Engaging Stakeholders, What Works?

Most conversations about stakeholder engagement and participatory evaluation have shifted from focusing on the question of why to involve stakeholders to how to engage stakeholders most effectively in the evaluation process.

On Wednesday, June 15th more than 500 people attended the webinar "Focusing on What Matters: Engaging Stakeholders in Developing Evaluation Questions" co-hosted by FSG and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The webinar focused on a five-step process for engaging stakeholders, outlined in A Practical Guide for Engaging Stakeholders in Developing Evaluation Questions, which highlights the opportunities and challenges of creating an evaluation process that accommodates different perspectives.

For example, Dennis Scanlon of the Pennsylvania State University highlighted some key lessons learned from his work developing a Regional Quality Care Improvement initiative in Rochester, NY. One lesson was the importance of talking with funders before approaching stakeholders to “motivate purpose, importance, and participation requirements.” He also gave some concrete advice on the importance of evaluators putting themselves in stakeholders’ shoes by showing respect for stakeholders’ time and communicating the tangible benefit that stakeholder participation in the design of evaluation questions can provide.

Robin Lin Miller of Michigan State University discussed how her team engaged the target population of 13-24 year old black gay and bisexual men to establish priorities for prevention and care programming for the Michigan Young Men’s Health Needs Assessment. Findings from individual interviews with members of the target stakeholder group were presented to a team of young men co-evaluators to inform the priorities and focus their work.

Active listening and conflict negotiation skills were highlighted by David Chavis, Principal and CEO of Community Science, as essential competencies for effectively engaging stakeholders. His work evaluating community change initiatives reminded Chavis that it is important to, among other things, address power dynamics and differences, build trust, and get on the same page with key stakeholders.

The webinar also generated a lot of conversation among foundations and non-profits that have their own compelling stories about involving stakeholders in the evaluation process. One successful story of stakeholder engagement in a foundation’s review comes from the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation in Ontario, Canada.

In 2010, the Hallman Foundation sought the input of community stakeholders as part of a review of the Foundation’s Children’s Programme. The Foundation engaged community non-profits in a meeting to get feedback on the foundation’s current funding strategies. By engaging stakeholders in their strategic review, they learned how their grantmaking strategies affected the ability of grantees to meet their goals and provided concrete information that Foundation Trustees could act on, and did!

In the end, the conversation about stakeholder engagement went beyond just identifying and prioritizing key questions for the evaluation and into ways of engaging the right stakeholders at the right time in the evaluation process. For example, participants asked,

  •  How might you engage grantees in developing a logic model that can be used a basis for developing the evaluation’s key questions?
  • How do you provide feedback to stakeholders on which evaluation questions will ultimately be pursued after you have solicited input and feedback from different constituencies?
  • When might you want to engage stakeholders individually as opposed to together as a group in order to get their input into developing the key evaluation questions or for other evaluation activities?

These questions and others provided a lot of food for thought. We will come back to them in future evaluation posts here at www.fsg.org. We welcome your thoughts and comments on your own experience engaging stakeholders with different perspectives below!

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