Engaging stakeholders with evidence and uncertainty

Who is this for? This tool kit is for policy decision-makers wanting to engage stakeholders with their decisions, or for impact evaluators or synthesis teams wanting to engage stakeholders with their research.

Policy decisions made by international agencies, national governments or local organisations are increasingly made with the help of stakeholders – that is the people who will be required to implement the decision or the people who may be affected by it. Such decisions are also increasingly informed by research evidence. Together these trends raise the challenge of engaging stakeholders with research evidence for decisions, or even with conducting the research designed to inform decisions.

Why is it needed? Many methods for stakeholder engagement have evolved in different places. Choosing between the many methods available can be confusing for two reasons. First, the terms describing stakeholder engagement can be confusing, from participatory action research or human centred design to knowledge brokering or integrated knowledge translation. This confusion is because methods may vary even if they share the same name, and some methods with different names can be very similar. Second, it is not always clear which methods best suit different circumstances.

How does it help? This toolkit is designed to help with choosing between stakeholder engagement methods, taking into account the task at hand and how much agreement there is amongst stakeholders in advance. It describes stakeholder engagement models that suit development interventions when (a) enhancing evidence use for policy decisions; or (b) conducting or commissioning impact evaluations and research syntheses.

This tool kit signposts systematic review evidence and tools to help with:

  • Finding and making sense of research evidence
  • Finding relevant stakeholders to draw on their knowledge
  • Helping stakeholders discuss issues and make decisions
Where does it come from?
Our framework for understanding how to choose suitable methods for stakeholder engagement comes from analysing systematic reviews of stakeholder engagement, and from listening to people who work with other stakeholders to make decisions or conduct research

How to navigate this website

This website illustrates and uses the framework in five different ways:

Section 1: A dynamic framework to span the whole field of stakeholder engagement.
Section 2: A semi-interactive wizard that matches key features of engagement methods to tasks and circumstances.
Section 3: An evidence map that signposts systematic reviews and practical tools and guidance.
Section 4: Guidance for identifying and understanding stakeholders and their relationships.

Section 1: A dynamic framework illustrating the field of stakeholder engagement

This framework is designed to help decision-makers and researchers choose methods and tools for engaging with evidence and each other depending on whether they plan to:

  • Make a policy decision or plan some research
  • Whether the decision or research is to apply only locally, or more generally
  • How much clarity and consensus there is about what they know when starting out, whether this is being clear and agreed about where a decision will be applied, or clear and agreed about the existing knowledge that new research will build on.

The choice of methods and tools for making decisions about policy (organisational or wider public policy) depends in part on whether decision-makers and stakeholders have a shared understanding about the context where the decisions will be applied, and whether the research available is judged relevant to the circumstances.

The choice of methods and tools for making decisions about conducting research depends on part on whether the aim is to produce new knowledge that will be for local use or be applied much more widely, and whether the researchers and other stakeholders have a shared understanding of what is already known before the research begins.

These key distinctions of shared or uncertain understanding and generalisable or locally relevant evidence are combined visually in figure 1 to scope the field of stakeholder engagement with decision-making and research for social development and humanitarian aid programmes within a social, cultural and political context.

Figure 1: Decision-making and Research for Social Development and Humanitarian Aid Programmes within a Social, Cultural and Political Context

Figure 1: Decision-making and Research for Social Development and Humanitarian Aid Programmes within a Social, Cultural and Political Context

The double matrix design in figure 1 presents a vision of stakeholder engagement across the whole field. Step-by-step guidance is helped by a flow chart that navigates the framework with a series of questions about a specific task to be done, and about existing shared understanding and generalisable evidence. The flow chart for navigating the framework is presented below in figure 2.

Figure 2: Flow chart for navigating stakeholder engagement framework

Figure 2: Flow chart for navigating stakeholder engagement framework.                                                                                                                            

Section 2: Semi-interactive wizard to match key features of engagement methods to tasks and circumstances

The framework and flow charts above illustrate the logic that underpins different approaches to engaging stakeholders. In this semi-interactive wizard, clicking on any quadrant (numbered as A-D and 1-4) in the framework opens a pop-up with further information about suitable stakeholder engagement methods and links to relevant resources.

(1) Engaging stakeholders with making decisions

Generalisable knowledge
Understanding context
Uncertain
Available
Shared
Uncertain
B) When decision-makers and stakeholders have a good shared understanding about the context where decisions will be applied, but the availability of generalisable knowledge is uncertain they can learn more from knowledge held by local leaders or organisations.
A) Decision-makers and stakeholders have a good shared understanding about the context where decisions will be applied, and generalisable knowledge is available, they can learn more from finding and appraising evidence and from knowledge held by local leaders or organisations.
D) When decision-makers and stakeholders have an uncertain understanding about the context where decisions will be applied, and the availability of generalisable knowledge is uncertain, they can learn from developing a shared understanding with a wide range of local stakeholders.
C) Decision-makers and stakeholders have an uncertain understanding about the context where the decisions will be applied is uncertain, and generalisable knowledge is available, they can learn more from finding and appraising evidence, and a wider range of local stakeholders.
Engaging stakeholders with making decisions
 
 
 
 

(2) Engaging stakeholders with conducting research

Generalisable knowledge
Understanding of context
Required
Unnecessary
Shared
Uncertain
1) When researchers and stakeholders aim to produce generalisable knowledge by building on a good shared understanding about what is already known, they can drive research using priorities that are already widely shared or developed with key stakeholders.
2) When researchers and stakeholders aim to produce locally tailored knowledge by building on a good shared understanding about what is already known they can drive research using priorities held by or developed with local leaders or organisations.
3) When researchers and stakeholders aim to produce genersalisable knowledge starting with an uncertain understanding about what is already known, their first step is to develop consensus with many dissimilar stakeholders to understand key concepts and research priorities.
4) When researchers and stakeholders aim to produce locally tailored knowledge starting with an uncertain understanding about what is already known, their first step is to develop consensus with many local stakeholders to understand key concepts and research priorities.
Engaging stakeholders with conducting research
 
 
 
 

Section 3: An evidence map for stakeholder engagement

Below, you can access an evidence map aligned to the semi-interactive wizard. The evidence map contains research studies and tools to support stakeholder engagement in different circumstances as outlined in the wizard above. The left axis on the evidence map overlaps with the 4 quadrants in the wizard. That is, the left axis of the evidence map allows you to navigate between the semi-interactive wizard above and the evidence map below (see image of the evidence map). To access the interactive map, follow this link: Evidence map: engaging stakeholders with evidence and uncertainty. The map is best viewed in Google Chrome.

 

Section 4: Guidance for identifying and understanding stakeholders and their relationships

What research is conducted and used is influenced by political power, democratic processes, institutional mechanisms, values and priorities.

Methods of choice: identifying stakeholders who are essential for, or may influence, decision making or research processes.

Limitations: The political analysis skills required for understanding the roles and influence of stakeholders, and the technical skills required for producing generalisable knowledge, are usually held by different sets of people.

Evidence: stakeholder mapping (Henwood 2017)

Tools: Every day political analysis and Collaboration mapping