Just as in development practice, engaging stakeholder is an important part of the monitoring and evaluation of development projects. Projects which seek to create change in the actions and behaviours of individuals rely on effective engagement and getting this just right can add substantial value to the learning of your evaluation, as well as to whether or not your work is ever used to create further positive social change.
Who falls within the stakeholder group?
Broadly speaking, anyone with an interest, or ‘stake’ in the evaluation is an important stakeholder. This will necessarily include the team running the project, as well as project beneficiaries. Indeed, where these groups overlap, engaging stakeholders becomes all the more important and powerful for the learning and sustainability of the project.
More specifically however, the most important group of stakeholders to engage is the immediate audience – those who will be making decisions using the findings of the evaluation. If you identify the right primary users, and engage them, then it is far more likely that the evaluation will be useful. The Primary Users of the evaluation are a highly specified group. These are specific individuals who hold a particular decision-making power, and who have the power to truly create change as a result of your evaluation finds.
What is the best way to engage stakeholders?
Before engaging stakeholders on any level (your primary users, or a broader group) it is always useful to map stakeholders across your area of interest. When mapping stakeholders it is important not only to understand who is involved, but how they are involved, and what they bring to the space.
When you are engaging stakeholders, you may want to include a social event where the intention is open discussion and the sharing of lessons in a relaxed setting. This will enable you to learn more about what your stakeholders really care about, and to begin to really get to know them. Whether this is the Board or a renowned trust, or a group of community practitioners, engaging stakeholders and providing them to opportunity to draw learnings out of each other is key. Then, you may also require a series of meetings. These may range anything from facilitated information discussions around a table, to formal meetings, or facilitated and interactive discussions. If you are conducting a stakeholder workshop, be sure to research useful guides or discussion activities to draw out the best contribution from your participants. Select the style to suit the size of the audience, the time you’ve got and the outcomes you hope to achieve. On this, always be clear. State the intention of the meeting clearly at the start and be sure to document the things people say throughout the session. At the end, revisit the meeting aims in a final discussion to round out the sharing, and gain maximum benefit from the time you have with your audience.
How does this add value?
Engaging stakeholders can add a great deal of value. People you choose to engage will frequently hold significant knowledge about the subject area, and they can bring insight to conversations, or answers to predicaments along the evaluation journey. Having knowledge about the space, these individuals will hold key perspectives on why change occurred and how the impacts could be sustained. Apart from holding knowledge about the space, these people may also hold knowledge about different areas or design which can help you in analysing the context you face. Perhaps a stakeholder has a good idea of organisational design, while you are exploring the impact of different scaffolded teacher training programmes, or perhaps they understand telecommunications, and you’re looking to scale a digital wellbeing support programme for young adults. Consider your key stakeholders as resources and tap into what you have. During engagements, leave plenty of time for people to share ideas and experiences.
How Often should I do this?
There are no rules as to how often stakeholders may be engaged. Meetings are important an inception to ensure that the work has been well scoped, and that all the questions which key stakeholders may have, are brought to light. It is very important to clear on their expectations on the work, and in the inception report to show clearly which can be met.
From a process perspective, depending on the overall time span of the work, it may be advisable to have quarterly meetings, to ensure that important stakeholders are bought along on the journey. However, meeting too frequently can tens to undermine the work, as information gathering and analysis can take time, and evaluations can run for many months before anything really viable for presentation can be produced. Also, it is a good idea to stick on course, as the scope of evaluations in complex spaces can easily creep!