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Stakeholders: The Best Way to Make People Care About Evaluations

Effective government evaluations require the identification and engagement of stakeholders

When constructing evaluations for the government, the best way to get people on your side is to identify and engage stakeholders. This is especially helpful when your particular government agency holds a negative view of evaluations. Below, I (1) define the stakeholder concept, (2) discuss methods to identify and choose key stakeholders, and (3) outline techniques that are helpful to enthuse and engage participating stakeholders.

Stakeholders: Concept and Importance

Stakeholders are persons who are connected to or who are impacted by the evaluation and its results. Key stakeholders are the individuals who would be able to utilize evaluation findings to make decisions going forward, and they typically should be more involved in the process. I think that it is critically important that key stakeholders be involved in constructing evaluation strategies and methodologies. They can provide you with vital technical knowledge about the agency’s mission and initiatives. If these key individuals feel connected to and invested in evaluation efforts, they will be more likely to utilize results produced for decision-making.

Thus, it is important to identify committed, competent, and connected persons within (and perhaps outside) the agency to help design appropriate evaluation strategies. Ideally, these individuals have a vested interest in utilizing evaluations and possess an eagerness to be involved. They do not necessarily have to be leaders or authority figures within the agency; they can also be individuals who are respected and are relied upon by those in authority for opinions and essential information.

Key Stakeholders: Identification and Selection

Identifying and choosing quality key stakeholders associated with an agency should be your main priority before constructing an evaluation. Below, I outline a simple three-step process for identifying key stakeholders.

  1. You should compile a list of stakeholders and categorizes them based on their interest in the evaluation. This enables you to identify which stakeholders will likely be the most supportive of the evaluation and, therefore, the best candidates to enlist as key stakeholders in the evaluation project.
  2. You should bring together all of the identified stakeholder candidates and repeat the first step. The group is asked to identify other individuals not currently in the group who should be identified as stakeholders.
  3. You and the stakeholder candidates should jointly create a “purpose network diagram” that articulates the purposes and goals of the evaluation. The intent is to ensure that the varied interests of stakeholders are met and incorporated into the evaluation project. A secondary goal is to forestall any conflicts potentially arising as a result of the project. You should use the agreed upon purpose network diagram as a tool to choose key stakeholders. These key stakeholders are enlisted in further efforts toward constructing the evaluation strategy.

Engaging Key Stakeholder Participants

It is important that you have positive interactions with all key stakeholders throughout the evaluation process. You should strive to create a common understanding as to the purpose, methods, and value of the evaluation. To accomplish this goal, you can utilize a technique known as “appreciative inquiry” during step three of the selection process outlines above. This technique requires that the candidate group discuss what the agency does best. This often brings the group together and fosters participation interest. You should try to avoid focusing on the negatives in an effort to get stakeholders excited about the evaluation as they look toward future possibilities. Using this technique, you are also able to glean what strategies have worked best for the agency in the past.

Once goals of the evaluation have been agreed upon and key stakeholders selected, you should create a management tool known as a “stakeholder-planning matrix”. This matrix shows the stages at which stakeholder participation is expected in: (1) designing evaluation methodology; (2) selecting measurement indicators; (3) choosing data collection methods and sources; and (4) defining analysis procedures. Stakeholder participants have a clearer picture of their time and intellectual commitments.

What do you think?

Do you think stakeholder engagement would improve evaluation practices in the government?

Would you have a more positive view of evaluations if more people were involved in their development and implementation?

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