Bringing Stakeholders to the Table

When developing a climate action plan, or when embarking on any community or organizational planning process, engaging stakeholders in a meaningful way ensures that the most relevant groups and individuals are aware and supportive of your process. When done correctly, stakeholder engagement processes may reveal new opportunities for implementing impactful strategies, programs, and projects.

Use the questions below to guide the development of your stakeholder engagement plan and determine the best tools and tactics for stakeholder engagement. Throughout the process of answering these questions, keep in mind what the end result of your project will be—Are you developing a public-facing document that will guide future community planning? Are you developing internal guidelines that will help define employee policy over the coming years? Do you need stakeholder accountability for successful implementation? Knowing where you are going helps to determine the most direct and productive path to get there.

1) Why are you engaging your stakeholders?

What is the goal of stakeholder engagement? If you are developing a public-facing plan, you may want to ensure that your stakeholder engagement includes opportunities for public comment or feedback on draft plans or provides transparency into the planning process. You may want to use the stakeholder engagement process to update your organization’s leadership team on planning progress and ensure that they are able to support the elements and strategies included in the plan. Additionally, you may want to learn from stakeholders that are experts in certain sectors in order to guide the development of strategies and goals within the plan itself. Ultimately, the stakeholder process should ensure that your plan and the goals, strategies, and actions within it remain relevant to your organization or community and can be supported by your employees, leadership, partners, and the general public.

2) Who do you need to engage?

Once you are clear on what exactly it is that you want to gain from your stakeholders, you can now determine who those stakeholders are and what they each bring to the table in support of the overall planning process. Often, making a list of the key stakeholders that come to mind can be helpful; from there, you can look to a few key questions to help ensure that the list includes all the relevant players. As you develop the list of individuals and organizations whose input and feedback are crucial, ask yourself:

  • Who will be impacted by our plan?

  • What are the interests, values, and priorities of those impacted?

  • Are there people or organizations indirectly affected by the plan that should be involved?

  • What organizations and individuals are crucial to making sure the work and strategies in the plan are actually implemented?

  • What organizations and individuals could hinder success if they aren’t supportive?

These questions may help you identify the individuals and organizations that are most important to involve in the development and roll-out of your climate action plan. You may notice certain trends or groupings that are logical within this list of stakeholders, and you may decide it is necessary to engage these groups differently.  

3) How should you engage your stakeholders?

Once you have identified the stakeholders that are important to include in your planning process and understand the resources available for stakeholder engagement, you can determine the most effective and impactful ways to engage each stakeholder group. Be sure to share stakeholder expectations and allow plenty of opportunity for stakeholder contribution; this ensures that continued dialogue occurs and your stakeholders remain engaged through the entire process.

Working with stakeholders can generally take either an engagement, informative, or communicative format. Stakeholders that you wish to engage are those that are crucial to the process of developing your plan, either because they are in a position to ensure the plan is supported or they may be involved in the actual work of the plan. Stakeholders that you wish to inform are those that you seek to provide information to, but you may not necessarily need information from in order to develop your plan. Stakeholders with whom you wish to communicate are those with whom it is useful to have a two-way dialogue, but whose feedback is not necessarily crucial to the plan’s success.

For each stakeholder group the first step is to define the strategic objectives and understand the resources available for facilitating dialogue, then make a plan of action that achieves the objectives within any applicable resource constraints. For example, perhaps there is a group of local experts working in the transportation field that may be able to identify opportunities to implement changes to the regional transportation system—they should be engaged in the process in order to share opportunities to support the goals within their work.  It may be relevant to complete research on each of the stakeholders’ organizations to focus the discussion and manage any cultural or organizational dynamics that may come up. At the time of the meeting, stakeholders are provided with an overview of why they have been asked to share their input, and then given plenty of opportunity for discussion and dialogue. For larger groups, breaking up into smaller teams gives more people an opportunity to offer ideas and insight. Before ending the meeting, review all of the ideas presented and give the stakeholders a chance to vote on which ideas they think are best, which their organization can support, and which they are skeptical of. If stakeholder action will be crucial to the implementation of the plan, establish a system of accountability and action steps that need to occur.

At other times, an informative approach may be more appropriate—this may be the case when presenting the planning process to the public in order to provide transparency into the development of a climate action plan. In such a case, a public meeting, community event, or open house may be an appropriate forum. Alternatively, it may be necessary to communicate the plan to the public and gather feedback on which elements of the plan they are most interested in seeing accomplished first; in this case, a community survey will allow members of the public to share their thoughts.

A planning process that does not consider the values, goals, and current opportunities and challenges within a broader community or organization is unlikely to yield the same results as a plan that has incorporated the feedback and ideas from a wide and relevant network of stakeholders. Our clients that embark on an inclusive and well-thought out stakeholder engagement process note that the strategies and targets within their plan are more likely to be successful precisely because they are supported by the broader community, whom take responsibility for ensuring that the goals are met.  

If you would like to learn more about how to engage your stakeholders, please contact us.