Stakeholder engagement: defining stakeholders and reasons to engage them

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You may also be interested in other resources on i2Insights, especially the stakeholder engagement primer.

Purpose: To define who stakeholders are and what engagement with them is likely to contribute to a particular research project.

Description: Discusses who stakeholders in research are, as well as reasons for engaging stakeholders. The benefits of stakeholder engagement are then further examined according to the type of engagement. 

Defining 'stakeholders'

The handbook (Durham et al., 2014) defines stakeholders as follows: “A stakeholder is any person or group who influences or is influenced by the research” (p. 12). The handbook further adds that “This broad, inclusive definition covers anyone, or any group, directly or indirectly affected by a project, as well as those who may have interests in a project and/ or the ability to influence its outcome, either positively or negatively. A stakeholder does not have to be a direct user of, or directly affected by, project outcomes to be influenced by them” (p. 12).

It is important for any research to think broadly about who may be relevant, including, for example, those who have power to influence the uptake of the research findings and difficult to reach groups. Attention should also be paid to ensuring balanced participation of all relevant demographic groups. Further, it is important to recognise that not all stakeholders in one broad group (eg., policy makers or an affected community) are likely to have the same interests and motivations.

Reasons to engage stakeholders

The handbook identifies the following reasons to engage stakeholders (p. 27):

  • “Raise awareness of the research project.
  • Gain trust and improve working relationships, form new partnerships, create new networks, galvanize external support, and provide a clearer understanding of the benefits of the research.
  • Encourage a sense of ‘ownership’ of the project by those likely to benefit, be affected by, or interested in, research outcomes.
  • Provide people with an opportunity for personal development through engagement activities.
  • Explore issues, share ideas and best practice, generate ideas and identify and raise better awareness of emerging issues.
  • Co-design projects with stakeholders that may assist with producing a clearer definition of desired outcomes. Taking a broad spectrum of ideas and thoughts on board enables the adoption of a more holistic approach to addressing potential problems, limitations or conflicts.
  • Aid the development of a transparent decision-making process and ensure policy decisions can be based upon stakeholder views and enable decision-makers to consider societal ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. This can help reduce conflict and overcome barriers between science, policy makers and society.
  •  Involve stakeholders to make it easier to obtain endorsement of, or agreement on, resulting decisions from parties likely to either use or be affected by the results of the research.
  • Gain access to resources or to obtain information data.
  • Create new (or improved) communication channels, identify effective dissemination avenues and improve clarification of ‘common’ language.
  • Provide equal rights and open access to scientific knowledge (‘democratizing science’).
  • Enable researchers to identify cross-cutting issues and ascertain where research may be applied to other areas. It also improves the relevance, value and depth of the research and broadens the knowledge base, identifies knowledge gaps, addresses information needs and creates opportunities to link research more directly to policy and practice.”
  • Improved risk management.

Not all reasons will apply to all research projects.

Reasons for engaging stakeholders can also be differentiated by level of engagement, ranging from ‘inform’ to ‘collaborate,’ as shown in the figure below (p. 14).


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Posted: March 2020
Last modified: April 2020