How to Measure Stakeholder Engagement

When running a project with multiple stakeholders, stakeholder engagement will be a major consideration. There’s various different ways to improve stakeholder engagement, but how do you know when your stakeholders are engaged? The answer is to measure stakeholder engagement. In the article, we’re going to look at why measuring stakeholder engagement is useful, before exploring some of the best ways to go about it.

Why Measure Stakeholder Engagement?

A comprehensive stakeholder engagement strategy should aim to develop and improve over time. A great way to do this is to measure stakeholder engagement. Measuring stakeholder engagement is important for several reasons.

First, we need to understand why stakeholder engagement itself is so important. Stakeholder engagement has several positive functions. It can be used to gather valued feedback from different perspectives. It can also be used to guide the project's direction. It’s widely agreed however that the most important function of stakeholder engagement, is increasing stakeholder buy-in. This is where stakeholders are committed to the success of the project, as they’ve been engaged, and are fully aware of the benefits it is creating, thus are willing to offer their support.

Without measuring stakeholder engagement, you have no way of telling whether your engagement programme is effective. This means that it isn’t necessarily obvious when intervention may be required. This can be dangerous - as your stakeholders can disengage, without any knowledge of it.

Measuring stakeholder engagement allows you to track what techniques are engaging, and which aren't. Knowing this, you can tweak your engagement tactics to most effectively engage stakeholders, increasing their buy-in over time.

By measuring your stakeholder engagement, you’re also producing valuable data which will be useful to reflect on in the future. Wherever you’re evaluating your projects success, reporting to senior managers or making a case for future investment. Your stakeholder evaluation metrics can be an eloquent way to communicate the capabilities of a team, project successes, or improvements that have occurred over time.

Stakeholder Engagement Plan

How to measure stakeholder engagement will usually be detailed prior to a project starting, in the stakeholder engagement plan.

Here, we can present the stakeholder engagement measuring process in full detail, including all relevant metrics, classifications, process and procedures used. Alternatively, we can present a summary of the stakeholder engagement measurement process, with more detail to follow at a later point in time.

You may wish to describe a summary if you have not yet figured out all the relevant details. When describing a summary of the measurement process, make sure to include how you plan to eventually figure out these details. Include also a timescale for when these details will be decided upon if possible.

You would usually include your stakeholder engagement measurement process somewhere towards the end of the stakeholder engagement plan. You might also have a stakeholder engagement evaluation in the engagement plan. If you do, it’s good practice to reference the measurement process in the evaluation. Consider how the measurement reflects on the engagement process as a whole, and feedback this into the overall evaluation.

5 Levels of Stakeholder Engagement

When it comes to measuring stakeholder engagement, one of the most effective techniques to begin with is stakeholder classification. It is likely that you already will have come across stakeholder classification during the stakeholder mapping phase. 

This time we’re taking a different approach. We’re using classification to assign each stakeholder a commitment level to the project. Stakeholders can move between levels, and the aim of the engagement should be to keep important stakeholders at the upper levels of commitment.

The 5 levels of engagement usually used are as follows:

  • Unaware
  • Resistant
  • Neutral
  • Supportive
  • Leading

When using this framework, you’ll need to define boundaries for each level. You will also need a criteria for where each stakeholder fits, and what they must exhibit to move up or down a level. Rather than using a boilerplate template, we would suggest defining your own criteria based on the context of your project. For additional support in completing this, we would suggest reading this article.

Once you have defined the criteria for the levels of engagement, you can start plotting each stakeholder on this scale. Remember to consider the findings from your stakeholder mapping when plotting each stakeholder. It may be the case that you have stakeholders who have lower levels of engagement. As long as these stakeholders don’t have a significant level of influence on the project, then they may not be an immediate concern. Those with a high level of influence however should be prioritised, as their engagement and therefore buy-in is likely to have the most impact.

After deciding where each stakeholder fits into each category, you may wish to aggregate each stakeholder's level, providing an overall indication of your project's engagement level. This data should be recorded and tracked over time, for future review during project project evaluation.

Measure Stakeholder Engagement with KPIs

You will also want to consider how you can track the engagement of stakeholders using KPIs.

KPIs or key performance indicators are metrics that reflect the effectiveness of a particular project element. In this case, we’re looking at using KPIs to monitor stakeholder engagement.

Creating KPIs that accurately depict levels of engagement will be unique for each project, as each project will have different characteristics. Nevertheless, here are some ideas to get you started.

To begin with, you should aim to use multiple KPIs, so that you’re capturing the whole story. Using just one or two could inadvertently miss key details that indicate engagement. For example, a stakeholder who rarely communicates via email, but will often call up to check on project progress may seem unengaged if the KPIs were only focused on the number of emails. That’s why it's important to gain different perspectives by using multiple KPIs.

When project evaluation or reporting takes place, you may consider aggregating the multiple KPIs together to form overarching KPIs. This ensures individuals less involved in the project day-to-day can easily understand at a glance.

Next, you may be thinking about what data sources should be assessed by said KPIs. We’ve already mentioned communication as a potential data source. In fact, this should probably be one of the primary considerations, as communication is a good indicator of engagement.

Another great source of information is sentiment. Stakeholders who are engaged will generally speak positively of the project. To assess this, we have multiple avenues. One idea might be to conduct a ‘sentiment analysis’ on the communications between stakeholders, making notes of positive language used and assigning a score to this. Another might be simply to send out surveys, again with a scoring system to measure sentiment. There are lots of ideas available, so feel free to come up with your own methods for doing this.

You could even create KPIs based on the project's direction and day-to-day operations. These KPIs have the potential to dive deeper, as they’re looking beyond the surface level. They’re looking to understand what impact stakeholders' views have had on the project. For example, you could have a KPI that seeks to understand what percentage of project decisions were based on external stakeholder views, rather than internal views.

Ultimately, what KPIs indicate engagement will be particular to your project. Feel free to use these ideas, or to come up with your own methods.

Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix

Finally, a really useful tool to make sure you’re on top of your stakeholder engagement measurement is the Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix. This tool uses what we’ve discussed prior, and puts it into one, easily understood diagram.

The stakeholder engagement matrix plots every stakeholder group along the y axis. The x axis is attributes, such as the 5 levels of engagement and their power and influence over the project.

The matrix is a working document that should be updated throughout the project's lifetime. By doing this, we’re continually measuring stakeholder engagement. This can, like KPIs, be referred back to when the project is evaluated, demonstrating how engagement developed over the project's lifetime.

The matrix can be used alongside KPIs as a reporting tool, easily communicating to relevant individuals the current state of the stakeholder engagement.

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