts inspired by the range of participants we were expecting. We surveyed them first checking what kind of policy actors they typically targeted. We then got pretty creative making up an organisational profile, an influencing objective and we even suggested some potential stakeholders they might want to kick things off with. The exercise was otherwise pretty much like any other network mapping style process. They identified further stakeholders, they placed them on a large map to indicate their relationship to their made up institution and they looked at their relationship to one another. They then scored each one in terms of their level of influence on the issue and the likelihood of them being allies, opponents or neutral in relation to the hoped for influencing goal.

One of the main differences from a more conventional session was it was faster. Detailed maps were produced in under an hour and a half – although they would have all happily taken much longer if we’d let them. With less time spent on reviewing objectives (we provided these) and dissecting deep rooted institutional issues around identity, legitimacy, power and profile, the participants quickly explored different external stakeholders and their potential usefulness. However, the discussions still contained much of the richness that more conventional sessions do. Our approach meant that we had mixed groups learning from one another’s institutional and sector perspectives. They quickly discovered they had quite different ideas about how change happens and the impact of research, and begun exploring hidden power relationships. In the group I facilitated they challenged the narrow list of parliamentary and governmental stakeholders we had suggested and wanted to extend their map to include civil society organisations, social scientists and the media. This in turn helped them unpack what it means to try to influence the quality of a particular public policy discourse with evidence (they were pretending that they were going to try and engage with the controversial debate on the impact of immigration on the UK in the run up to a General Election!)

The participants really seemed to gain an appreciation of the importance of mapping your policy environment and how documenting the discussion is almost as useful as the map itself. They revisited their maps in the afternoon and used them to select priority audiences for whom a communications plan was then developed. It all felt pretty real by the end and the fictitious scenarios appeared to deliver much the same learning and tools, that they could apply back in their own organisations, as any more realistic grounded exercise would have done.

You can download all the course materials including the stakeholder mapping scenarios and facilitators notes here. IDS is currently developing an Achieving Influence and Impact Series, so do let us know if you would like to be kept informed of future courses and free resources on this topic:

James Georgalakis, is the Head of Communications at IDS
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Other posts by James Georgalakis on research communications:

The Guardian
Has Twitter killed the media star?
Marketing: still the dirty word of development?

On Think Tanks
Is it wrong to herald the death of the institutional website?
How can we make research communications stickier? 

Impact and Learning 
Digital repositories – reaching the parts other websites cannot reach
Influencing and engagement: why let research programmes have all the fun?
Going for gold: why and how is IDS bringing our journal back in house and making it open access?