Stakeholders Influence in Engagement
A stakeholder is defined in Luyet et al. (2012) as people “any group of people organized, who share a common interest or stake in a particular issue or system.” Furthermore, these stakeholders are people who “influence and share control over development initiatives and the decision and resources which affect them.” There is not a set of universally important criteria that constitutes a stakeholder, but they can be characterized in several categories, including their attitudes towards the project, political influence over the project, access to resources, and interest in the project.
Multiple stakeholder identification and recruitment techniques are laid out as possibilities for projects. One example is the “snowballing technique,” which begins with a brainstorming of possible stakeholders, one stakeholders is informed of the project and then to recruits other potential stakeholders. Other techniques are based on sets of criteria or questions that generate lists of stakeholders based on a variety of factors. Such factors include proximity, economy, use, and social values/principles.
Deciding which technique to use is largely dependent on the context of the project, at what stage it is completed, and the availability of resources. When leading a project, it is important to identify various people from a wide variety of backgrounds and work to understand the reasons for their interest in the project. In doing this background work, you can identify potential relationships to other possible stakeholders early on.
Luyet et al. emphasize the importance of not only having stakeholders take over the engagement process/project, but having a mix of involvement from the public as well as stakeholders, with multiple levels of involvement. Some ways stakeholders can be given direct involvement (ordered from least to most power granted to them) include explaining the project to them, taking suggestions from them, considering their inputs and viewpoints when making decisions, allowing them to assist with or make direct decisions, and giving them power over facets of the project.
Stakeholders in Oregon Humanities Conversation Projects
There are many stakeholders in the Oregon Humanities Conversation Projects, many of which are self-identified. First, there are the individuals and groups who set up, organize, and host individual Conversation Projects surrounding a variety of issues. Many of these individuals are stakeholders in the issues they choose, whether they be educators or people directly impacted by an issue presented. Then, those who have the time, resources, and interest in topics being discussed attend and participate in the conversations. These people who are willing to spend the time, money, and energy participating in these events are likely more educated (particularly on the issue being addressed by the Conversation Project), financially well-off, and in a reasonable distance of the event.
It is important to note that although it may seem that having these conversations with volunteers could open the dialogue towards multiple perspectives, this does not guarantee diverse viewpoints being represented. Without it, there could be what the Heterodox Academy defines as orthodoxy, which is “most readily apparent when people fear shame, ostracism, or any other form of social or professional retaliation for questioning or challenging a commonly held idea.” That said, those who don’t have the time to research, get to, and attend conversations in their area are largely neglected. People who likely fit into this category include single parents, low-income, and geographically isolated individuals. For these people, the costs of traveling and spending time away from their existing responsibilities will probably outweigh the benefits of attending the event. Additionally, people that lack interest in the topics being discussed or feel that these issues do not impact them are not likely to participate. Therefore, the events probably have a semi-homogeneous group of attendees with similar viewpoints. Lastly, those who have not heard about the Conversation Projects are unlikely to attend, unless they stumble upon an event by chance.
Potential Improvements for Conversation Projects
Although the circumstances of others are largely out of Oregon Humanities’ control, and they likely do not have the funds to transport people to events or compensate for lost wages, there are numerous things they can do to encourage a well-rounded, representative discussion. During discussions, there could be an acknowledgment that not everyone’s voice surrounding this topic is not being represented in the group they are in presently. Reminding the participants of this could help in controlling the discussion while having this acknowledgment in mind. It would also remind them of the opportunity they have for being able to be there.
Another way to prevent bias is to have the facilitator or the host of the conversation have a set of evidence or facts on hand about the marginalized groups impacted by the topics, in case of disagreement, uncertainty, or someone skewing information. This would help in keeping the discussion getting out of hand where it would surround around the facts and would expand with the opinions of people. These two ideas could be easily incorporated into the Conversation Project in further expanding their mission of connecting people to ideas and one another while also not pushing ideals onto others. They could also be seen as essential in order to keep on creating a healthy and non-enforcing environment to continue these discussion outside of the boundaries of the organization. By doing so, Oregon Humanities could set an example in how people should be having discussion with one another with having the least amount of bias or influence, especially in present day polarization that is occurring in the country.
Luyet, Vincent, Schlaepfer, Rodolphe, Marc B. Parlange, and Alexandre Buttler. 2012. “A framework to implement Stakeholder participation in environmental projects”. Journal of Environmental Management 111, : 213-219. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2012.06.026.