Research project stakeholders

Stakeholders are people or organisations who have an interest in your research project, or affect or are affected by its outcomes. Stakeholders include those who are both supportive of your research, as well as those who may be less supportive or indeed critical of it.

The purpose of stakeholder analysis is to:

  1. identify project stakeholders
  2. determine what interest each stakeholder has in your project
  3. assess how much influence stakeholders have on the project
  4. consider how you will manage and communicate with different types of stakeholder.

Identify project stakeholders

Brainstorm all the stakeholders you can identify for your project. Projects often have more stakeholders than people realise and all sorts of people and organisations can emerge from this process. It may be helpful to consider:

  • who is directly involved in the project?
  • who are the potential beneficiaries of the research?
  • who might be negatively affected by it?
  • who directly or indirectly supports your research?
  • do you have any opponents?
  • are there existing positive or negative relationships amongst your stakeholders?

Determine what interest each stakeholder has in your project

Having identified the different stakeholders, consider what interests they have in your research project. For some stakeholders this may be very obvious; for others, it will be less clear and you may need to consult with them directly. One way of considering stakeholders' reactions to your project is to come up with stakeholder straplines. This involves getting people, either individually or in groups, to think about the different stakeholders' views of the project and sum these up in a pithy strapline. The discussion before and during the production of the strapline may help deepen your understanding of the issues and identify any implications for your project. The process may also reveal surprising complexities and differences of opinion that have to be managed.

Assess how much influence stakeholders have over the project

Some stakeholders will have considerable influence over your project and its outcomes either by directly controlling resources or key decisions (e.g. funders, ethics committees) or because they are central to successful project implementation (e.g. research participants). By considering and mapping your different stakeholders according to their level of influence and interest you can plan how you will manage and prioritise your engagement with them. This approach can also be helpful in considering how you communicate with your different stakeholders.

When mapping stakeholders in this way, it is helpful to flag which are supporters and which are critical of your project. Critics, particularly those with high influence need to have their views acknowledged in order to avoid conflict. One way of doing this is to invite them to join the project steering group. Properly managed they can become champions - "keep your friends close and your enemies closer."