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Introduction to stakeholder analysis and engagement

Identification of stakeholders, and developing a plan for their participation throughout the screening process will be based on sound stakeholder analysis.
Multiple Authors
Sáni Zou


Identification of stakeholders, and developing a plan for their participation throughout the screening process will be based on sound stakeholder analysis. Not all stakeholders have equal access to information and some may require more support in order to be able to participate on an equal footing with others. The sub-themes are likely to include participatory exercises, as well as simple checklists and guidance briefs for stakeholder analysis.

The word ‘stakeholder’ and the word ‘participation’ are jargon words that have different meanings for different people and thus it can be difficult to understand what people are trying to say when they use these words. As they are used together to describe a process that is supposed to be transparent and inclusive this can be quite frustrating.

A stakeholder is only defined in reference to a particular issue e.g. as a resident you may be a stakeholder in a decision about what kind of flood warning system should be used in your area. You would not be a stakeholder in a decision about flood warning in an adjoining area although the water company might be a stakeholder in both decisions.

There are many definitions of the word. Glicken uses:

a stakeholder is an individual or group influenced by and with an ability to significantly impact (positively or negatively) the topical area of interest‘ Glicken, 2000

The term can be further divided into primary stakeholders (those ultimately affected, either positively or negatively), and secondary stakeholders (intermediaries in the process). Van Asselt et al, 2001, distinguish five categories of potential participants related to public participation:

  • Government
  • Citizens
  • Interest groups, such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
  • Business
  • Scientific experts

Stakeholder or community participation can be broadly understood as:

‘The active involvement of people in making decisions about the implementation of processes, programmes and projects which affect them’ Slocum et al, 1995

Although the following definition;

Participatory methods are methods to structure group processes in which non-experts play an active role and articulate their knowledge, values and preferences for different goals‘ Van Asselt et al, (2001) is useful in emphasising the role of non-experts.

The influence of participatory approaches has extended rapidly since the 1980s. However, there is still a reluctance from people in positions of power to use these approaches as it is felt that it requires them to hand over their authority. Participation is seen as a threat to those who favour more traditional or ‘top-down’ approaches. In reality, there is a place for both approaches. Bottom-up, participatory approaches can rarely fully replace traditional, ‘op-down’ ones only inform them and influence the decisions made to a greater or lesser extent. You can think of this as two triangles with the centre of gravity (the most stable position) being located between the two (Downs, pers. comm.)

One of the key challenges to any effective stakeholder engagement approach is to link up good initiatives undertaken at the local level with influential people and policy makers. Without good links to people with influence over resources or power to change structural constraints nothing may actually change despite all the effort put into understanding things on the ground (see Rowley 2006b). Any changes to the way decisions are made can feel threatening to the established ‘status quo’ and people with power and influence may be very resistant to giving this up. If they are left out of the process and only presented with the final output they are unlikely to be supportive. They need to be convinced of the benefits of this new way of working. A good stakeholder engagement process would involve a thorough analysis of the main individuals and groups that need to be involved in order to have a successful project.


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Related Pages

Stakeholder Analysis

Involving Stakeholders

Planning Stakeholder Engagement

Social Learning

Participatory Processes

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