This paper by R. Max Wideman was first published as part of Chapter 17 in A Field Guide to Project Management, 2nd Edition, edited by David I. Cleland and published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey, 2004.
The original paper has received minor updates and is published here August 2015.

Introduction | Who Are the Stakeholders? | Internal Projects
Hidden Stakeholders | Keeping Internal Stakeholders on Your Side
External Projects | How to Identify Public Stakeholders

How to Identify Public Stakeholders

The following are recommended steps to identify a project's public stakeholders or constituents.

1.   Examine the environment

The first step is to examine the public environment surrounding the project. Identify any individual or group, who may be affected by the project, or even have an influential opinion about it. An excellent starting point is to hold a project team brainstorming session for this purpose. This has several benefits.

  • It enables people to contribute ideas and suggestions from their knowledge and experience of local conditions and politics.
  • It may be one of the first opportunities for members of the project team to show they can make a positive contribution.
  • The process starts the feeling of community of interest in the project.
  • The process is fun and the project manager can put the results to good use.

If the project is significant, the project manager might seek expert advice after the brainstorming exercise.

2.   Determine the type of influence

The second step is to sort the findings into groups according to the type of influence each may have. These can be described as:

  • Those who come into direct contact as suppliers of inputs or consumers of outputs
  • Those who have influence over the physical, infrastructural, technological, commercial, financial, socioeconomic, or political and legal conditions
  • Those who have a hierarchical relationship to the project such as government authorities at local, regional, and national levels
  • Those individuals, groups and associations, who have vested interests, that are sometimes quite unrelated to the project, yet who see the project as an opportunity to pursue their own ends.

3.   Categorize the level of influence

The third step is to categorize each group according to the level of influence they may have over the project. The following are examples:

  • Those over whom it may be possible to exercise some degree of control by way of compensation
  • Those who can be influenced by some form of communication
  • Those who need to be appreciated and, if necessary, planned for

4.   Gather information

This fourth step can be systematized. The following questions should be asked when developing stakeholder information:[7]

  • What do you need to know about each stakeholder?
  • Where and how can you obtain the information?
  • Who will have responsibility for gathering, analyzing, and interpreting the information?
  • How and to whom will you distribute the information?
  • Who will use the information to make decisions?
  • How can you protect the information from misuse?

It is quite possible that some of the information collected will be sensitive material. Also, do not assume that all stakeholders and constituents operate ethically. So, treat all information as if it were sensitive and possibly questionable. This poses a problem for some government operations, which may be subject to the requirements of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In any case, project managers should observe strict security over the information to avoid undermining the integrity of the effort.

The following is a summary of typical sources of stakeholder information:[8]

   a.   Internal

  • Project team members
  • Key managers
  • Customers and users
  • Suppliers
  • The professional associations of members of the team
  • Articles and papers presented at professional meetings
  • Trade associations of those directly involved

   b.   External

  • Local press
  • Trade press
  • Annual corporate reports
  • Public meetings
  • Government sources
  • Business periodicals such as The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and Forbes
  • Business reference services such as Moody's Industrial Manual and Value Line Investment Survey

5.   Use the information gathered

The final step after gathering the information is to do something with it and this is probably the biggest challenge of all. If the project is small, project managers can share the communication workload among members of the project team. Each team member can assume responsibility for specific areas and groups. By maintaining stakeholder and constituent linkages in this way, the project has the best chance for ultimate success. The project manager should see that respective responsibilities are documented in a project communication plan.

If, however, the project is not so small then a more elaborate approach is necessary. For these situations, see the companion paper: Achieving Success on Large Projects through Public Relations.

External Projects  External Projects

7. Cleland, Project Management, p107
8. Ibid, p108
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