Ensure consultation and participation in decision making occurs with relevant groups and individuals where appropriate
Involving stakeholders in projects and decision-making processes has its advantages and disadvantages. If properly engaged, stakeholders can provide you with valuable input, improve outcomes and build consensus. With proper planning, you can benefit from stakeholder involvement and avoid the disadvantages of stakeholder participation.
Advantages of Stakeholders
- There are several key benefits of including stakeholders in your decision-making process. Stakeholders have unique insight into issues.
- They can secure resources to assist you with your decisions or project.
- Involving stakeholders can build trust, which can ultimately lead to increased consensus for your project or final decision.
- It can also increase transparency and lead to better decision making.
Disadvantages of Stakeholders
- First, involvement of stakeholders often takes time. Depending on your project or timeline, you may not have sufficient time to engage stakeholders.
- Involving stakeholders may be inappropriate when you are establishing accountability in supervisory settings. Asking for input, when decisive action is needed to address supervisory issues, can give the appearance the supervisor does not have solid leadership abilities.
- Lastly, if you involve stakeholders but don’t take their advice, you have raised an expectation that hasn’t been met, which can lead to distrust and hamper morale.
You must ensure the purpose of the consultation is clear, including what is being consulted on and what is non-negotiable. The goal of stakeholder consultation is to obtain feedback on analysis, alternatives or decisions. Consultation actively seeks stakeholder views and input into policy, plans and decisions. The responsibility for the decisions remains with the management doing the consulting.
There is a range of ways consultation can occur, including processes that require little or no dialogue. Examples include
- Written consultation e.g. a one-off survey in a newsletter, or documents made available for public comment
- Those involving dialogue and debate such as team meetings, focus groups and processes where the stakeholder is able to influence proposed options.
- Ensure the purpose of consultation is clear, including what is being consulted on and what is non-negotiable.
- Know who you are trying to consult, the most effective way to reach them and get a response.
- Allow enough time for a response to consultation requests.
- Coordinate requests so that, where possible and appropriate, you ask for views once, not several times.
- Provide feedback on the results of consultation.
- Ensure and demonstrate that the views of those consulted are taken into account in the outcome.
- Present all information simply and clearly.
- Ensure adequate resources are allocated to the process.
Consultation is an effective process in stakeholder engagement, providing the expected levels of participation and commitment are expressed and matched with the expectations of all relevant stakeholders. It is important to fulfill the promise of providing feedback on how this input has influenced the decision, otherwise stakeholders may not take up ownership of the decision, particularly where change in attitudes, values or practices is concerned.
This means work with the stakeholders to ensure their concerns are directly reflected in alternatives and solutions. The goal of stakeholder participation is to work directly with the stakeholders throughout the process to ensure that their concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered.
The distinguishing difference between ‘consultation’ and ‘participation’ is the level of involvement expected of the stakeholders. While consulting requires the facilitator to seek feedback at a given point in time, participation means deliberately putting into place a method to work directly with stakeholders throughout the process.
- Ensure all relevant people are given the opportunity to be involved.
- Ensure you maintain a commitment to enabling their participation in the process e.g. equity/access issues been considered that ensure that individuals are not unknowingly disadvantaged.
- Consider carefully what processes and/or structures are appropriate for the purpose and who is to be engaged.
- Avoid misunderstanding and ambiguity by clearly establishing the basis for membership of bodies such as boards or committees (e.g. skills vs. representation), the decision-making processes (e.g. voting vs. consensus) and roles and responsibilities at the outset.
Engaging stakeholders takes planning. You will want to get quality input but not raise unrealistic expectations. Carefully select stakeholders who have a vested interest in your project or decision-making process. Outline the process ahead of time and share it with the participants. Set clear timeframes, so the input doesn’t become endless but is directed toward a final outcome. Finally, make it clear you are soliciting input, and although all ideas will be considered, not all input will be used. This will help diffuse overly exaggerated expectation