Heading Them Off At The Pass: A Guide to Stakeholder Managementby@darragh

Heading Them Off At The Pass: A Guide to Stakeholder Management

by Darragh Grove-WhiteJanuary 24th, 2023
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Innovative concepts often meet with strong resistance from stakeholder communities directly affected. Key to this transformation is understanding people are suspicious of any external decision-making that directly impacts their backyard. Four simple principles serve as pillars for an effective public engagement strategy. The information that’s been put out in the public domain for community engagement must be true and specific.
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What’s the first lesson of stakeholder management?

You can’t please everyone.

Trying to please everyone turns great ideas into average ideas. Consensus inevitably drifts to the average, the familiar, the mediocre.

Innovative concepts often meet with strong resistance from stakeholder communities directly affected. Ironically, with the benefit of hindsight, those controversial innovations may be embraced subsequently by the very people who once opposed them, and the alien and unfamiliar transformed into beloved landmarks that become part of the community’s living heritage.

This phenomenon is no accident. It doesn’t come from having a louder PR microphone. It's the result of better public engagement headphones..

Careful, systematic listening to the fears and concerns of stakeholder groups and being willing  to engage with those concerns can turn initial resistance into collaboration. Key to this transformation is understanding people are suspicious of any external decision-making that directly impacts their backyard and day-to-day life in their community.  To be successful, public decision-making must engage honestly with community concerns and must give those affected a genuine opportunity to influence the outcome. It’s this input that builds a sense of community ownership.

The stakeholder troubleshooting framework and guiding principles detailed below demonstrate how  positive momentum can be made in even the most contentious development and planning processes, and how to convert a potential project stakeholder liability and adversarial coalition into a partner-advocate group.

4 Guiding Principles Framing Our Structure

Four simple principles serve as pillars for our effective public engagement strategy.

  1. Accuracy: The information that’s been put out in the public domain for community engagement must be true and specific.

  1. Availability: Information must be easily found in press releases, news websites and other news media, online sources, social media

  1. Timeliness:  Stakeholder groups must get relevant information promptly or pre-emptively to avoid communication lags that allow misunderstandings to grow.

  1. Accessibility: The information must be readily available and easy to find online without barriers. Paywalled articles are reposted with permission and content is optimized for search engines and sharing over social media.


Clearly Defined Stakeholder Groups

We get to know our different stakeholder groups’ hopes, aspirations, emotions, points-of-pain,  and to use these feedback patterns into what marketers call “squeaky wheel personas”.

This process involves systematic analysis of feedback from available channels, typically news websites comment sections and blogs, Twitter comment threads, Youtube news channel comments. Since negative emotions prompt more responses, analysis of this commentary normally allows us to dentify 3-5 distinct themes that provide the basis for addressing objections and developing talking points..

This analysis pinpoints where the most frequent misunderstandings and communication breakdowns are happening, and allows us to prioritize communication strategically.

So much for the theory; here’s what it looks like in practice

Example Situation

A high-profile private development in partnership with various levels of government has agreed in principle to a bid to revitalize a local public park and event space.


The former park previously closed due to dwindling attendance and had been defunct for several years. The site has fallen into disrepair and a microhabitat has grown over a man-made island of contaminated soil that is damaging a nearby local lake.

The developer has committed to stewarding local environmental issues, ensuring the public space is desirable and building a new economic driver for tourists and locals to replace the derelict site.

Stakeholder Groups

Over the stakeholder consultation period, four distinct stakeholder groups emerge.

  1. For Free Folks: This group is concerned with spending taxpayer money on the project and believes access should be free for everyone.

  1. Concerned Cyclists and Pedestrians (CCP): CCP is chiefly concerned about the public space available for their uses.

  1. Engaged Environmentalists: This group is concerned about the local habitat and how the ecosystem will change to accommodate this new park development.

  1. Anti-Politicians: a vocal group who feel angry with government because of perceived shortcomings in accountability for public land management, and who believe governments encourage cronyism.

Following the initial information campaign, we analyze responses. We identify recurring misunderstandings and misconceptions and develop a Master List of  frequently asked questions (FAQ) to guide the next stage..

Masterlist FAQ

This document catalogs thematic lists of stakeholder issues: factual questions, concerns, mis-information that has surfaced in our analysis, providing the foundational material that can be turned into questions and answers. The document appears on the organization’s web page as a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) page and is used to develop targeted messaging, talking points, and materials for the various different stakeholder communities.

Equally importantly, using key terms identified in our feedback analysis, we use recent Search Engine Optimization (SEO) updates to dominate  online search results.

News and Editorial Content

We now have our stakeholders grouped by primary concerns, and a long list of FAQs that can be found easily. Next, we create content that addresses the frequently asked questions and answers geared for news websites, local blogs and social media content online. Here are a few examples of how this may look.

Article Examples:

Top 10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About This Project.

12 Benefits Of the Development Nobody’s Talking About

8 Points The Critics Are Getting Wrong About the Development

The points should be an equal mix of stakeholder concerns and the most frequently cited mistaken beliefs for the groups. A company account should repost the original article for those unable to access articles via a website’s paywall.

Comment sections will provide the next round of feedback on what objections or misunderstandings should be next to work on. And don’t forget to add it to the living FAQ!

Depending on your level of urgency, a way to get feedback quickly would be to promote the article on social media channels.

Social Media Content Examples

Before-and-after and other side-by-side visual comparison content linking back to the skyscraper FAQ for more information. Visual content can be artist renderings beside the existing location, infographics, side-by-side bullet items and simple charts‌.

We should curate social media content and posts for the specific stakeholder group, in contrast to the article approach that would include something for each group in one piece of content.

At the bottom of examples 2 and 3, they encouraged readers to continue learning more in the footer call-to-actions (CTA). Our CTA would be to visit the Master list FAQ wherever it is located to learn more.

Content marketing that focuses on business self-promotion instead of engaging and showing consultative listening with our troubleshooting stakeholders can be an irritant to them and potentially viewed as tone-deaf to the community’s addressed concerns. It’s almost like waving a red flag at a bull when you’re wanting to calm the bull down.

Online Engagement Persona

We should create social media and other blog platform accounts to engage online and share appropriate content links related to the mistaken beliefs being shared. These @BrandFAQ accounts assist with delivering accurate information in a reliable, transparent and timely way to appear where, when and how audiences want to engage most on the topic.

Wherever the conversations are happening, whether it be news websites comment sections, Twitter threads or elsewhere, these brand FAQ personas need to be there too. It’s important to quickly put out misunderstandings before the negative momentum snowballs.


Effective public engagement is vital. The stakeholder troubleshooting framework outline provides a structured approach to consult with communities, listen to their fears and concerns, and engage resistant stakeholder groups where they are.

By following the four guiding principles of accuracy, availability, timeliness and accessibility, and by clearly defining stakeholder groups based on shared concerns and addressing them, you can turn potential project stakeholder liabilities into partner-advocate groups and assets

You can apply this framework to diagnose potential problem communication areas and prioritize actions to have the greatest impact with the least amount of resources. Ultimately, this will help to potentially reduce costly delays related to highly resistant engagement from the community and foster a greater sense of community ownership and pride in the outcome.