Building a Stakeholder Engagement Strategy – Goal Setting 2

Goal setting is a crucial step in any successful strategy. Goals allow you to narrow your vision to a realistic target, or as is usually the case, a set of targets. Your goals will depend on the reason for the engagement and need to be aligned with your Values, Vision and Mission. The (fuzzy) goal for this post is to share information and options for improving your goal setting process within a larger stakeholder engagement strategy.

Stakeholder Engagement Pyramid

Is it a goal or objective?

Business folks tend to use the terms goals and objectives as if they were the same thing. Educators on the other hand know they are different and that goals are bigger and fuzzier – kind of like a vision in a specific area – and that objectives are small steps or chunks through which goals are achieved. Educators know this because they design curriculum and write learning objectives. They chunk… and then chunk some more. Athletes and personal trainers also know this, by the way.

SMART goals

It doesn’t really matter what you call them as long as you don’t make the goals so fuzzy they become blurred visions. If in doubt make them smaller. While it’s possible to get bogged down in details, the reality is that very few people err on the side of too much detail and it’s a lack of detail that can shift people off course. Think of them as a detailed set of directions to a place others have not been to before – a map of sorts. Goals and objectives should be actionable – meaning they are behaviours. Using SMART goals is a time tested and proven method and it has a memorable acronym to boot. There are variations on the meaning of each letter but the message is fairly consistent.

Specific - Goals are not visions, they should be specific and actionable, used in context and have defined scope. Increasing engagement is not a well defined goal until you add the who and by how much – Increase parent engagement in strategic planning – Now you’re into fuzzy goal territory.

Measurable – If your goal is specific enough and framed as an action or behaviour, the measure should be clear – Increase parent engagement in strategic planning by 30% is specific and measurable and is a good goal to chunk into smaller, more targeted objectives that suggest the “how”.

Achievable or Acceptable or Attainable – This A word has caused some planners to almost come to blows. I default to Acceptable as it is an element that can be missed and if it’s Realistic it will also be Achievable and Attainable. Acceptable means the goal is likely to be supported by anyone who needs to be on board with the goal. If you have a goal that isn’t acceptable to your key stakeholders then the first goal would be to get them enrolled or at the very least comfortable with the goal.

Realistic - Is this goal realistic in this context, at this time, with these people? Has anything like this been done before? Is this something we have enough control over? These are the kinds of questions that help determine how realistic a goal is.

Timeframed – Don’t let your goals get stuck on Someday Isle. When will this goal be accomplished? And yes, if there are milestones then those are objectives within the goal. Increase overall parent engagement in strategic planning by 30% by the next quarterly review. This goal is supported by all key stakeholders making it acceptable and we know it’s realistic because similar districts have accomplished this. Now that’s a SMART goal!

Why are you engaging?

Before you get SMART there are a few questions that can help define the process. These can be great Thoughtstream questions by the way :-)

Who are your stakeholders?

Identifying who your stakeholders are, what is important to them, if and to what extent they want to be engaged and how important they are to you, or to the issue, is part of the goal setting process. Ideally a lot of this will have already been identified and any specific engagement process will build on what’s already known. Each unique stakeholder group and subgroup may need their own goals and strategy, plan and tactics, for engagement.

One note about culture and engagement. Research strongly suggests that “most” stakeholders prefer to be engaged on specific issues that affect them. That is not the case for most Aboriginal and many non-western cultures. If you have stakeholder groups that are more collective than individualistically oriented, tend to prefer high rather than low context communication, hold non-western values, have large power difference norms or are certainty oriented, then different engagement rules apply. You may find that engaging over an issue will not work and that you need to engage and build relationships first. For more on this see this chapter [pdf] on The Cultural Context or Google any of the related terms.

If you are engaging your stakeholders on a specific topic or area begin by answering the following questions. The first three question answer the big “Why are we engaging?”question while the last two speak to the “how?”. Methods of engagement are not included in this section though some folks include them at this stage. Personally, I like to leave methods to the tactics section.

1. To what degree does the outcome of this engagement affect this group of stakeholders? If you want to quantify this use 0 – 10 with 0 meaning no effect.

2. How engaged does this group want to be? Score 0 – 10 with 0 meaning no engagement is desired.

3. How engaged do you want or need this group to be? Score 0 – 10 with 0 meaning you don’t need this group’s support or approval.

4. What is your history with this group? Do they trust you? What is the quality of the relationship? Be honest. Score 0 – 10 with 0 indicating a stable, trust based, long-term relationship.

5. If the outcome of the this engagement includes some kind of a decision or a change, does it require expert or local knowledge, or both and to what degree? If expert knowledge is required score 0 – 5. For example if your office is on a fault line you may want an geotechnical expert to determine the best options. That doesn’t mean you don’t engage; it does mean that the depth of the engagement will be different for various groups. If local knowledge is more important, then score that overall and then for each stakeholder group using a  5 – 15  scale with 5 indicating an equal mix of expert and local knowledge and with higher numbers indicating a tipping of the scale towards more local knowledge.

The answers to the above will help you determine a level of engagement to aim for – a goal. If you like numbers you can quantify this by using a 0 -10/15 scale with higher numbers indicating a need for deeper engagement. This is also a good time to ensure the area and topic aligns with your values, vision and mission.


Stakeholder engagement score

Level of engagement framework

Once you have the answers to the question above you can use one of many frameworks to help with your analysis. The IAP2 Spectrum is gaining a lot of favour across sectors so we’ll adapt that as a framework.

Stakeholder engagement grid

I find that clearly defining what each stage means is important. This is how I define the IAP2 terms and you may notice they are not quite the same as the original. You may want to likewise define the terms to fit your needs and process. Once you have decided on terms to use make sure you use them consistently and that all your stakeholders know what you mean.

Inform: Broadcast information across multiple channels.

Consult: Inform and then invite stakeholders to share their ideas, views and preferences with the promise of continuing to inform and to consider stakeholder views within any decision making process.

Involve: Inform, consult and more actively engage in the process. The commitment is to remove barriers to involvement and enter into dialogue or other processes that make it more likely stakeholder views and preferences will be considered. There is a weight shift between consulting and involving. There may also be an increase in time and cost.

Collaborate: Some would say that it is at this stage that genuine engagement begins and I wouldn’t disagree. Setting a goal of collaboration is a commitment to partner as equals, to share the entire process and the outcomes. At this stage the final decision still resides with you. You own it because you are still the most invested and are responsible for the outcomes.

Empower: If you find you have a score of over 50 for any stakeholder group, that may indicate that the issue is more theirs than yours. Your role – and goal – may be that of the convenor who holds the space for engagement and who will support and if able to, enact any decision made by the stakeholder group or groups. This is like the referendum (or plebiscite or ballot question) process in government and is a form of direct democracy.

You can also use this kind of framework to help determine where your time and energy is needed most. For example, if there is a big difference between a stakeholder group’s desire for engagement and your need for engagement, then you know you will have to get creative and be tenacious in your engagement activities.

In this example the goal for three of the stakeholder groups landed on involve and for the other two the score indicates collaboration is the goal. You would of course apply your own knowledge of your stakeholders and your own needs to adjust the final scores and the goals.

Informed fuzzy goals

Involvement and collaboration are fuzzy goals but they are informed fuzzy goals and can now be chunked into smaller SMARTer pieces and then into even smaller objectives if you like. More importantly these provide you with enough information to move into creating an engagement strategy.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series on building a stakeholder engagement strategy.

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