The current political and business agenda has been heavily focused on sustainability, affecting both private and public sector strategies and projects. In particular, the issue of stakeholder engagement and consultation has received much acknowledgment as an important tool in building for the future. Despite growing interest in stakeholder dialogue, however, few organizations are exploiting the valuable opportunities presented by the web in carrying out this engagement process.
The idea of stakeholder engagement is certainly not new. Many astute organisations have taken steps to identify their stakeholders and arrange face-to-face meetings with them to discuss issues in which their input is useful, if not essential. Most often this two-way dialogue has taken place on an ad-hoc basis, usually before, during or after specific project development. Whilst stakeholder engagement of this kind is crucial in reducing risk and maintaining long term success, the nature of this consultation, along with the tools available to carry it out, are rapidly changing.
The benefits of engagement
It is difficult to overlook the importance of stakeholders in project and product development processes. The input of key stakeholders, from expertise to opinion, is vital in creating sustainable solutions by reducing risk and increasing ownership of the final product. The broader the perspective that is taken into account, the greater the quality of decision making. Engaging stakeholders from the initial stages of development helps ensure that the undertaking is considered from all angles and that important stakeholders, such as local communities, authorities, suppliers and employees are fully committed to the project. Stakeholder dialogue is also crucial in building trust and positive corporate reputation, both of which require more than one-way marketing communication strategies.
Engagement without limits
The past few years have seen significant changes in stakeholder engagement as businesses are beginning to take advantage of online tools as an alternative to face-to-face dialogue. The development of online dialogue has opened up new possibilities for organisations that are striving to go beyond intermittent communication. Where businesses were once restricted to arranging meetings within the working day, one of the main benefits of online engagement tools such as surveys, multi-stakeholder engagement hubs and case study engines is that they allow parties involved to communicate when it is convenient. This makes the process of consultation simpler, cheaper and more accessible.
The effectiveness of the web as the medium for successful stakeholder engagement also lies in its ability to offer continuous dialogue throughout the year. Businesses are no longer limited to providing static snapshots of their achievements in sustainability in annual CSR reports or monthly newsletters. Online engagement tools enable organisations to keep updating their stakeholders on important project and policy developments using online news and information channels. The Morgan Sindall Group has been taking advantage of this tool in establishing dynamic dialogue with their stakeholders. Given the rapidly shifting nature of organisational activities, it is important that news about developments is communicated in a fluid and timely manner to those that most need it. In construction projects, for example, online engagement tools enable businesses to inform local communities and suppliers about changes in project timescales, maintaining their support for and commitment to the project.
Online stakeholder engagement, as well as providing stakeholders with an ongoing and up-to-date understanding of businesses, is vital in providing organisations with a developing awareness of stakeholder perspectives and views over a period of time. Various online tools can be deployed to build a comprehensive two-way dialogue that takes into consideration changes and developments in stakeholder opinions. The UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) recently undertook its first member survey using the StakeholderTALK online toolkit, receiving a response rate of over 50%. Paul King, Chief Executive, commented: “This is a very encouraging result, as the survey was comprehensive and some of the questions fairly detailed. The main benefit of the StakeholderTALK project is that the results were quantifiable and they have given us the opportunity to shape our future activities based upon solid feedback from our stakeholders”. The use of multi-stakeholder engagement hubs is also invaluable in giving stakeholders a voice throughout projects, providing the advantages of qualitative information supported by easily quantifiable results. This is especially important in establishing long term dialogue between businesses and stakeholders beyond specific projects.
The face of stakeholder engagement is changing. The challenge for organisations striving towards sustainable solutions is to ingrain two-way stakeholder exchange as an essential element in their strategies. The key to success will be in moving away from one-off consultation around specific projects towards ongoing long term dialogue. The web offers the ideal platform for building ongoing stakeholder engagement into all areas of business, from gathering report validation feedback using surveys to searchable and up-to-date evidence database libraries. These online engagement tools are invaluable in building comprehensive, effective and accessible consultation, delivering the significant benefits of stakeholder input in business operations. As the internet continues to remain central in communication, both at personal and business level, organisations that exploit the opportunities presented by online dialogue tools in establishing dynamic relationships with their key stakeholders will find themselves leading the charge in building for the future.
Erika Roshdi is a specialist at IMS Consulting. The company develops and delivers two way, online stakeholder dialogue, engagement and communications platforms. www.imsplc.com