Stakeholders can affect you just as much as you can affect them - 52M Consulting Limited

Stakeholders can affect you just as much as you can affect them

It's easy to forget, but your stakeholders can affect you just as much as you can affect them, albeit in different ways.

R. Edward Freeman, in the text Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach (1984), defines a stakeholder as: "A group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organisation’s objective."

When we're thinking about infrastructure developments, there's a tendency to focus on how our plans might affect our stakeholders but it's just as important to remember that their behaviours can affect us too. 

Take the Newbury Bypass as an example. When it was first mooted, you can imagine that a lot of consideration was given to how it might affect people and businesses living along the route - both positively (reducing traffic congestion through the centre of Newbury and therefore improving people's quality of life) and negatively (loss of green space etc). 

But was enough thought given to how some stakeholders could negatively affect the project by protesting against it, causing delays, bad publicity and expense?

Possibly not.

It's also worth noting that stakeholders aren't just those people who live and work in the area where infrastructure developments are proposed: they include the various statutory bodies that must be consulted, local elected representatives, civic and community leaders, the media, regulators, investors and more besides.

With this in mind, when drawing-up stakeholder maps and thinking about how you'll communicate with them (remembering that communities are not all homogenous and that people absorb information in different ways) it's also important to give some thought to the ways they could affect your plans both positively and negatively, and to what extent - a sort of 'risk assessment'. 

Armed with this understanding, you can start to think about the steps available to you to minimise any potential negative effects and accentuate the positive ones. 

READ ALSO: Health, wealth and happiness drive opposition to infrastructure 

Done well, stakeholder engagement has a proper structure to it. It involves identifying who your stakeholders are, understanding and being prepared to address their likely concerns, understanding why they might be inclined to support your proposals and how you can increase this, as well as how you will communicate in a manner that's consistent but appropriate to your particular audience. It should also be continuous. The best stakeholder engagement programmes continue even after the development has been built, because you never know when you might be back with proposals for more new infrastructure in the future.