Stakeholder power analysis

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Stakeholder power analysis
March 2005
James Mayers ([email protected]) has steered the development of this tool, from work in the forestry and land use sector.
We acknowledge the support of The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) who have financed the development of these tools, and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) who provided the start-up support. For more information on Power Tools please visit

Stakeholders are the people who matter to a system. Stakeholder power analysis is a tool which helps understanding of how people affect policies and institutions, and how policies and institutions affect people. It is particularly useful in identifying the winners and losers and in highlighting the challenges that need to be faced to change behaviour, develop capabilities and tackle inequalities.
There are various approaches to stakeholder power analysis. A six-step process seems to work well:
1. Develop purpose and procedures of analysis and initial understanding of the system 2. Identify key stakeholders 3. Investigate stakeholders’ interests, characteristics and circumstances 4. Identify patterns and contexts of interaction between stakeholders 5. Assess stakeholders’ power and potential roles 6. Assess options and use the findings to make progress
Like other tools, the usefulness and strength of stakeholder power analysis depends on the way it is used. It can be carried out by individual analysts, multi-stakeholder processes, or some intermediate between these two ends of the spectrum. Stakeholder power analysis can be used progressively to empower important but marginalised groups, and to improve policies and institutions. But it should be recognised that the techniques can also be used more cynically by some - to work out who should be manipulated, undermined or disposed of. Progressive users should be aware that the cynics may be ahead of the game, and encourage all involved to be clear about their purpose, intentions and desired outcomes.
What is stakeholder power analysis?
People in all sorts of situations assess the positions of others on a given issue, to enable them to gauge the level of support or opposition from others, and predict how they will behave if a change is made. Stakeholder power analysis is an organised approach to this. It is an approach for understanding a system by identifying the key actors or stakeholders in the system, and assessing their respective interests in, or influence on, that system.
Stakeholder power analysis is particularly useful for assisting in decision-making situations where various stakeholders have competing interests, resources are limited, and stakeholder needs must be appropriately balanced. As well as evaluating existing policies and institutions, it can be used to appraise possible scenarios. It is about asking questions like: Whose problem? Who benefits? Who loses out? What are the power differences and relationships between stakeholders? What relative influence do they have? Analysis of answers to these questions enables the identification of institutions and relationships which need to be developed or dealt with to avoid negative outcomes and enhance positive ones.
Why and when to use
Stakeholder power analysis may be a key tool for improving livelihoods. If for example the focus is on improving a livelihood strategy then this generally requires an increase in the capability or empowerment of the person pursuing it - the ‘primary stakeholder’. This in turn requires a change in the relationship between this person and other stakeholders, and in the benefits derived from it. Policies and institutions usually shape, and often determine, these relationships between stakeholders. If these policies and institutions are to be geared towards improving livelihoods then understanding the individuals and groups that affect them, or are affected by them, is crucial at all levels. Thus, following some initial steps to understand which policies, institutions and processes

matter for livelihoods, the nature of each needs to be uncovered. Often the picture is complex – and stakeholder power analysis provides a means to start understanding it1.
The complexity of many livelihoods makes it unlikely that there will be a generalised solution - a set of policies, institutions and processes - to meet everyone’s needs. Stakeholder power analysis can help understanding of the distribution of costs and benefits (e.g. between rich and poor, men and women), why things are the way they are, and what needs to change.
Stakeholder power analysis may be used at a variety of levels and purposes:
Broad-level strategic process - to scope, build momentum and monitor a process Institution or business - to examine the health of an organisation and plan changes Project or programme – to design, steer and monitor a project Particular decision – to predict the consequences of a decision, and plan to deal with them
It is increasingly recognised that good policies and institutions are 'owned' by a broad range of stakeholders - not just the most prominent, or powerful, stakeholder group. Stakeholder power analysis can in itself provide a step towards improving policies and institutions, depending on the degree of involvement of relevant decision-makers in the process.2
Who are the stakeholders?
Stakeholders are those who have rights or interests in a system. If you are concerned with the future of a system – the stakeholders are those you should worry about. For an organisation, for example, stakeholders are any group or individual who can affect, or is affected by the achievement of the organisation’s purpose. This definition is too broad for some as it includes interested parties as well as affected parties. Some prefer to restrict the term to those who have a ‘stake’, claim or vested interest – those who provide something of importance to the organisation, and expect something in return.
Stakeholders can be individuals, communities, social groups, or organisations. For example, stakeholders in a forest policy might include people who live in or near the relevant forests, people who live further away who use these forests, settlers from elsewhere in the country, or abroad, workers, small scale entrepreneurs, forest officials, timber company managers, environmentalists, politicians, public servants, national citizens, consumers, forest authorities, central government agencies, local government agencies, national NGOs, academics and researchers, donors, consultants, international NGOs, community based organisations and general. All these people, if their interests in forests are indeed legitimate - and one role of stakeholder power analysis might be to examine the legitimacy of their claims - should in some way be involved in the making and implementing of policy which affects forests.
Often, a useful first categorisation of stakeholders is into primary or secondary depending on an assessment of whether they are immediately affected by, or can immediately affect, the system. If improving livelihoods is the focus of an intervention – those whose livelihoods the intervention is aimed at will be amongst the primary stakeholders. Another way of making a first cut of
1 As well as analysing policies and institutions, stakeholder power analysis can also be effectively utilised in understanding other aspects of sustainable livelihoods, such as how the livelihood strategies and activities of some people affect those of other people, and how livelihood outcomes have different effects on different people. 2 Like many ‘management’ tools, stakeholder analysis was born in the private sector - in the notion of corporate social responsibility, which started gaining ground in the early 1960s. The idea that organisations, programmes and projects have stakeholders has now become commonplace. Aid agencies in particular have promoted the development and use of this tool to help sharpen the focus on poverty, social exclusion, and the role of institutions. However, also like other management tools, there is often more hype than experience and it should be borne in mind that whilst the stakeholder power analysis approach outlined below draws on the experience of a few agencies and businesses it is, as yet, far from routinely used.

stakeholders in an organisation is into three groups - internal, interface, and external stakeholders. Using the example of a hospital:
Internal stakeholders are those groupings of people who operate entirely within the boundaries of the organisation, e.g. administrators, clerical staff, nurses, food service personnel, housekeeping personnel, etc.
Interface stakeholders are those who function both internally and externally in relation to the organisation. The major categories of interface stakeholders include the board of directors and the medical staff.
External stakeholders fall into three categories in their relationship to the organisation: • Those who provide inputs to the organisation - members or patients, third-party payers, and
equipment and material vendors. • Those who compete with the organisation for members, patients and resources. • Those with a special interest in how the organisation functions – the Chamber of
Commerce or economic development organisations.
It should be remembered that the range of stakeholders and the roles they play is not static. Different actors take on different roles, and in stakeholder power analysis it is important to try to see beyond the superficial picture of different actors' roles: who is pushing for what, and who cannot be 'heard'? Who are the 'integrators' and who are the 'dividers'? Neither should it be assumed that all actors within one category are homogenous in their perceptions. Such perceptions depend on many factors – which need to be explored through the analysis – and each situation should be considered afresh rather than jumping to conclusions about the stand that different stakeholders are likely to take.
Who should carry out stakeholder power analysis?
Stakeholder power analysis may need to be instigated and steered by a range of professions - as individuals or in groups:
• Independent analysts and evaluators • Project planners • Managers of organisations or enterprises • Lobbyists and activists • Individual stakeholders • Groups of stakeholders • Multi-stakeholder groups
Although stakeholder power analysis is all about trying to understand the way people engage with each other, it may or may not itself involve much participation. Like other tools it is relatively valueneutral - its effects depend on who uses it and how. If the objective is to have a greater number of stakeholders making progress together – then participation of those stakeholders in the analysis will be crucial. Credibility of the analysis will also rely on the agency or group carrying it out being reflective and clear about its intentions, values and purposes.
Even where stakeholder power analysis is being utilised for the purely analytical purposes of one party it is unlikely to get a realistic picture of the range of stakeholders and their interests, influence, and power, without a reasonably participatory approach. But it is rarely feasible to start off by involving everyone – a more effective route to participatory stakeholder power analysis is to start small, and engage with more and more stakeholders over time.

Particular skills and attitudes may be needed to conduct stakeholder power analysis. Some of these may be hired in or trained, but others can only be acquired through experience:
• Two-way communication – getting views across, and listening to those of others • Respect of, and for, other stakeholders • Cultural and gender awareness, • Chairing of meetings and workshops • Facilitation of processes involving several stakeholders • Trust and consensus building, and conflict management • Developing enthusiasm, transparency and commitment • Patience – it takes time for stakeholders to consult with their own constituencies
How to carry out stakeholder power analysis – a step-wise approach
A step-wise approach is appropriate in all of the contexts mentioned above. The following approach is generalised, but is particularly framed around the type of stakeholder power analysis needed to develop, build momentum for, and monitor an effort to change a policy or institution.
Step 1. Develop purpose and procedures of analysis and initial understanding of the system
Consider institutional level and purpose
A clear understanding of the goals and boundaries of the analysis is needed – the scope of the issues to be included, clarity on what is to be left out, and identification of what can be achieved and delivered. Much will depend upon:
Institutional level: a national policy analysis or strategic process will need to engage different stakeholders compared to a regional policy, a local project or a particular decision of an enterprise – the former will have greater challenges of 'vertical' representation up and down the hierarchy.
Purpose: an appraisal of a possible policy will be different for example than an evaluation of an institution or process - the former needing to include considerable extra-sectoral representation, and the latter needing to emphasise local stakeholders perhaps more intensively than 'policy stakeholders'.
Create conditions for quality multi-stakeholder dialogue
Where involvement of stakeholders in the analysis is anticipated, initial consideration of how people are organised and how they operate is needed. There are several dimensions to the quality of stakeholder dialogue and these should be considered before, during, and after a participatory stakeholder power analysis as they will shape the process. Firstly, inclusiveness – who is included in the participatory analysis, and the procedures for its design and implementation, must be spelled out. Key actions to ensure good quality inclusiveness and procedures include:
• Allow stakeholders to assist in the identification of other stakeholders • Ensure that stakeholders trust the convenor • Enable dialogue, not a one-way information feed • Ensure parties are sufficiently prepared and briefed to have well-informed opinions and
decisions • Involve stakeholders in defining the terms of engagement • Allow stakeholders to voice their views without restriction and fear of penalty • Include a public disclosure and feedback process

Secondly, a focus is needed on the responsiveness – the degree to which the various parties respond to the analysis, and the outcomes – what actually happens, who reaps the associated benefits and who bears the costs.
Develop initial understanding of the system
To ensure that the analysis is well-focused and timely, a general understanding is needed of the key problems identified by some of the main groups, and the basic interacting factors in the system or issue. The key decision makers in the system and their relative influence need to be identified. An initial picture is what is needed - detail can be added in time as more information is gathered.
Step 2. Identify key stakeholders.
There are various ways to start identifying stakeholders, each has its advantages and risks. The analysis process must recognise the risks of missing key stakeholders and work to avoid these risks. Using a combination of approaches will reduce the risks associated with any one particular approach.
Identification by staff of key agencies, and other knowledgeable individuals. Those who have worked in the system for some time can identify groups and individuals whom they know to have interests in the key issues and to be well-informed about them. However, caution is needed about whether these individuals or groups are truly 'representative' (see below).
Identification through written records and population data. Census and population data may provide useful information about numbers and locations of people by age, gender, religion etc. Key line agencies and officials often have useful contemporary and historical records on employment, conflicting claims, complaints of various kinds, people who have attended meetings, financial transactions etc. Contacts with NGOs and academics may reveal relevant surveys and reports and knowledgeable or well-connected people.
Stakeholder self-selection. Announcements in meetings, in newspapers, local radio or other local means of spreading information, can elicit stakeholders coming forward. The approach works best for groups who already have good contacts and see it in their interests to communicate. Those who are in more remote areas, or are poor and less well educated and those who may be hostile to other stakeholders, may not come forward in this way. There is a risk that local elites, or others with inequitable objectives, will put themselves forward.
Identification and verification by other stakeholders. Early discussions with those stakeholders who are identified first can reveal their views on the other key stakeholders who matter to them. This will help to better understand stakeholder interests and relations.
Some of the key questions to be asked in any of the above approaches include:
• Who are potential beneficiaries? • Who might be adversely affected? • Who has existing rights? • Who is likely to be voiceless? • Who is likely to resent change and mobilise resistance against it? • Who is responsible for intended plans? • Who has money, skills or key information? • Whose behaviour has to change for success?
It is important that individuals involved are 'representative' of their stakeholder group or ‘constituency’. Key dimensions of representation are:
Identity: Does the representative share the views of the group/ constituency or will the representatives bring other/ multiple identities to the process e.g. tribal/ class or political

affinities? Where can such other identities help, and where might they hinder representation and outcomes? Accountability: Was the representative chosen by a particular group/ constituency, and does s/he consult with that group regularly? What kind of specificity and sanction has the group attached to the representative’s accountability? Some individuals assume a mandate from members of a stakeholder group that is simply not backed up by processes of accountability with those people. Different people have different levels of embeddedness in their groups, and some are therefore more worthwhile representatives than others. At an early stage in the process - a simple diagram of concentric circles of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ stakeholders can be useful to provoke debate, and provide a focus for subsequent analysis.
Levels of stakeholders in Ghana’s forests
Source: Kotey et al, 1998
Such figures can help in the process of categorising, and sometimes narrowing, the field of stakeholders. Narrowing the field will be needed when a distinction is necessary between all those who potentially affect or are affected by the policy or institution into the key stakeholders whose involvement is crucial. Initial categories of stakeholders are likely to need to be disaggregated further as information is developed. For example, those affected at local level by a policy may need disaggregating by economic criteria and gender, and by degree and type of involvement. Further fine-tuning of stakeholder groups may also be needed to deal with the fact that while people might take similar actions, it is likely that they will attribute different significance to these actions because of their differing priorities and livelihood strategies. For example a policy initiative which enables smallholders to make cash from growing paprika in home-gardens benefits all smallholders, but is particularly significant for women who generally have to combine income-earning with domestic duties.

Depending on the nature of the problem or purpose it may be particularly important to scrutinise the characteristics of stakeholders in terms of:
• The basics - men/women, rich/poor, young/old • Location - rural/urban dwellers, near to the issue/far away • Ownership - landowners/landless, managers, staff, trade unions • Function - producers/consumers, traders/suppliers/competitors, regulators, policy
makers, activists, opinion-formers • Scale – small-scale/large-scale, local/international communities • Time - past, present, future generations
Each stakeholder needs to be clearly defined so that there is little ambiguity as to who is being talked about. However, squeezing people too firmly into stakeholder boxes is at best pointless, and at worst dangerous. In the same way that attempts to pigeon-hole people’s livelihoods into simple categories such as farmer, hunter or fisher are often doomed to failure because people at local level are more complicated than that, stakeholders in policies and institutions also often defy neat categories like politician, business manager or NGO leader. People may in practice be in several different stakeholder groups at the same time, and may change over time. So, stakeholder identification may need to be regularly revisited and revised.
Step 3. Investigate stakeholders’ interests, characteristics and circumstances
Once stakeholders have been identified, their interests, characteristics and circumstances need to be better understood. At this stage it is particularly important that stakeholders express their own concerns. A checklist of questions for each stakeholder group might include:
• What are the stakeholder's experiences or expectations of the policy/ institution? • What benefits and costs have their been, or are there likely to be, for the stakeholder? • What stakeholder interests conflict with the goals of the policy/ institution? • What resources has the stakeholder mobilised, or is willing to mobilise?
Useful methodologies for this step of the analysis include:
Brainstorming to generate ideas and issues within a stakeholder group. This takes the form of a session in which ‘anything goes’ - with all points recorded. Later these points can be sorted and prioritised. Focus groups can then be convened with particular stakeholders to discuss particular topics.
Semi-structured interviews in which an informal checklist of issues is used to guide an interview with a stakeholder group, whilst allowing other issues to arise and be pursued. This approach is particularly useful for cross-checking, identification of common ground, identification of tradeoffs and identification of decision-making frameworks of stakeholders.
Digging up existing data – a variety of recorded materials may shed light on stakeholders’ interests, characteristics and circumstances. It is always worth probing and rummaging for reports and recorded information, there is almost always more of it than at first appears, sometimes found in the most unlikely places.
Time lines can be prepared with stakeholders of the history of links and impacts of particular policies, institutions and processes, with discussion of cause and effect of various changes.
Diagrams help many people to get a quick idea of what is planned or talked about. They can work well to stimulate discussion by both non-literate and literate people. In general diagrams and visualisations work because they provide a focus for attention while discussing an issue, represent complex issues simply, stimulate ideas and therefore assist in decision-making. Of

course, some people do not think or work well in terms of diagrams and prefer verbal discussion with descriptions of real examples and stories.
Through such methods, and of course through direct observation and regular one-to-one chat, the range of influences on stakeholders can begin to be unpacked. These influences include:
Institutional/ organisational factors: mandates, rules, norms, functions, strengths and weaknesses; dynamics, interactions, and institutional culture
Individual motivation factors: ideological predispositions, pursuit of political objectives; position and control of resources; professional expertise and experience; promoting own careers; institutional loyalties, enhancing the standing of own agencies; and personal attributes and goals, such as rent seeking
Some stakeholder interests and influences are therefore much more obvious than others. It is important to remember that many interests are difficult to define - they may be hidden, multiple, or in contradiction with the stated aims or objectives of the organisations to which stakeholders belong. Some of these interests and influences are likely to reveal themselves only slowly, whilst others, for reasons of political or personal expediency, may have to be left well alone.
Step 4 Identify patterns and contexts of interaction between stakeholders
This step aims to understand the relationships between stakeholders, to investigate factors in conflict and cooperation, e.g. authority relationships, ethnic, religious or cultural divisions, historical contexts and legal institutions. This will enable the identification of common ground, or prevailing conflicts and potential trade-offs.
Two methodologies are particularly useful at this stage:
The four Rs. This is a tool for unpacking stakeholder roles. This is used to assess stakeholders’ Rights, Responsibilities, Rewards (or revenues or returns) and Relationships with other groups.
Narrative interviews. This is an approach to getting the best out of key informants, allowing stakeholders to put forward information in their own way. It can be structured to be able to glean their insights into the key issues pertaining to the policy or institution – or it can be looser, based on ‘telling the story’, which allows these issues to be brought out without necessarily having to ask overt questions about them. The interview approach has to be modified for each individual. At one end of the spectrum is eliciting anecdotes informally in the corridor, over a beer, or on the golf course. At the other end is formal, taped interviews with transcripts reviewed for accuracy. A range of techniques can be used:
• Presenting different perspectives/ views on a problem and getting interviewees to react to each
• Allowing interviewees to leave their own values and definitions unstated (recognising that commitment to a particular perspective may be politically difficult for them)
• Using ‘if…then’ scenarios to determine interviewees’ judgements of the feasibility of possible developments or recommendations (people may be more comfortable reacting to hypothetical situations)
The analyst should be clear that policy and institutional issues are often controversial – and stakeholders need to be aware of how the information they provide will be used.

Step 5: Assess stakeholder power and potential
Different stakeholders' priorities are likely to vary widely. In some contexts it may be possible to develop a system for judging the legitimacy and justification of these stakeholder interests, using criteria appropriate to the policy or institution in question. Priorities may be judged on the level and degree of social commitment which underlies them - who subscribes to them, and what impacts that has. However, there may be legitimate interests that are represented by only weak voices.
Weighting stakeholder interests in forest policy
Once different stakeholder interests have been identified it may be possible and necessary to 'weight' them, using criteria applicable to the policy issue in question. Colfer (1995) developed an approach for use in contexts where improvement of forestry standards is the goal, which attempts to redress imbalances amongst stakeholders in access to forestry decisions by ensuring that local forest actors are fully identified and ‘weighted’ against certain criteria. Building on Colfer’s approach, in some circumstances stakeholders may be identified and weight accorded to them, depending on:
• Proximity to forests, woodlands or trees or farms • Dependence on forests for their livelihoods (i.e. where there are few or no alternatives to forests for
meeting basic needs) • Cultural linkages with forests and uses of forest resources • Knowledge related to stewardship of forest assets • Pre-existing rights to land and resources under customary or common law • Organisational capacity for effective rules and accountable decision-making about forest goods and
services • Economically viable forest enterprise that is based on environmental and social cost internalisation,
bringing equitable local benefits
Colfer strongly suggests that an ‘inverse’ criterion also be used i.e. if a local group has a power deficit it should be weighted more heavily (to make up for such a deficit). It can be added, conversely, that some stakeholders may have considerable levels of power and influence and interests which may adversely affect the abilities of other stakeholders to pursue good forest management, or even prevent it entirely. In such circumstances, an approach is needed which weights stakeholders according to the degree to which their actions could be mitigated or prevented. This is, of course, difficult ground. Practical approaches such as stakeholder power analysis which can begin to open up and debate situations of power difference can enable some progress to be made.
Sources: Colfer 1995; Mayers and Bass 1999
Stakeholders have very different degrees of power to control decisions that have effects on policies and institutions, and they have different degrees of ‘potential’ to contribute, or ‘importance’, to achieving a particular objective.
Power to influence policies or institutions stems from the control of decisions with positive or negative effects. Stakeholder power can be understood as the extent to which stakeholders are able to persuade or coerce others into making decisions, and following certain courses of action. Power may derive from the nature of a stakeholder's organisation, or their position in relation to other stakeholders (for example, line ministries which control budgets and other departments). Other forms of power may be more informal (for example, personal connections to ruling politicians). (See also: Stakeholder influence mapping).
Potential to affect, or to be affected by, policies and institutions resides in particular characteristics specific to context and location – such as knowledge and rights. Of particular concern here are the stakeholders who have high potential but little power. These stakeholders’ problems, needs and interests are likely to be the most ‘important’ for many initiatives to improve policies and institutions processes.

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Stakeholder power analysis