Tips for doing stakeholder research online

I’m a professional body-builder, an Assemblymember for California’s 47th District, a university-level French teacher and an Associate Director of African and African American Studies. It’s a wonder I have any time for blogging!

Who hasn’t Googled a person (themselves?) and then been a bit overwhelmed by the stack of results they have to filter through to find the relevant information? Last month I shared some ideas for how you might try to understand who has influence over your stakeholders in response to an IDS Stakeholder Engagement guide about which I have previously blogged. I’ve also been planning for a while to share some of the tips for searching Google that Siobhan Duvigneau and I wrote about in our guide: ‘Using Google™ to track and improve your research impact’. So this post takes some of that advice and applies it to doing online research about your stakeholders. By the way, Google has since made changes, again, to its site design which means a couple of the screengrabs are out-of-date, for example, the Blogs tab has moved.

Keeping up with AtlantisAID

Let’s say that one of my stakeholders is the fictional donor, AtlantisAID. I want to understand more about them, their interests, their drivers and critically, who influences them. Where to start?

1. Use the “site:” command to Google their website

The search box on the AtlantisAID website is too simple for my tastes and the results are really unhelpful. So I’m going to search their website using Google. I put site:aid.gov.atl into Google and start exploring. Ooh let’s try adding the word priorities or research strategy. In fact, I’ll search on “research strategy” as a phrase by putting it between speechmarks. But there’s too many results here so I need to…

2. Filter down to a relevant time period

If I click “Search Tools” under the Google search box, on my results page, I can click on Any Time and then choose the time period I want to filter down to. I think I’ll go for Past Year for now. But if I want to keep tabs on AtlantisAID I can set a shorter time period so I only hear about the more recently updated webpages. If I do this for “priorities” for the donor-agency-formally-known-as-AusAID, for example, my first hit is their post-2015 donor priorities. For DFID, this gets me quickly to the Publications page where their Business Plan is signposted. And for USAID, I had to filter down to the Past Month, and find their newly-updated factsheet. But this is what they had to say about themselves, how about we see…

3. What other people say about them

The News tab, under the Google box on the search results page will help me uncover what the media is saying about my fictional donor. What search terms to use though? I’m looking for where my donor has been contacted by a journalist or made an official statement, so I’ll try putting in AtlantisAID and spokesperson. Try this at home with the donor agency name of your choice. You’ll soon see what the media interest is in their work (and the influence they have) and understand some of the political pressures the donor agency is under.

Bonus #1: When I search in News, for the Past Month, I can also filter down to just see what the bloggers are saying, by clicking on Search Tools, All News, Blogs.

Bonus #2: At the bottom of my search results in News is the option to set up a Google Alert based on my search so I can get updates by email. I recommend you set up an Outlook Rule for these to go into a separate folder.

In the next post, I’ll look at some of the searches you can construct that will dig deeper into the world of your stakeholders. Meanwhile, please do share your own tips.

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How to get engaged (with your stakeholders)

What better day than 14th February to think about getting engaged? Last week I came across the kind of document I love to see: a short, snappy, practical summary of some tools for analysing stakeholders from IDS. The authors explain four key tools; some are pretty familiar to marketing folk e.g. Alignment Interest Matrix (AIM), while others are less commonly seen outside of development, such as Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis.

It got me thinking about some of the ways people working in fields such as marketing, organisational change, etc. look at stakeholders and whether these might be of relevance to people wanting to engage research stakeholders.

One tool that I think is under-used is Peter Block’s matrix which positions stakeholders in term of level of Trust and Agreement with you. It takes the AIM tool a step further to factor in relationships between people and I’ve found it really helpful when I’m in situations where how much people like me is my only source of power. I often use it when I’m teaching project management (given that project managers often have to cajole people to contribute when they have no hierarchical mandate). I imagine it could be useful for think tanks who are trying to influence stakeholders with whom they have some level of existing relationships (negative or positive).

The Block matrix is explained nicely by the TeamSTAR Project with some advice on how to work with each group e.g. with Opponents (where there’s trust but disagreement) are people you can have a constructive discussion with because you already have an established relationship and may end up reviewing your viewpoint or reframing it. Sticking with Peter Block and the power of personal connections (this post is fast becoming a Valentine’s card to his work…) his “six conversations” methodology for civic engagement is really worth a read.

Finally, a shameless plug for something I wrote for IDS. The Organisational Decision Making Unit (or the buying centre) is a nifty piece of marketing thinking that people working in research uptake might consider to identify who your stakeholders might be influenced by. I’ve tried to find a development-friendly summary online but am stumped (please tell me if you find one) so meanwhile check out p.17 of Who Are We Aiming To Reach?