Stakeholder engagement: methods for opening out, exploring, deciding, and more

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

Purpose: To provide a range of methods useful for stakeholder engagement.

Description: Lists are provided, sometimes with brief descriptions, of various methods for stakeholder engagement, grouped into methods for opening out, exploring and deciding, as well as techniques that promote direct or pro-active interactions, involve stakeholders in the research process, increase awareness of the project and its results, and generate products useful for stakeholders.

Choosing methods for engagement should take into account:

  • objectives of the engagement
  • required levels of engagement
  • timing of engagement activities in the research process
  • expected roles of the stakeholders
  • needs, capacity and expectations of the stakeholders.

All engagement methods have particular strengths and weaknesses and each is therefore more suitable for some situations than others. It is often helpful to use combinations of methods. For more formal methods, facilitators trained in those methods may be needed.

One way of considering engagement methods is in the following three categories (quotations from Durham et al., 2014, p. 62-63):

  • Opening out. These are “techniques for opening up dialogue and gathering information with stakeholders about issues linked to research,” especially “during the initial phases of a research project, either during the development of initial research questions prior to writing a funding proposal, or in the early phases of a funded project, where the research goals and programme of work are being adapted to fit the needs and interests of stakeholders better.”
  • Exploring. These are “techniques that can help evaluate and analyse preliminary findings with stakeholders. Given the length of most research projects, getting early feedback on preliminary findings can help keep stakeholders interested in the process and give them greater ownership over the eventual research outcomes. Feedback can also provide researchers with ideas about how to further refine their work, such as where assumptions are not clear or are questioned by stakeholders.”
  • Deciding. These are techniques to engage “stakeholders in decisions based on research findings, for example prioritizing particularly interesting or relevant findings for further research or action.

Opening out techniques

Five opening out techniques are described (quotations from Durham et al., 2014, p. 63):

  • Brainstorming to rapidly identify ideas, without the usual filters. The most interesting new and creative ideas can be further developed later.
  • Metaplans to identify key issues. Participants are given between 2 and 5 note papers and asked to write one idea per piece of paper. Participants then place their note papers on a wall “grouping identical, similar or linked ideas together. The facilitator then summarises each group, checks the participants are happy with the grouping (making changes where necessary) and finally circles and names each of the groups. Within ten minutes, it is usually possible for everyone to express their views and this provides a summary of the key issues that can be used to structure subsequent group activities.”
  • Venn diagrams as an alternative to metaplans for identifying “key issues and overlaps or connections between the issues.”
  • Lists to capture ideas or information. There are multiple ways of developing lists such as remotely via online discussion boards or by creating ‘stations’ around a room where participants embellish themes arising from brainstorming, metaplans or Venn diagrams.
  • Carousels to share and build on ideas. This technique can also be used to build on themes arising from brainstorming, metaplans or Venn diagrams. Participants are assigned to groups with one group per station in the room and each group is given a different coloured pen. “When a group reaches a new station, they are given time to read the contributions of the previous group(s). They can then query or build upon previous contributions, listing their own ideas beneath the ideas expressed by previous groups. As the activity continues, it becomes increasingly difficult for groups to add new points, so the time per station can be decreased.”

Exploring techniques

Five exploring techniques are described (quotations from Durham et al., 2014, p. 63-64):

  • Categorisation “to sort or group ideas into themes” based on pre-set criteria or similarity. An example is the grouping stage of a metaplan, described above, or simply sorting notes into piles.
  • Timelines to “structure discussion in relation to historical, planned or hoped for future events,” especially for problems with a strong temporal dimension. An example is drawing a horizontal line on paper “marking specific years and/ or historic or known future events, to help participants orientate themselves along the timeline. Participants may then write comments at various points in the past or future.

Plus three more formal methods that are not described fully.

  • Mind-mapping to capture and link ideas. These are also known as “concept mapping, spray diagrams, and spider diagrams.”
  • Problem tree analysis “to visualize links between root causes and solutions to a problem.”
  • SWOT analysis to systematically consider “the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as they relate to the issues being researched.”

Deciding techniques

Four deciding techniques are described:

  • Voting.
  • Ranking.
  • Prioritisation to allow the strength of feeling towards particular options to be expressed (which is not possible in ranking). Participants are given a fixed number of stickers or some other form of ‘counter’ to assign to different options.
  • Multicriteria evaluation also known as Multi-Criteria Analysis or Multi-Criteria Decision Modelling is a formal method that “allows economic, social and environmental criteria, including competing priorities, to be systematically evaluated.” (Durham et al., 2014, p. 64)

Other engagement methods

Engagement techniques can also be considered in terms of promoting direct or pro-active interactions, involving stakeholders in the research process, increasing awareness of the project and its results, and generating products useful for stakeholders.

Techniques to promote direct or pro-active interactions between researchers and stakeholders include:

  • One-on-one meetings and interviews
  • Questionnaires and surveys
  • “Knowledge exchange groups” (Durham et al., 2014, p. 65) such as steering groups, advisory panels and multi-stakeholder forums
  • Informal contact
  • Workshops, focus groups and other types of meeting, including social events, stakeholder-led workshops or conferences
  • Talks or lectures
  • Practical demonstrations, including field or laboratory visits and participatory events, such as training or games.

Techniques to involve stakeholders in the research process include:

  • Citizen science
  • Participatory mapping
  • Participatory photography or photo surveying.

Techniques to increase awareness of the project and its results include:

  • “Websites (including blogs, online consultations, online games).
  • Social media (including online discussion groups and forums).
  • Posters (including brochures, leaflets or fact-sheets). Videos. Newsletters and bulletins.
  • Press releases (including Frequently Asked Questions).” (Durham et al., 2014, p. 65)

Techniques to generate products useful for stakeholders include:

  • "Guidelines for stakeholders.
  • Databases.
  • Popular publications.
  • Stakeholder-specific publications (eg., policy briefs).
  • Use of professional storytellers and musicians to make research findings more accessible to all audiences and enable all stakeholders to understand issues engage in discussions." (Durham et al., 2014, p. 65).


Related tools on this website:

  • See all the tools with titles starting with "Stakeholder engagement" and "Stakeholder analysis."

Related tools on the i2Insights blog:

Related tools on Wikipedia:

Posted: July 2020
Last modified: July 2020