Don’t run your R&D Program in a Vacuum: Establishing a stakeholder input process

[This is the 3rd blog in the series on ‘Exploring Government R&D Program Fundamentals’. Visit Blog 1: Keys to a Successful R&D Program and Blog 2: Setting R&D Program Goals & Principles]

Want to know a sure-fire way of shooting your R&D program in the proverbial foot? Fail to engage stakeholders creatively and consistently. It’s not rocket science, but it also doesn’t happen on its own. Here are 3 keys to creating and implementing effective stakeholder engagement for your R&D program:

1) Gather input systematically & transparently from all relevant stakeholders

It is critical for government R&D program managers to keep in mind that many stakeholders providing input into their programs are doing so on top of their normal day jobs. Requests for their time and input shouldn’t be done on a moments notice but should be systematic. This will allow stakeholders set aside the time to give their best thoughts to your program. The input process should also be transparent so that stakeholders can see how their input is being considered, who else you are receiving input from, and where their input falls within your decision making process. Input should also be gathered from all relevant stakeholders, even the ones who are hard to deal with or might have opinions that differ from your program’s goals. This includes end customers, other government agencies, industry, academia, and your own staff and leadership chain. You might be surprised where some of the best ideas and input originate.

2) Competition among ideas results in the most compelling program

If the old cliché is true and ‘two heads are better than one’, then certainly 1,000 data points for your R&D program to consider is better than 10. In an increasingly budget-constrained R&D environment, it’s important to remember that ‘profitable innovation comes not from increasing investments in R&D, but from systematically identifying more exceptional opportunities’[1]. Find creative ways to have stakeholders ‘compete’ in their submission of ideas and input into your R&D program. Establish small working groups of stakeholders who have a set time frame to submit their best ideas for your R&D efforts, and then have the larger stakeholder community ‘judge’ the winner. These competitions don’t necessarily constitute a commitment on your behalf of what your R&D program is going to do, rather give you ‘exceptional opportunities’ to consider as part of your entire decision making process.

3) A cross-disciplinary stakeholder base will create the most comprehensive R&D project ideas

When engaging with your stakeholder base, create opportunities for end users to sit in a room with industry, academia, and government officials and watch how the discussions generate outcomes that never would have occurred if you interacted with each of these stakeholder groups separately. Industry can challenge end users, end users can inform academia, and government officials can help connect the dots to other resources and complementary efforts. R&D cannot survive in a bubble and your stakeholder engagement process should create opportunities for cross-disciplinary discussions to help create the most comprehensive inputs into your R&D program.

Have you been a part of a particularly successful R&D program stakeholder engagement effort? How did these 3 aspects play a part in that success?

[1] Terwiesch, C. and Ulrich, K.T. (2009) Innovation Tournaments – Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

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