In 1992, the United Nations Rio Earth Summit set the stage for the development of Agenda 21 - the first United Nations document to recognize the rights and responsibilities of nine stakeholders. This document enabled the voices of these nine stakeholder groups to influence inter-governmental policy and decision making that have led to some of the most successful global agreements we see today. Further, in 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (which includes the Sustainable Development Goals) added four additional stakeholders broadening and enriching the voices captured in UN decision-making. Today, the list of recognized stakeholders includes women, youth, NGOs, local and sub-national governments, scientists and academics, trade unions, farmers, indigenous peoples, business and industry, disabled people, older people, volunteers, and the education community.
In the context of policy development at all levels, engaging these stakeholder groups has given people the ability to articulate their own unique perspectives, provide input before decisions are made, incorporate local knowledge, and provide expertise on some of the largest challenges facing humanity today.
The theory of change we are advocating is that the involvement of stakeholders in decision making creates better-informed decisions that are more likely to garner support and implementation from impacted stakeholder groups and individuals. Stakeholders can build a more comprehensive understanding of the problem, provide context for the issues at hand, incorporate a range of values and interests, and legitimize the problem and those affected. Most importantly, doing a stakeholder mapping exercise ensures that any project is involving an inclusive and diverse set of stakeholders. It further ensures that no one is left behind or left out of critical policy decisions.
As acknowledged above, there are numerous stakeholders, identified by the international community, with a wide range of roles and responsibilities that offer a good starting point for any stakeholder mapping exercise. Decision-makers engage with stakeholders in different ways depending on their goals, and who the stakeholder is. Such factors to consider are who will be affected, who will influence or affect the strategies proposed and decisions made, who has information and resources that could help, who is most vulnerable, and who is missing/being left out. However, the more specific one can define and identify the necessary stakeholders, the better one can set the context for who should be involved. There are many ways to approach stakeholder mapping, however, there are a few tools that can help researchers strategically determine which stakeholders to engage and how they fit within the larger research framework.
There are two approaches and methods the US team used to identify the stakeholders necessary to include. These methods were adopted from Dr. Gabriele Bammer’s work which was shared at a Belmont Forum workshop on “transdisciplinary co-design, integration and implementation” with the Belmont Forum, our funder. A list of Dr. Bammer’s work and other consulted resources can be found at the end of this post.Since working with these stakeholder mapping tools, the US team has made adjustments that align with the scope and intent of our work.
First, we used Table 1 below to Define and Identify Stakeholders. The table asks folks to think about who is affected by the problem and who can do something about the problem. Stakeholders can further be sorted in terms of who has a comprehensive understanding of the problem at hand, and those who can use our work to support action and change. For example, in the context of disasters, an organization or agency that works with people living with disabilities would go in the upper left box. This group has a comprehensive understanding of how disaster uniquely impact those living with disabilities. A stakeholder group like first responders may go in the lower right-hand corner as a group who can do something about the problem, and who can use our research to support action and change.
Table 1: Defining and Identifying Stakeholders
While Table 1 is helpful for thinking about how to define and identify stakeholders, Table 2 is useful for understanding the level of stakeholder participation and how engagement can foster mutual information sharing. This tool was also sourced from Dr. Bammer’s “Key issues in co-creation with stakeholders when research problems are complex” and developed by The International Association for Public Participation. Dr. Bammer explains that “differing levels of participation are legitimate and depend on the goals, time frames, resources, and levels of concern in the research to be undertaken”. This method would be useful for clarifying the purpose of stakeholder engagement, and grounding the process in the overall goals of the research project. Additionally, this table may be useful for work that intends to engage vulnerable groups that are often left out of conversations. It helps think through how the project at hand can bridge existing gaps and uplift marginalized voices.
Table 2: Stakeholder Participation Spectrum (Source: The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), “Research-relevant modified IAP2 spectrum”)
The second method we used, shared by Dr. Bammer and created by Mitchell et al., helped sort stakeholders in terms of who has power, legitimacy, and urgency. The Venn diagram in Figure 1 can assist with categorizing stakeholders into a helpful framework and understanding where stakeholder characterization may overlap.
Power can be thought of in three ways. Utilitarian, normative, and coercive. Utilitarian power is material or financial power. Normative power is in terms of symbolic resources like love, respect, acceptance, and coercive power is characterized by force.Being aware and expressing any power discrepancies is important to ensure that all stakeholders input is valued. This might mean additional support for financially limited stakeholders.
Figure 1: Power, Legitimacy, Urgency framework for stakeholder groups
(Source: Mitchell et al. 1997 )
The other two stakeholder categories are legitimacy and urgency. The legitimacy category includes stakeholders that are working for the public good rather than self-interest. Stakeholders within the urgency bubble should be evaluated for how urgently action is required. Stakeholders that fall within sections 1, 2, 3, 4 on the Venn diagram are characterized as having high legitimacy. This may include academic-based agencies, local government departments, or NGOs. Groups that are placed in sections 5 and 6 tend to value high power and include national and state elected officials, insurance companies, and the office of tourism. Stakeholders that fall within section 7 include groups with high urgency. This could include groups representing those living in extreme poverty, informal housing, or migrant workers.
As our group worked through this stakeholder mapping process we found that many stakeholders may not neatly fit into one section, however, it’s helpful to think about which groups fit within a particular category. In our workshop, we also found that groups with high urgency and low power may be the most vulnerable stakeholders. However, the inclusion of expert elicitation among vulnerable group representatives could be valuable to synthesize lessons learned from past disaster events. We also found that it’s necessary to include stakeholders that are involved in both the pre-disaster and post-disaster stages. After completing a few workshops using the two methods, our team found it easiest to use the stakeholder mapping tools by first creating a list of stakeholder representatives, sorting them into the mapping diagrams, and then thinking about who is missing and which groups will be more difficult to find representatives for.
The stakeholder mapping methods have helped our team create a “short-list” or stakeholders we would like to initially engage. Our team continues to fine-tune and expand our stakeholder mapping methods with the understanding that this is not a rigid or static process. In the meantime, we’ve prioritized stakeholders with a comprehensive understanding of disaster recovery in the US, as they will be helpful in reviewing our current work and identifying gaps in our existing research. Discussions with these initial stakeholders will be especially helpful in identifying additional people with whom to engage. Deemed the “snowball” method, current stakeholders will suggest other people, agencies, and organizations to talk to, and further our effort to gain a comprehensive understanding of disaster recovery.
The US team has been thinking of a tool that might describe how we see the engagement of stakeholders in governance. The UNC Snow Angel[i] approach draws inspiration from the ecological footprint and ecological rucksacks approaches (Global Footprint Network and European Environment Agency, 2020). The ecological footprint measures your resource consumption while the rucksack considers the degree of stress exerted on the environment. The Snow Angel method also expands on the existing snowball approach to identifying stakeholders. The snowball method starts with a few defined stakeholders and asks them to identify new stakeholder categories, organizations, and further contacts (Leventon et al. 2016 and Resin). While this is helpful for researchers and requires little capacity, this method can unintentionally limit the scope of included stakeholders (Resin, 2020).
The Snow Angel method for stakeholder prioritization both recognizes the need for inclusion of a wide number of stakeholders, while centering not only those with power, but those who are most impacted.The breadth of the angel wings incorporates the existing outreach of the snowball method to broaden the scope of stakeholders engaged. However, the Snow Angel method also recognizes that the further away from the center of the angel, the less engaged stakeholders tend to be on a particular issue. The center of the snow angel, which has more depth, represents stakeholders that have more knowledge and power, or stakeholders who are impacted the most by disaster policies.Put simply, the UNC Snow Angel method is an attempt to rectify both the need for broad stakeholder input while recognizing that those most impacted (or vulnerable) and those with power likely have the deepest stake in the issues at hand.
[i] Inspired by Hallmark Channel - On The Twelfth Day of Christmas
Bammer, G. (2019). Key issues in co-creation with stakeholders when research problems are complex. Evidence & Policy : A Journal of Research, Debate and Practice, 15(3), 423–435. https://doi.org/10.1332/174426419X15532579188099
Ecological Footprint - Global Footprint Network. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2020, from https://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/
Ecological Rucksack — European Environment Agency. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2020, from https://www.eea.europa.eu/help/glossary/eea-glossary/ecological-rucksack
Leventon, J., Fleskens, L., Claringbould, H., Schwilch, G., & Hessel, R. (2016). An applied methodology for stakeholder identification in transdisciplinary research. Sustainability Science, 11(5), 763–775. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-016-0385-1Mitchell, R. K., Agle, B. R., & Wood, D. J. (1997). Toward a theory of stakeholder identification and salience: defining the principle of who and what really counts. The Academy of Management Review, 22(4), 853. https://doi.org/10.2307/259247
Method – Snowball mapping | Resin. (n.d.). Retrieved November 3, 2020, from http://resin.itti.com.pl/climate-change-and-city/tool-descriptions/tool-snowball-mapping/