BUILDING COLLABORATING NETWORKS OF STAKEHOLDERS: IDENTIFICATION, ASSESSMENT, AND MOBILIZATION
Many of today’s problems are extraordinarily complex, politically sensitive, and involve a mix of scientific, technical, legal, political, and social considerations. Resolving these problems often requires the specialized expertise, resources, and collaboration of many public, business, and non-governmental organizations and individuals.
Clients wanting to resolve a problem, or achieve a project or program, need to develop collaborative relationships with the other stakeholders – the organizations, programs, and individuals who can affect and/or may be affected by the problem and action addressing it. Relationships enmeshed in controversy and conflict can impede effective and efficient action, if not stop it entirely.
This is true for government officials needing to carry out community involvement programs to clean or protect the environment, business executives wanting to construct a development or provide better service, and special interest organizations and concerned citizens wanting to take on an issue in their community.
Building Collaborating Networks of Stakeholders: Research Leading To Action
George Weber Inc., Environmental (GWE) has developed and applies a distinctive approach for building collaboration among stakeholders, technical experts, and other resources to solve complex problems.
Developing Collaborating Network of Stakeholders
Weber began developing and applying the approach to a variety of environmental projects and programs in the mid-1980s and has continued to refine it with each application.
The approach is a process of research, then action that:
- Identifies the stakeholders that are indispensable to effective and efficient action;
- Assesses the potential for these stakeholders to come together to address the issue collaboratively;
- Develops a strategic plan for building the collaborating network of stakeholders; then
- Supports the process of building the collaborative and taking actions addressing the problem.
Central to the identification, assessment, and planning phases is the model Weber developed based on social networks research and theory addressing why and how stakeholders form a collaborative to solve a problem, or carry out a program or project.
In the the final stages of building the collaborative and supporting its activities, GWE relies on principles and techniques of public participation, stakeholder engagement, and community development to involve participating stakeholders and other resources as partners in problem-solving, decision-making, and formulating and carrying out action plans. Tactics GWE has used to support clients in carrying out programs include resolving conflicts, and planning, conducting, and facilitating meetings, trainings, and large events.
Benefits of the Approach
The approach enables clients working with GWE to:
- Develop a strategic vision, comprehensive and systematic analysis, and strategic and implementation plans to build the collaborating network of stakeholders and other resources;
- Resolve and mitigate conflicts before they cause significant political, legal, and cost constraints to carrying out planned projects and programs; and
- Carry out projects and programs more effectively and efficiently than approaches typically taken that lack a guiding strategic framework.
The approach is compatible with, and enhances the value of, standard government ‘2-way communication’ community involvement programs. GWE can design and conduct these programs to increase the potential for collaboration with stakeholders, while decreasing the potential for costly conflicts by making only minor enhancements in the design and conduct of the program.
Prior clients have found that the initial assessment process helps bring together the right mix of stakeholders for taking action with more focus, more quickly and efficiently than, trying to do this without systematic knowledge about stakeholders. With the assessment information in hand, meetings can begin with an immediate focus on pre-existing or developing areas of consensus, and structured to resolve or manage existing and potential conflicts, and support stakeholders in developing further consensus on the specific issues they want to address and the actions the want to take. Action plans can be formulated more quickly than if stakeholders’ concerns, needs, and characteristics are revealed in a series of meetings over time.