A variety of community engagement methods should be considered when planning a stakeholder relations project.
Four popular community engagement methods are community meetings, focus groups, surveys and online engagement – and there are pros and cons to using each one.
The approaches you use will depend on the groups of stakeholders being consulted and the intended outcomes of your initiative. The reality is that a number of engagement techniques will likely be needed in order to communicate with a range of stakeholders.
Issues, objectives, stakeholder mix and available resources will all contribute to determining the ideal framework for your stakeholder engagement initiative.
Public or Town Hall meetings can be a valuable way of sharing information.
The face-to-face nature of these events provides a great opportunity to demonstrate openness and transparency to stakeholders. It is important to consider what will make your event compelling to stakeholders – and encourage attendance.
- Opportunity to deliver information and gather feedback. Community meetings can be used effectively at the beginning of an initiative to explain processes and outcomes.
- Great for meeting stakeholders in person, and to demonstrate transparency.
- Can be useful for community outreach or to attract media attention for your project or program.
- Attendance may be low. Stakeholders are not likely to attend unless they feel personally affected by outcomes related to your project or program.
- If an issue or project is particularly controversial, this may not be the right method for engagement.
- Media publicity may be negative if the meeting is confrontational or not handled well.
Focus Groups encourage discussion and work well when reaching out to smaller or marginalized stakeholder groups. The active dialogue between members is enhanced when asked focused questions, and a comfortable environment is created.
- This small group setting is an efficient way to use resources and identify important issues.
- Focus groups can be planned and organized to reach a specific group of stakeholders or developed around a particular topic.
- If there is conflict, it can be handled more easily in a small group.
- Must involve an experienced facilitator to ensure the process runs smoothly.
- Focus groups are not an effective method to ensure all stakeholders and perspectives are represented.
Surveys or questionnaires often ask yes/no (or scaled) questions to groups of people in order to identify community opinion. They are useful for mass outreach.
- Useful to collect and collate quantitative data.
- Data can be used to compare results from another period of time or against different stakeholder groups.
- It is a quick and cost-effective way to communicate with large groups of people.
- Surveys are not usually useful to identify reasons behind stakeholder opinions.
- They are not as effective in establishing community relationships or developing dialogue.
- Response rates may be limited, survey rates are often less than 20%
Online public participation is a useful way to reach and engage with many stakeholders. Reaching out using online communications can include using social media, web or cloud-based survey systems, and online discussion platforms.
- Effective in reaching large groups of people and collecting data in an efficient way.
- Flexible and convenient for participants, encourages participation if time and location is a barrier.
- Is an opportunity to encourage discussion and reflection about complex topics.
- One practice that will improve the outcomes of a consultation initiative is to take time to develop the right set of questions.
- Stakeholders without access to the internet will be excluded unless special accommodation is made for them.
- A moderator should be allocated to manage the process and respond to questions promptly.
- Privacy concerns should be addressed to encourage participation.
There is not one perfect way to engage with stakeholders, and needs will change depending on the groups and issues needing to be addressed. Using more than one outreach method for your engagement process will pave the way to increased stakeholder participation, and building of stronger relations with your stakeholder community.
Being asked to participate in a consultation, but not believing that your input will make any difference to the outcome, is a serious hazard. If intention is not genuine, people can sense it. Effective stakeholder engagement is more than a check box as all parties must value it.
Finally, regardless of the technique used, making good use of stakeholder engagement software like StakeTracker helps your organization track all your stakeholder communications. Quickly and easily input, track and cross reference stakeholder information, and our powerful report writer allows you to easily extract and report on any aspect of your consultation.