A lot of people are attracted to the world of politics and policy because they like big ideas, and they love talking about them. I, like many others, also do this work because of its potential to change the world – hopefully for the better. And talking without a plan doesn’t change much.
That’s why engaging policymakers is as much about organisation as it is about the sexier stuff like storytelling, campaigns and events.
Stakeholder mapping is one of those unsexy but vital tasks.
What is stakeholder mapping?
If you’ve read my colleague Tom Jeffery’s recent piece (and if not, I suggest you start there), you’ll have a good understanding of how to understand your audiences. Stakeholder mapping is one part of this process.
A stakeholder map is one of the most fundamental tools in a policy communicator’s arsenal.
That’s because you are unlikely to make much progress in the policy world without a clear understanding of who makes decisions in your policy areas. Not to mention who those decision-makers are themselves influenced by (the public, other policymakers, academics, for example), and how best to engage them.
Stakeholder mapping allows you to group together stakeholders into clear categories so you know how to approach them and with what kind of messaging. More practically, it helps you keep a record of who you have engaged with and who you haven’t. This will help you to be strategic, and improve efficiencies in your outreach.
For example, if I decide I want Cast From Clay to introduce a new policy to have kittens in the office on Thursdays, I would need to make sure I know who decides on these kinds of policies.
If this is something contentious, I should consider other groups of stakeholders who can help make the case once they are themselves convinced. This is where categorisation comes in handy: I know the messages our ‘influential’ category will receive should be different from those I want to encourage to help ‘raise the heat’. See below.
This has the potential to be a very useful tool for a coordinated, methodical and strategic approach to targeting those you’re looking to influence. But only if you do it well. As someone with experience, let me flag up some things not to do.
What not to do when mapping your stakeholders
⛔Do not decide on new data fields to add as you go.
You might regret researching 100 great names that fit into your audience segmentation, only to realise you need to go back and find each individual Twitter handle. So before you get carried away and make a hasty start, take a minute to think. Set your objectives, consider which activities you will be carrying out and therefore what information you will need.
⛔Do not create lots of different lists in different places*
*(Or worse, Excel or Google Sheets that you can’t filter. Shudder.)
The point of a stakeholder map is to create a live document that is kept up-to-date. It acts as a shared point of reference for a team – whether that’s for a single campaign or for the whole organisation. It gives you an overview and helps you to prepare. So don’t make your life hard – keep them all together. If you need to create segments, think about using filters, tags or separate tabs.
⛔Do not rely on research you did a year ago.
Or even a week ago if you work in British politics. Ministers change roles, people get new jobs. You need to nurture and love your stakeholder map to ensure it doesn’t become out of date.
But I’ve given you enough dire warnings, so let’s end on a positive note.
Here is my golden rule for doing your own stakeholder mapping:
✅ Do make a map that works for you.
I may have outlined some common errors that are not worth repeating in your own process. But that doesn’t mean there is a precise way to do stakeholder mapping. Each one will be different depending on the organisation and the purpose it serves.
The main thing is that the map works for you. We are all busy. Especially communications teams who are constantly dealing with competing priorities. So think about who is inputting into the map on a regular basis and how that might work.
This could mean building a stakeholder map into a platform you already use to avoid the headache of too many tools. Maybe you need to designate one person to be in charge of keeping the map up-to-date, or use a tool that gives everyone access to own their key stakeholders.
Whatever you do, remember that a stakeholder map takes work – so make sure it works for you in return.
If you need help implementing this in your organisation, we can help. Get in touch.
Image by Mitchell Luo