Stakeholder engagement is such a rich and diverse topic that reminders of its importance - and events demonstrating the tremendous power that stakeholders often wield - can be found almost everywhere.
Over the last few months, one of the most significant reminders came not from the public sector or the commercial industries, but from the non-profit sector. To be specific, it was provided by a small liberal arts college in rural Virginia.
Sweet Briar College became the centre of a bitter controversy in March, when its board of trustees revealed a surprise decision to close the institution after 114 years due to "insurmountable financial challenges". The announcement prompted anger among students and alumni, who were stunned by the abruptness of the decision and claimed the board had acted without transparency.
This initial outcry quickly became an organised response, with an activist group starting a campaign to raise millions of dollars to save Sweet Briar. After a tumultuous few months, it was recently confirmed that the college will remain open for at least another year, with new leadership set to be appointed.
The events at Sweet Briar were particularly interesting because they brought two facts of modern stakeholder engagement into the spotlight: the sheer depth of feeling that can be stirred up when stakeholders believe they've been excluded (board members were repeatedly slammed for being opaque in their decision-making), and the speed at which a response can be mobilised in the age of social media (the hashtag #SaveSweetBriar was used to drive the campaign from the outset).
Of course, it is rare that an organisation commits a stakeholder engagement failure on the scale of Sweet Briar College. But there are many organisations, across all sectors, which have a substantial opportunity to make their engagement more effective through the use of digital channels.
An online collaboration tool like Kahootz contains all the functionality needed to communicate and engage with an active community of diverse stakeholder groups. These functions include secure workspaces where people can gather information or share ideas, secure file sharing with a full document audit trail, blog posts for making announcements and sharing new information, and consultation features such as online questionnaires and polls.
Using cloud collaboration to support a stakeholder engagement strategy in this way can provide many benefits for an organisation. Here are three of the most important:
1. More opportunities for stakeholder engagement
Using relatively inexpensive online platform like a cloud collaboration tool enables you to inform, consult, collaborate and engage with people simply by setting up dedicated online workspaces and communities.
It costs little and it means you can bring stakeholders together on a more frequent basis to contribute to projects and keep them informed of initiatives at an early stage - something that may otherwise be prohibitively costly.
2. Increased transparency and accountability
Using an online collaboration platform to engage stakeholders means there is a full audit trail of all activity. You can easily publish documents and responses for any audience of stakeholders.
An audit trail also makes responding to Freedom of Information requests cheaper and simpler because every item of information regarding a project is kept within one workspace. This function, combined with widened participation form stakeholders, increases transparency and accountability.
3. Stakeholders' expectations are met
In today hyper-connected world of social media, a failure to engage with stakeholders in a meaningful way through digital challenges is increasingly regarded as simply not good enough. Sending blanket emails or simply providing an email address or a feedback form is not enough.
No matter what kind of organisation you run, it’s your responsibility to make it easy for stakeholders to have their say about the issues they care about. Providing an online platform for engagement speaks volumes about your organisation and its values - it sends out a clear signal that you recognise the importance of stakeholder involvement.