4 Pillars of Effective Stakeholder Engagement

Emily James

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Actionable insights from relevant samples are crucial to making decisions within a business. As insi...


Sophie Grieve-Williams

    There are a few significant challenges associated with stakeholder engagement such as demand on time and resources, unconscious and conscious biases everywhere (departmental biases, human biases, financial biases, etc.), tokenistic engagement, etc. These challenges are what both insight professionals and stakeholders have to deal with every day.

    So how can we contend with these obstacles and bring the focus back onto insights? These four pillars will help bring insights into the spotlight so they can take their rightful place in the decision-making process.

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    With the challenges stakeholders have to battle with every day, it can be hard to engage them in yet another research report - but here are four pillars to help us effectively engage stakeholders in actionable insights.

    Pillar 1: Define your Stakeholders

    Once you know who your stakeholders are then you’ll be able to include them in everything. The term ‘stakeholder’ typically identifies anyone who has a stake in a project, in this case, the stakeholders are anyone who stands to be affected by the results of the research you conduct:

    • Board members and significant (active) investors
    • Department heads and prominent managers
    • Researchers and research participants
    • To a wider extent, customers and wider consumers.

    But how do we identify stakeholders, and do we have to do it for each individual research project? Identifying stakeholders for each project would take a lot of time and effort that could be well-spent in the other three pillars, so there is one brilliant catch-all that shortcuts this whole process, and that’s communication.

    Communicate with everyone involved: with the board members and investors through regular reports; department heads and prominent managers with updates and newsletters that can be tailored to their department and that they can distribute down to those working under them too; take the time to create a newsletter for the research participants so they know their data is being used well within the business (pro-tip for those who don’t already know, this also tends to lead to more engagement in later research tasks too, which results in higher-quality data), and those newsletters can also be used to inform anyone else who is interested on your website too.

    Pillar 2: Generate Quality Data

    Quality data means quality, actionable insights that stakeholders will actually be interested in and will take the time to listen to.

    So how do we generate quality data?

    There is no one right answer to this question, but there are numerous aspects to consider in order to make it a recurring outcome. For example, what methodologies will you use? Notice I used the plural there, as a couple of research methods running complimentary to each other will provide you with diverse, relevant data to play with. These methodologies don’t have to be quant and qual only, as there are so many other methodologies finding their way into the insights industry: behavioural economics/science, social media intelligence, wearable technology-based research, etc.

    Planning you research thoroughly beforehand will help generate quality data, and active research moderation throughout will help you conduct research with a clear trajectory in mind. Aspects to consider in your plan, as well as what methodologies to use, are: what are your research objectives? What platform(s) will you use? Will you conduct research online or in-person? Will you use video or just word answers? Here is a research plan guide and template to help create this.

    However, if I was to give one piece of advice to anyone looking to generate quality research data, it is to not do it on your own. Ask questions from your peers and those with research experience if you’re not sure on something; engage a partner to help you with this, because you’ll be able to react and problem-solve quicker at every turn.

    Pillar 3: Involvement in Research

    From idea generation to insight activation, actively seeking out stakeholder input in the research process will increase their sense of stake in the research and will impact the level of interest they have in the entire process. But since we’ve already established that there can be many stakeholders in this process, getting everyone’s input will just mess up the research beyond repair. So, in this case, you’re going to have to identify the stakeholders who are getting the most out of the project, and ask them for their input; the only other stakeholders you could go to outside of this criteria, are those who know more about the topic, or have valuable answers that can benefit the research.

    Consulting those stakeholders often throughout this process, ensuring that they know what you’re doing and why, is crucial to the level of engagement they will maintain throughout the process. Another way to create this engagement, is to encourage a corporate culture of asking questions rather than seeking answers. This focus on questions will help engage everyone in your research, and ramping up the engagement at the start then you will have more of a chance of maintaining that engagement right until the very end. It’s hard to get engaged in something you know nothing about, which is what most stakeholders end up feeling when the report lands on their desk.

    Building up this relationship throughout the research process will also encourage them trust you, your authority on the research topic, and the insights you generate at the end.

    Pillar 4: Engagement in Diverse Reporting

    The last stage of the research process is arguably the most important, but it’s also the trickiest. There is a lot riding on the research report and how much it engages your stakeholders, so there are a few ways to manage the risk.

    These ways are all to about tailoring the research report to the stakeholder you’re trying to engage, tricking their psychological engagement in insights through diverse reporting techniques. From the first pillar, you should know who our stakeholders are, and now you’re going to delve into a psychological bag of tricks to help create unique reports that engage each stakeholder in the way they require.

    Storytelling is the first trick worth mentioning – we’ve always paid attention to stories; they engage our minds like nothing else. But even in stories, we need a bit of variety to keep us guessing - nothing turns off our imaginations like predictability, so we’ve put together an article explaining the different narrative structures we can use to keep people interested in the data we’re presenting.

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    Engagement doesn’t mean providing all of the answers, just enough to nudge people in the right direction. With good communication and planning, these four pillars will lead to engaged stakeholders every time.

    Secondly, building on the predictability notion, ditching the lengthy written reports is another way to introduce a level of intrigue to the situation. There are a few ways to do this, including conducting insight workshops so they can interact with the insights themselves, and presenting insights in the form of art, which sparks questions while also providing answers in each individual interpretation. To keep the wider business informed, infographics are a great way to condense key insights into manageable and engaging formats.

    Engagement doesn’t mean providing all of the answers, just enough to nudge people in the right direction. Engagement relies just as much on us as it does the stakeholders, and everything I've talked about in these pillars boils down to quality communication and planning.

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