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
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.
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.
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
(2) 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)