Managing external relations is important for universities. In terms of research uptake, being aware of the interests and direction of government, industry and wider can help you advise researchers make linkages with potential end users and plan for engagement.
Stakeholder definition and identification
Identifying relevant stakeholders is key to successful participation. Primary stakeholders include the beneficiaries or targets of the project. Beneficiaries are those groups that stand to gain something from the effort, be that knowledge, advice, skills, money, goods or connections to organisations. These might include:
A particular population – a socioeconomic group, residents of housing project
Residents of a particular geographic area
People experiencing or at risk from a particular condition – malaria, lack of reading skills
People involved in a particular organisation – students, youth, welfare recipients
People whose behaviour the effort aims to change – people who engage in unsafe sex, people who do not exercise
Policymakers and agencies that are the targets of advocacy efforts. (note that, in many cases, it may not be the policymakers who holds official “power” – but, as advisers to the political actors that do hold official power, having policymakers on your side can be a big plus – and can help you to gain early insights as to the direction of travel in government policy).
How do you identify stakeholders?
As different members of staff, academics and offices may all have channels of engagement that work for them, it can be extraordinarily useful to convene a wide-ranging group of university staff to pool knowledge and share perspectives on fruitful partnerships. Included in this group should be representatives from the public relations office, the library, the IT department or web site managers, marketing units, Heads of Department and senior academics, amongst others. Charting and mapping your discussion (perhaps using the model described below under Things to do) can be a very useful springboard towards expanding the range and focus of the partnerships you’re seeking to establish and build on.
Once you have begun to identify some external stakeholders and audiences for your researcher, the next step will be to consider what communication methods are most appropriate to reach and engage them. For example, a four-page policy brief may work well in your meeting with local government, but less well with rural community leaders. What is going to be more effective when working with them?
Communication means and methods should be adapted for discrete stakeholder groups, factoring in the most relevant:
Language (i.e., are there non-English speaking communities you want to reach?)
Medium (i.e., what are the tangible and comparative benefits of audio, video, face-to-face or print?)
Tone (i.e., is the audience accustomed to academic language, is a formal presentation important, or is “informalising” your research going to get you further?)
Frequency (i.e., what is the ideal balance between remaining sufficiently visible with your stakeholders and “over-communicating”? The risk of too little engagement is the relationship can go cold and opportunities aren’t properly explored or developed. The risk of too much is that good opportunities for meaningful collaboration can be lost in the information overload – plus, you don’t want stakeholders dreading the “drain” on their time that communications with your office incurs).
Level (i.e., what are the particular benefits of aiming for engagement with organisation leaders, mid-level managers and influencers, technical staff, and junior staff?) What are the advantages to working at each of these levels?
Roles: (i.e., how involved do you want the stakeholder to be in this process?) Stakeholders may have different levels of intensity in how they are to be involved, including:
Informed: stakeholders have the project and its benefits explained to them in appropriate and actionable terms
Consulted: stakeholders suggestions and views are solicited, and fed back into project plans
Collaborating: taking the stakeholder’s views into account and then making decisions based on that – working together
Co-decision: co-operation with stakeholders towards an agreement for solution and implementation
Empowered: delegation of decision-making over project development and implementation to the stakeholders.
Things to do
Mapping your stakeholders, and assigning reflections and priorities to each type of stakeholder, can help you to focus your energies when establishing and sustaining external partnerships. Along with your research management colleagues (as well as colleagues in other related offices), sit down and list out the potential external stakeholders you believe to be important to your university, and which might align with the research focus of your institution. Having listed these groups out, assign three scores against each stakeholder type, ranking each one from 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) according to:
Relationship (i.e., how strong is your relationship and your channels of communication right now)
Priority (i.e., how important is this stakeholder to you in terms of giving greater visibility and effect to your university’s research)
Strength (i.e., how effective and motivated do you believe this type of stakeholder is in taking up and applying your university’s research)
Once you have scored each stakeholder type according to relationship, priority and strength, look for similarities and discrepancies in your scores. Do you seem to have excellent relationships with stakeholders who are perhaps not in the best position to apply research findings? Have you assigned a high priority to a stakeholder group with whom you’ve not yet established a strong relationship? Any discrepancies in your scoring should not surprise you – rather, they represent clear opportunities to design focussed strategies to bring your scores into line and engage with partners who are most receptive and best placed to heighten your university’s visibility and drive research for greater impact.
This module in evidence-based policy-making covers good practice in writing policy briefs, identifying key sector audiences for research evidence, outlining key messages to influence policy and how to establish several courses of policy action based on research findings. The module was designed and delivered as part of the DRUSSA Programme.
Ths report summarises discussions held at the DRUSSA Higher Education Symposium (Ghana) in 2015. The Symposium brought together twenty-five university Vice Chancellors, academics and policy makers involved in shaping both higher education policy, and those responsible for setting national research priorities and allocating public research funding to discuss Ghanaian higher education and the national development plan.
With this template, the DRUSSA Team ran a series of Stakeholder Mapping exercises on campus at universities across the programme. Consider using a similar approach in your own internal research uptake training sessions when discussing how to identify external stakeholders, how to engage with them effectively, how to strategies and prioritise.
Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising (WIEGO)
In this insightful introduction to the policy dialogue model, WIEGO explain that successful policy dialogues usually involve ‘people from different interest groups sitting around one table to focus on an issue in which they have a mutual – but not necessarily common – interest’.
Kirchuffs Atengble, Ghana Information Network for Knowledge Sharing (GINKS)
Report on policy dialogues involving Planning Officers from host and adjourning Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies; libraries, research and academic institutions; and think tanks and other civil society organisations.