There’s a paradox at work in todays’ public sector.
On the one hand, organisations are being encouraged to develop shared services, increase transparency and involve more external partners in their work and decision-making processes.
But on the other, stakeholder engagement, key to making this kind of work possible, has a dwindling budget.
This means public sector organisations have significant motivation to drive down their stakeholder engagement costs without sacrificing the quality of engagement.
But how do you do that? Every organisation is different, and this post is designed to give you a strong starting point.
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1. Use social media to identify and engage with stakeholders
One of the costs associated with stakeholder engagement is centred on identifying the stakeholders themselves.
Traditionally, building a stakeholder database can be a lengthy and costly process. Stakeholders are identified from individuals’ own contact lists, via press adverts, consultation meetings, networking events and similar.
While valuable, this approach has two main flaws:
- You can’t do it quickly or cheaply
- It’s not easy to get hard-to-reach stakeholders involved, so you can end up engaging disproportionately with ‘the famous few’
Social media adds another string to your bow. Using networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook you can proactively search for individuals, members of companies and organisations, those with an interest in the topics relevant to your consultations and others. You can also create Twitter lists, join or create special interest groups on LinkedIn and publish Facebook pages on any topic — easily reaching well beyond ‘the famous few’.
And because you can use social media to forge and maintain relationships, you not only build up groups of potential stakeholders quickly and inexpensively, but you also keep them engaged long before you need to involve them in any formal stakeholder engagement process.
We’ll soon be publishing a blog post on using social media to build a stakeholder database. Subscribe for updates if you’d like to be notified when it’s published.
2. Use online channels to nurture stakeholders
One of the problems with traditional engagement techniques is maintaining a relationship with stakeholders between consultations, collaborations and other major activities.
For example, you might pour time and resources into sending out letters to organisations interested in a town planning proposal, organising face-to-face roadshows, publishing adverts and staging other activities to encourage them to take part in a consultation.
These methods can get a good response, but all too often public sector organisations let these stakeholder relationships go cold after they have served their immediate purpose. So when the time comes to consult with these groups again, many may have changed jobs or organisations, moved house, or simply be unwilling to help out — because you’ve failed to keep in touch with them.
The best strategy is to keep your stakeholders ‘warm’ by using cheap, effective online methods to engage them in between more formal activities. For example, you can:
Use social media to maintain dialogue and relationships — even if you recruit stakeholders by traditional methods, be sure to ask for their Twitter and LinkedIn addresses.
Offer regular email and RSS updates — so they continue to feel informed.
Invite them to become part of your stakeholder database — you can use online collaboration software to store their details, and then use it to record interactions with them, issue updates or invite people into collaborative workspaces for more formal activities.
Keeping stakeholders warm ensures that they are not only more likely to remain engaged, but also inform you when their jobs, interests or contact details change — cutting down on natural wastage within your stakeholder database. It’s also easier to identify stakeholders that can bring value to your future collaborations.
3. Use online channels to get engagement activities right
Get a consultation wrong and you’ll waste a lot of time and money. Invite the wrong people to collaborate on a project and they may block progress, not aid it.
You can help avoid these problems by using social media and other online channels to keep relationships with stakeholders ‘warm’, combined with a policy identifying and nurturing new people and organisations.
For example, if you plan to launch a consultation, you can source and invite a select group of stakeholders to collaborate with you in an online workspace to get the terms of reference, supporting materials and questionnaires right first time. It’s a great way of getting ‘buy in’ from stakeholders before you launch your consultation – as well as ironing out potentially disastrous glitches, and ensuring important questions or issues don’t get left out.
Similarly, by using channels like social media, you build relationships that give you greater insight into stakeholders’ interests and skills — making it much simpler to identify people you can constructively collaborate with.
Conclusions – the end of ‘stop-start’ stakeholder engagement
The biggest benefit of online channels for stakeholder engagement is that they save time and money by bringing ‘stop-start’ relationships to an end. You can easily create and maintain motivated groups of stakeholders — not just when you need them for specific projects. This helps you reach beyond the ‘famous few’, and also reduces churn – stakeholders are more likely to inform you if they move on or their interests change, allowing you to pursue your relationship with them in a different way and identify their successors immediately.
Also, when it comes to the baseline costs of using online channels, they beat traditional techniques hands-down. Social media costs little except time – unlike face-to-face events. Publishing online questionnaires is dramatically cheaper than distributing paper ones. And online collaboration workspaces cost far less than meetings — and they allow you to continue working together at any time, from any web-enabled device.
So, if you want to cut the costs of engagement, bring as much of it online as you can. It’ll improve the quality of your work too.
If you want to learn more about effectively using digital channels to transform you stakeholder engagement project, download our free guide Transforming Stakeholder Engagement — Effective Digital Channels.
Do you use digital channels in your stakeholder engagement project? Share your experiences by posting a comment below. We would really like to hear and learn from you!