Creating Multiple Channels for Stakeholder Engagement
March 21, 2016 | Angela Fitzgerald
My name is Angela Fitzgerald, and I am a channel flipper. Or at least I was until the introduction of online streaming services. During my channel-flipping days, I appreciated the opportunity to quickly receive different kinds of information with the simple click of a button. If I didn’t like the opinion presented by one news outlet, I could simply switch to a competitor’s station to hear a (potentially) different opinion. Adding social media and online sources to the mix, I now have a plethora of channels from which I can pick and choose the information that resonates with me the most and supports the values and beliefs that I hold strong. I don’t have to limit myself to a one-size-fits-all approach to receiving and digesting information, especially information that would inform a major decision (like selecting the next President).
This perspective can be applied to the work of program evaluation and, specifically, engaging stakeholders in the evaluation process. Any evaluation, but particularly those seeking a participatory approach, should be cognizant of stakeholders’ needs when it comes to receiving information and engaging in the evaluation process. For example, a past evaluation project of mine had three different types of stakeholders, all of whom required different methods of engagement. The management-level stakeholders preferred email communication that was succinct and to the point so that they could provide project input that reflected their higher-level organizational perspective without severely interfering with their work schedules. The stakeholders who were line staff liked to build upon others’ ideas by conversing as a group. This process was facilitated by in-person meetings held at different times to support attendance. Clients receiving services through the organization also were included in the evaluation. Due to the sensitive nature of the services (in this instance, free or low-cost substance abuse services), it was imperative to engage these stakeholders in a manner that made them feel safe and comfortable sharing feedback. This included being aware of when clients were most likely to be onsite receiving services and scheduling a private space during times most convenient for them. Also, transportation was recognized as a factor that could potentially impact client engagement. For this reason, clients who participated in the evaluation process were given bus vouchers.
The previous example illustrates stakeholder engagement methods that support the receipt of meaningful information for the evaluation. In the example, initial conversations with knowledgeable staff and clients informed the methods of engagement. Thankfully, the chosen methods were successful in that they allowed the evaluation to conveniently and respectfully gather input from multiple perspectives. This ultimately supports the richness of the evaluation. But, in some instances we get it wrong. We may go into an evaluation with one set of assumptions or assertions that are later proven to be incorrect. Rather than accepting this outcome, it is recommended that evaluators perform pulse checks throughout the stakeholder engagement process. Pulse checks, or intentionally checking in with the stakeholder groups and asking them how they feel about the chosen method of engagement, helps to confirm (or disconfirm) the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement methods and whether any adjustments are needed.
Providing multiple channels for engaging stakeholders communicates the value and importance of stakeholder input. Similar to channel flipping, multiple channels of engagement allow stakeholders different methods of receiving and communicating information relative to the project. Successful stakeholder engagement also adds to the richness of the evaluation by supporting the appropriate process of evaluating, the interpretation of findings, and the application of recommendations.