Stakeholder engagement remains a key challenge for the NHS, even if getting people to engage with the health service isn’t a problem for many of the organisations that come under its umbrella. After all, nearly everyone in the UK holds an opinion about the NHS and has direct experience of its services. It employs some 1.7 million people across the UK and many of us are deeply invested in its future, with the election campaign now bringing the issues facing the NHS into even sharper focus.
Throughout the health service, the challenge is not fostering engagement, but effectively managing that engagement by identifying and prioritising key stakeholder groups. The scale and complexity of the task can be daunting, so it was interesting to see Musgrove Park Hospital NHS Trust in Somerset hand a stakeholder engagement brief to health communications and PR agency Road earlier this year. With a typically large and diverse number of stakeholders to consider, many NHS organisations may fear being swamped if they do not enlist external support.
However, it's also important for NHS organisations to start internally when creating a stakeholder engagement plan - and select the right tools to carry out that plan.
The NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement offers some guidance for organisations seeking to identify, prioritise, understand and manage their stakeholders. The fact that it recommends using the '9 Cs' for the purpose of stakeholder identification provides a clue about the sheer number and diversity of stakeholders involved in the NHS.
The '9 Cs':
Commissioners: those who pay the organisation to do things
Customers: those who acquire and use the organisation's products
Collaborators: those with whom the organisation works to develop and deliver products
Contributors: those from whom the organisation acquires content for products
Channels: those who provide the organisation with a route to a market or customer
Commentators: those whose opinions of the organisation are heard by customers and others
Consumers: those who are served by our customers: i.e. patients, families, users
Champions: those who believe in and will actively promote the project
Competitors: those working in the same area who offer similar or alternative services
It's clear that identifying stakeholders is an extensive process in its own right, but this is only the first step. To make prioritising the needs of different stakeholder groups easier, it's common practice to use a mapping grid like the one below (adapted from a document produced by the NHS Calderdale Clinical Commissioning Group in West Yorkshire).
As guidance from the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement shows, this type of grid can easily be expanded to include nine boxes (running from low to moderate to high along each axis) for a large project with a particularly diverse set of stakeholders.
The point is that the level of interest and influence exerted by each stakeholder group is clearly defined, and their needs prioritised. An informed decision about most appropriate method of engaging with and managing each group can then be made - and this is where the cloud comes in.
If we consider the diverse needs of stakeholder groups in today's NHS, it's clear that traditional methods of engagement just aren't adequate. The mapping grid defines the four basic groups as: stakeholders you need to work closely with (high influence/high interest), stakeholders you must show consideration to (low influence/high interest), stakeholders you need to inform with minimal effort (low influence/low interest) and stakeholders you need to keep satisfied (high influence/low interest). However, even the standard methods used to engage the lowest interest/influence group, like creating advertisements and posting letters, can be expensive and time-consuming. Actively collaborating with key stakeholders through face-to-face meetings can be even more inefficient and difficult to organise, often leading to further expense.
As with many of the other challenges currently facing the health service, the answer lies in the successful integration of digital channels. A digital stakeholder engagement strategy, using cloud collaboration software that provides a secure online workspace for stakeholders to share ideas, take part in consultations and store important files, can provide the NHS with an inexpensive solution to a long-standing problem. To find out more, download our free guide on how to transform public sector stakeholder engagement.