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18 October 2017
Effective Stakeholder Engagement To Influence Policymakers Print
Friday, 04 September 2015 10:01

A key consideration for Research Uptake is stakeholder engagement. In its Handbook Series DRUSSA has explored both the theories behind Stakeholder Engagement as well as the practice. A recently published Policy Influence Toolkit produced by MHIN and the ODI explores these issues further, specifically in the context of engaging with policymakers.

The Global Mental Health Policy Influence Toolkit was created in response to a report titled ‘Global Mental Health from a Policy Perspective: A Context Analysis’ produced by the Research and Policy in Development (RAPID) team at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) for the Mental Health Innovation Network (MHIN). The report recommended that “Understanding how to engage policy-makers will be critical to the success of the projects and simple tools such as analyses of local operating contexts, training in how to communicate their project findings effectively to policy-makers and harnessing appropriate windows of opportunity would make an important difference to their success”.

The toolkit was developed to be used by project teams during planning days, team strategy workshops or in day to day planning activities.  Apart from providing simple steps to mapping stakeholders and developing stakeholder engagement plans the toolkit also highlights two additional aspects of stakeholder engagement: being a ‘knowledge broker’ and identifying and accessing ‘champions’.

"Undertaking an exercise to define what roles are needed to engage with stakeholders will identify both your internal ‘messengers’ and which other organisations you may want to work with to get the message across"

Being a ‘knowledge broker’: How to decide who should play a role in communicating your message

In the policy context getting your message across requires a number of “communication functions”. These range from simple linear dissemination (functioning as an information intermediary) to actively engaging in policy and practice debates (knowledge broker), to being a systems level facilitator, co-producing knowledge and facilitating institutional or systems level changes, for example building capacity for future work.

Each of these require different skills, some of which your project may have internally, but others of which you may not have and where you may want to work with other organisations. For example, it may not be in your mandate to engage directly in policy debates, in which case you would provide others with the information to play this function.

Undertaking an exercise to define what roles are needed to engage with stakeholders will identify both your internal ‘messengers’ and which other organisations you may want to work with to get the message across.

"An effective policy influence plan can be developed based on thorough knowledge of the key stakeholders, potential champions and their spheres of influence and skills, and bringing on board collegiate institutions that are working towards the same objectives"

Identifying and accessing ‘champions’: How to identify and access policy influencers to help your cause

In identifying stakeholders it is also important to identify champions – those who will be best placed to engage with the stakeholders and “champion” your policy influence activities. These are people who facilitate and influence change, through their political, knowledge sharing and other networks. 

Different champions may have different skills and spheres of influence so you should complete this exercise for each of your policy influence activities. Some people may be powerful speakers who can gather support for your project, they may be experts whose endorsement of your work will support your case or they may have powerful political connections allowing you access to important policy networks. In each case you will also need to identify how influential they are as well as how supportive they are of your objectives, as well as what types of support  you  must give them to enable their success.

As is the case with all Research Uptake it is important to have in-depth knowledge of the policy or practice environment in which you are working. An effective policy influence plan can be developed based on thorough knowledge of the key stakeholders, potential champions and their spheres of influence and skills, and bringing on board collegiate institutions that are working towards the same objectives.


Alison Bullen, DRUSSA Website Content Manager alison.bullen@drussa.net

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