Stakeholders are the actors in our design - who it is prepared for, and who it affects. The concept can be extended to governments, corporations, animals or watersheds, but in every day usage, when we discuss stakeholders, we mean people.
I aim to take a wide view of stakeholders. The people at the core of a design are easy to find, but all systems affect those around them in our resource-limited universe. Redirecting the flow of significant resources, in the form of rainwater, capital, equity, sunlight or waste results in adjusting the ledger of the surpluses and deficits in our ecology - in the economy we live in. Plusses in one column invariably mean minuses in another.
If we care for the earth, and we care for people, and we care about our fair share, then those outside of our design, at least those on the periphery, require consideration as well as those inside of it. The grander the design, the larger the footprint, and the larger the footprint the larger the periphery.
If your agricultural design includes water slowing techniques, there will be a period where that water will be deficient in areas it’s currently in abundance while your systems fill. That could have disastrous affects on downstream people and projects who depend on it - and could result in disastrous results to you when those unintended stakeholders bring action against your process.
If you are an industry disrupter, like Uber, those who you have disrupted are also participants in your actions. Your philosophy may or may not extend to considering the direct consequences, but you’d be making a terrible mistake to not consider the reactions of the thousands of livery companies and drivers you’ve just had an economic impact on. They will (and have) found ways to throw logs in front of Uber and make life more complicated, more expensive, more risky. Even the customers who prefer cab service, customers who will never be yours will affect your business plan, as they will act in groups to block your activity in support of declining taxi service.
The stakeholder I work to discover isn’t just a person who will be affected during the planning and deployment phase, or even during the plan’s “lifetime.” As permaculture designers, we try to build systems that are sustainable indefinitely, and that requires us thinking of stakeholders not only in 3 dimensions (those inside, our neighbours, and those institutions and organizations that we interact with) but also in a 4th dimension - the future as far forward as we are capable of imagining.
Everything we touch was once at the centre of a star, burning in space billions of years ago in galaxies that became extinct at unfathomable distances from where we are now. Every thought you have is based on the learning of thousands of generations of people of varying levels of intelligence.
In short, very little is new under the sun.
We live inside of a bottle, no matter what scale you view it from, and that bottle contains people with varying viewpoints and opinions regarding our endeavours. While we can’t include them all in our design discussions, and can’t include any more than a tiny fraction of them in our design plans, if strengthens everything we do if we take the time to understand as many of the effects and effectors of our projects as possible, in the present and future.
The interface between a stakeholder and your project may take many different forms - they may have an economic affect on one another, or our plan could be driving social change through an organization. We might be creating or eliminating jobs, affecting people’s safety or sense of security, or limiting or improving access to critical resources.
They may have physical, legal or emotional means to control or augment the process. They may have expertise or experience they can lend, or even emotional or professional support that can make a significant difference during a design’s deployment.
Determining the priority of a stakeholder is a critical skill in design implementation, and is the first step in stakeholder management. By plotting stakeholders on a grid, with the Y axis indicating project impact and the X axis indicating project interest, we can determine how deeply an individual needs to be brought into the design process. Those with high interest but little impact should be sent copies of all major design decisions, dates of events and notices of new parties to the project. Those with high impact and little interest should not be bothered frequently, but their needs must be taken seriously.
Those individuals that have a high level of impact and high level of interest are key stakeholders. Representing the critical path of involvement, they will often need to be central to your design to see it succeed.
We need to be in constant feedback with our stakeholder management process - how well were stakeholders identified, notified, understood and involved in the project? Do we need to adjust the formula, provide more or less interactivity for stakeholders at specific priorities? Ask yourself these questions before, during and after the project planning and deployment process:
- Did your stakeholder management efforts have the desired effect?
- What could you have done to identify stakeholders more efficiently and completely?
- How successful is your communication, training and support?
- What tools and strategies are most effective at involving different types of stakeholders?
- What unexpected events occured with your stakeholders? Can you plan better in the future?
All projects of any significant size, be it a business, a school, a community garden or a social movement, the stakeholders in it form a community. The more intentional that community and the better planned and integrated it is into your design, the better you are set up for success, and the more support you will have during times of difficulty. Work with your stakeholders to ensure you achieve the level of participation you need for success.
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