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Group of researchers conducting discussion

How to get the best from stakeholder research

At Cannings Purple, we have the privilege of working on a range of stakeholder engagement projects, which gives us a unique insight into industry trends.

And this year is shaping up to be the year of stakeholder research.

More than any other year in recent memory, our clients in public service and industry are coming to us to conduct research projects to gain insight into stakeholder perceptions, and advice on how best to address results.

While the research projects have varied significantly, there are key concepts that should be considered and planned for before embarking on a stakeholder research program.

Who are the stakeholders you want to reach?

To simply target ‘all stakeholders’ may seem simple but a one-size-fits all approach rarely provides meaningful and accurate data.

It is far more valuable to map stakeholders ahead of a research project and to identify the most important target stakeholder groups to reach – and within those groups, determine the key stakeholders based on their level of interest and influence towards your brand and project.

Once the project stakeholders are identified and mapped, you can begin to design and tailor questions and develop better research methods that are most likely to result in meaningful and representative responses.

Why are you bothering them?

If you are asking stakeholders to answer a survey or participate in research, you should have a good reason for why you want to speak to them.

Is it to fulfil a management commitment, is it to set a perception baseline before embarking on a communications program or do you want to know more about stakeholder needs before creating ESG targets?

The clearer you are about the information you want to know, the better you can develop survey questions and methods to unlock the stakeholder information you are seeking.

How do you want to slice and dice your data?

There is no point getting to the end of a survey collection process to find you haven’t captured the basic demographic information required to break survey data into meaningful and digestible information.

Do you want to know what the perception of your company is amongst people under 20 compared to people over 50?  Do you want to be seen as an inclusive employer by different genders, Aboriginal people or the LGBTI+ community?

Do you want to break down responses by your different project regions?

By knowing how you want to see your data presented at the end of a research project, you can make sure you are asking the correct demographic questions, without being too open-ended and asking everything whilst also nothing.

How do your stakeholders communicate with you already and is that good enough?

There is no point reinventing the wheel if there are already established, effective communication channels through which to obtain survey data.

But just because you have a mailing list, doesn’t mean there is necessarily the level of engagement desired or required.

As part of a research strategy, identify existing relationships and communication channels to develop methods for reaching stakeholders and ultimately obtaining a good response rate.

I recommend anyone taking the time to delve into the above questions before developing a research strategy.

When this information is known ahead of time, survey tools, questions and methods can be developed which provide meaningful data from an appropriate representative sample of target stakeholders.