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Improving stakeholder engagement in the public sector

Overcoming obstacles to meaningful engagement

Effective stakeholder engagement is a holy grailOnline Collaboration that every public sector organisation is in search of.

Getting it right is important for a large number of reasons, not least because people trust organisations that engage well with them.

Drilling down into more detail, a 2009 Ipsos MORI and Social Research Institute report, Understanding Your Stakeholders: A best practice guide for the public sector, identified three characteristics that distinguish organisations that manage stakeholder engagement well. They are:

  • Leadership – having clear priorities and a shared vision of how to achieve them
  • Staff — credible, consistent people who share their organisation’s objectives
  • Communication — communicating real, two-way conversations both internally and with stakeholders.

In short, organisations within the public sector need to have a clear sense of where they are going, bring their staff along with them, and engage in meaningful dialogue with their stakeholders.

But why is this so vital? The same report gives us a credible answer:

Partnership working and strong stakeholder relations will only become more important in the future. In the current economic climate, with more focus than ever before on demonstrating efficient and responsible use of public money, there is a need to be transparent, accountable and in touch with your stakeholders. Building trust with stakeholders makes relationships more productive and fosters partnership working, helping organisations to prioritise and meet their aims.

This is true, but for many in the public sector, there are two obstacles that stand in their way of building up that trust. They are:

1. Numbers. The sheer number of stakeholders can make it difficult for public sector organisations to engage with them all in any meaningful way — meaning some stakeholders feel left out. A local council’s stakeholders include residents, community groups, churches, charities, service users, colleges, schools, media, retailers, businesses… and that’s just scratching the surface. It can seem next to impossible to hold two-way conversations with many hundreds of different groups.

2. Co-ordination. Although there are many stakeholder groups, it can be difficult to draw on the expertise of their memberships. For example, if schools are stakeholders in your organisation, how can you draw on the expertise of many hundreds of teachers and other staff?

Both of these problems can be overcome with the intelligent use of online collaboration.

Instead of an organisation having to engage with every group individually, it becomes possible to engage with many groups in the same online workspace. For example, if a council is seeking views on a planning issue, it can bring developers, architects, community groups, residents and others into a collaborative environment — allowing it to share information and gather feedback from all users.

In other words, collaboration doesn’t just give stakeholders a chance to make their views known, it allows them to get together to solve issues, work towards a common aim or create new projects.

Secondly, online collaboration makes it simple for organisations to draw on the expertise of stakeholders. Once you have a secure online workspace, you can invite any numbers of stakeholders you like to contribute — whether to formulate policy, provide feedback, or simply eliminate the time and financial costs of bringing the same people together in person.

In our guide, which you can download below, you can find some examples of effective stakeholder engagement — including one organisation’s collaboration with 200,000 stakeholders to introduce a new e-conveyancing system.

It will give you many ideas on how to better collaborate with your own organisation’s stakeholders — and we’d love to hear what you come up with. Be sure to let us know!

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