Audience hero image


Mapping your audience

Having identified all impacted stakeholders, it is accepted good practice in public consultation planning to analyse and group stakeholders so that consultation activities can be more effectively managed. Known as stakeholder mapping, this enables more specific communication and engagement approaches to be used with different stakeholder groups so that they are aware of the consultation and have the appropriate opportunities to engage and respond. It also supports the more cost-effective use of resources in managing the consultation process.

ICCAN recommends using an approach from the Consultation Institute for stakeholder mapping which considers the level of ‘interest’ and the degree of ‘influence’ which stakeholder groups may have over the outcome / decision of the consultation. Other approaches to stakeholder mapping are available and change sponsors may feel these are more appropriate to specific circumstances.  For the purposes of this toolkit however we will explore the potential use of stakeholder mapping using the interest/influence approach.

Interest: can arise in many forms, however for the purposes of public consultation it is important to consider the level of interest and the nature of interest which is expressed. It is important to consider how interested a stakeholder might be in the proposals, and also how a stakeholder might be impacted by the proposals.  These factors might determine how much time the stakeholder is willing to dedicate to responding/campaigning after initially learning about the proposals.

Influence: is the degree to which a stakeholder can exert influence on the outcome/decision to be made, and the extent to which that influence might be used to support or campaign for or against your proposals. Issues to consider here include: what is the status of the stakeholder, how is the stakeholder’s leadership perceived in terms of credibility and status, do they have a track record of successfully influencing decision-making?

Analysing the level of interest and influence that a stakeholder holds will enable a stakeholder map to be created (see below), which can be useful in terms of prioritising resources and the approaches which are best suited to enable cost effective engagement with different groups of stakeholder audience.

Using the two vectors of interest and influence creates four main quadrants, which are shown diagrammatically.  The management of stakeholder relationships in each quadrant will differ as follows:

Top priority (high interest/high influence): stakeholders in this quadrant should form a key focus for the public consultation.  These audiences are strongly interested in the proposals and are also potentially highly influential in terms of any decisions. They should be managed using advanced communication approaches to ensure they are aware of the proposals and kept up to date with any developments.  They should have the opportunity to engage with the consultation directly through well-trained and informed personnel should they wish.

Manage with care (low interest/high influence): stakeholders in this quadrant are influential but currently appear to have less interest in the proposals. The degree of influence means they should be managed carefully as levels of interest can vary during the consultation and they could move in to the Top Priority quadrant if they decide to become more interested in the proposals. Creating strong relationships is important to ensure that you are aware of any changes in attitude and perception of the consultation as it progresses.

Need help (high interest/low influence): in terms of public consultation, stakeholders in this quadrant are disadvantaged and need support to ensure that their voice is acknowledged and heard. These are audiences which have a high level of interest in the proposal but may not be considered influential in terms of the views expressed.  They have nonetheless a right to be heard and have their views taken in to account, and this requires the consultor to consider how best to target such groups and ensure they are identified, informed of the proposals and have the opportunity to express their views.

Low priority (low interest/low influence): stakeholders in this quadrant have limited interest in the proposals and low levels of influence over the decision to be made.  They may however wish to respond and as such should be made aware of the consultation and how to participate using a range of approaches. There is no need to undertake any further specific activity for audiences in this quadrant.

Audience graph

By mapping your stakeholders across the four quadrants it is then possible to manage the level of resource and approaches dedicated to type of audience, ensuring that stakeholders receive the most appropriate attention.

At the same time, it is important to recognise that a stakeholder map is a dynamic assessment and requires periodic review and update.  Stakeholders can become more or less interested in the proposals, and occasionally there are changes to the level of influence which can be exerted. It is therefore important to recognise that an initial assessment will require revision and amendment as the consultation progresses.

Creating a stakeholder map

There are four stages to preparing a stakeholder map:

  • Identify all stakeholder audiences – see earlier advice
  • Assess level of interest
  • Assess level of influence
  • Sense check the map created

It is important that you follow these stages sequentially and where possible undertake the assessment process using a workshop style approach, involving a range of colleagues who may offer different perspectives and understanding on stakeholder groups.  It is also considered good practice to assess interest independently from influence (ie review the two factors separately and not a joint exercise).

Assessing a stakeholder’s interest

A good method for evaluating how interested a stakeholder will be in your proposals is to determine how high up it would feature on a typical meeting agenda for that group or organisation. Would your proposals and the impact they have feature as the first item and have a place at every meeting or would it feature once and then be classed as any other business.

Try to understand the world of the respondent, so put yourself in their shoes to assess how much interest they might have in the issue.

Assessing a stakeholder’s influence

A good method for evaluating the level of influence that a stakeholder may have over your proposals/decisions to be taken is to consider the status or reputation of the organisation or individual.  For instance, does the organisation’s status confer any particular legitimacy to comment on the issues, or are they recognised as thought leaders in a particular topic.

Equally, are the senior leadership regarded as personally influential or does the organisation have a wide following or track record on influencing policy decision makers

Put yourself in the shoes of the ultimate decision maker and ask how much should we listen to what they have to say?

Having scored both interest and influence, it will be necessary to plot where stakeholders sit in terms of the four quadrants.  Having created your stakeholder map it is often useful to share this with colleagues as a sense check to ensure that there has been no misinterpretation of the scorings. The map is then ready to support the allocation of resources and engagement approach for each audience group.