Sunday, July 21, 2019

Stakeholder Engagement Audit

Originally posted in March 2014

In gearing up for a strategic planning project, I start thinking about some of the usual planning steps and how they might be charged to do more work both as a part of the planning, as well as in moving the museum forward.

Every museum has stakeholders whether or not it recognizes them, serves them well, or enlists them in the life of the museum and community. Stakeholders are the people, groups, constituencies, and institutions who are likely to affect or be affected by a museum, its vision, plans, or projects. Not every museum is deliberate about identifying, understanding and engaging its stakeholders; some approach stakeholder engagement in a generic way, without considering stakeholders and their interests in relation to the museum and its interests. This is a missed opportunity.

Along with many museums, over the years I have expanded my view and appreciation of stakeholders, ways of engaging them, relating that engagement to the museum’s long-term strategic interests, and integrating stakeholders into the museum’s culture.

Especially when a museum anticipates significant change, careful examination of its stakeholders is critical. Strategic planning is an opportunity for a museum to think realistically and deeply about its stakeholders as it sets its future course. In preparing for a major expansion–an addition, renovation, new construction, or relocation– a museum must think about expanding its stakeholders and how to activate them around its vision. 

A stakeholder engagement audit advances a museum in becoming more magnetic like the museums described by Anne Bergeron and Beth Tuttle in Magnetic: The Art and Science of Engagement. In all these situations, a stakeholder engagement audit involves the museum in listening and responding to and being inclusive of its closest partners.

Stakeholder Engagement Audit At-a-Glance
A stakeholder engagement audit is a deliberate process for studying the individuals and groups across the community who share the museum’s interests and value its work and how it involves them. Strictly speaking, this is not a plan, but it does guide planning and decisions across the museum. Through gathering information, identifying common and consistent themes, and framing initiatives, the audit assists the museum in activating a stakeholder community around a compelling idea with positive outcomes.

Each museum has its own particular emphasis for a stakeholder engagement audit: widening its circle of stakeholders, better understanding community organizations, becoming more relationship based, or sustaining involvement. Depending on how formal or extensive the audit is, it can be done by an in-house team, strategic planners as part of their scope, or a firm specializing in this work. And, whether a museum takes this on in a big or small way, doing it is more important than doing it in a particular way. Conducting a stakeholder engagement audit addresses four broad questions.

• How does the museum currently view its stakeholders and how does it engage them?
• Around what significant, strategic idea does the museum hope to engage its stakeholders?
• What can the museum learn about its stakeholders to serve them and enlist their interests?
• How can the museum move forward by activating a stakeholder community?
How does the museum currently view its stakeholders are and how does it engage them? A practical starting step is developing a current and realistic picture of the museum’s stakeholder engagement. This background work looks at the stakeholders, both internal and external, who are engaged with the museum and benefit from its efforts. Board, funders, members, and visitors usually lead the list, but there are also partners, policy makers and gatekeepers. Push for 360ยบ engagement. Stakeholders with shared interests who don’t (yet) fit in an obvious group can be carried forward: advisors or research partners from past projects or vendors and service providers with related interests. Capture regional and national as well as local stakeholders.

As part of identifying current stakeholder groups, the museum will also note how it currently serves and engages them through events, activities, communication, benefits, etc. Keep track of these along with opportunities for increasing their involvement at each step. Typically, this set of discussions shifts between what the museum currently does and what it could do in the future. The museum may gain insights in exploring what stakeholders of peer organizations look like–a museum of comparable size in its city or another city. This can introduce fresh perspectives including new ways to look at, cluster, and engage stakeholders.

In wanting to activate a stakeholder community around a compelling idea, a museum must explore the significant idea–or ideas–around which it currently engages them. Typically this is the mission, a slogan, or what the museum considers to be its brand. Often this conversation reveals that the museum lacks clarity around the set of ideas and what it represents or it has a limited way of talking about them.  

Around what significant, strategic idea does the museum hope to engage its stakeholders?
Most museums know that its stakeholders are motivated by its focus, track record, the population it serves, or personal relationships with top leaders. But most museums are not clear about what, in particular, this means given its community, mission, audience, and peer institutions.

Clarity about its own public value precedes communicating it and aligning around it. A compelling, strategic idea that is more than a slogan serves the stakeholder audit directly; it is also critical in making the museum’s case for support, coordinating messages internally, writing grants, hiring the right staff, and achieving museum-wide alignment.

Perhaps memorable and succinct, a tagline is generally not sufficiently compelling to activate and engage groups of stakeholders. It neither lends itself to a powerful agenda nor gives the museum traction to be a catalyst for action. Generally museums must look deeper into what they bring to their communities that others also recognize and value. A compelling idea is often located at the convergence of: the mission and vision with which it currently engages stakeholders; emergent opportunities pursued with greater rigor; and community priorities.

A helpful discussion at this point focuses on how the interests it shares with stakeholders could be more focused and relevant. Stakeholder interest might be framed around: strong familieslearning through playconnecting art and the creative processes; transformative experiences through artchildren’s potential; or authentic experiences related to place.

Realistically, most museums will refine this focus throughout the audit process itself: starting with an idea, framing questions for stakeholders, listening for what’s important to them, and following themes and threads. If a museum is fortunate, this work will continue beyond the audit because more staff will be attuned to big, resonating ideas that connect with stakeholders.

What can the museum learn about its stakeholders to serve them and enlist their interests? Now, get ready to listen to stakeholders and think about the relationship between them and the museum.
Individual interviews and facilitated conversations incorporate stakeholder perspectives and convey the museum’s willingness to listen. While there is no set number or mix of interviews, clearly, not all interviewees should be insiders-board, staff, and good friends. Varied perspectives and voices, including outliers, generate the rich information and new insights capable of providing strong direction. Typically these interviews are not confidential so interviewers can be selected based on warmth, clarity about the purpose and message, and good listening.

Face-to-face interviews and group conversations are opportunities for understanding how the museum’s strategic idea resonates with stakeholders; whether it is clearly expressed; and how it is meaningful to them. The museum will also hear how stakeholders see themselves as partners; who they view as other stakeholders and why; how much engagement they are interested in; what a fulfilling relationship involves; and the degree and source of the museum’s credibility in its area.

Organizing and distilling information from the interviews occurs in successive steps, looking at groups and approaches; themes; strengths and challenges. Forming stakeholder groups is more than sorting by demographic or external attributes. It involves finding and articulating meaningful distinctions among groups related to mutual interests, shared connections, and preferences for engagement so the similarities within and differences between the groups are easier to see and plan for.

Clustering stakeholder groups by internal (staff and board) and external stakeholders (i.e. visitors, members, community-based partners, civic leaders, donors, media, peers, gatekeepers) is a good first sort. Readiness to play with clusters, however, helps find meaningful groups and a manageable number. Interview material and the museum’s strategic idea for engagement are tools for customizing groups around relevant and specific interests. For instance, every museum has enthusiasts, but a museum may find designating enthusiasts for the riverfront is helpful. 

Interviews also reveal recurring themes such as a lack of clarity about the museum’s strategic idea, other community priorities, perception of the museum’s track record, concern about advocacy, or interest in the work of peer institutions. These themes can add definition to stakeholder groups, inform communication, or help shape engagement.

In effect, the interviews have tested the museum’s strategic vision and how compelling and clear it is for the stakeholders it hopes will invest in it with interest, time, and resources. This feedback should guide the museum in strengthening the idea, making it more tangible or relevant, or sharpening intended outcomes.

How can the museum move forward by activating a stakeholder community? Museums typically view stakeholder engagement as broad categories of involvement supported by a variety of activities and events. Participation occurs through visiting, volunteering, and attending events; learning through training, web content, or accessing resources; sharing through word-of-mouth, media coverage, or social media; support through funding or endorsing; and networking by opening doors, or social media. While stakeholder involvement very likely presents itself as these activities, activating a stakeholder community is more than assigning stakeholder groups to types of involvement.  

Developing a strategic-level framework can help the museum consolidate the audit’s information and insights and integrate it into its work. The framework also helps build alignment among its strategic idea, approaches to serving and enlisting stakeholders, and the internal capacity needed to support stakeholder engagement. A framework might include:

An institutional statement of the museum’s strategic idea around which it intends to activate stakeholders. This becomes helpful in messaging to stakeholder groups.

A working definition of stakeholder engagement. Consistent with the museum’s strategic idea, it also identifies what stakeholder engagement helps accomplish for the museum, and highlights characteristics of the museum’s approach to stakeholder engagement, such as relationship-based, interactive, reciprocity; etc.

Three-to-four stakeholder initiatives for serving, engaging, and enlisting stakeholders. Initiatives focus on how the museum will activate engagement: opportunities it will provide; how it intends to build and sustain relationships and retain stakeholders; and the benefits it hopes to give and receive. A single initiative may involve multiple stakeholder groups.

A logic model for each initiative to lay-out activities, resources, and short and long-term outcomes. A logic model also helps adjust the museum’s internal capacity to support, implement, and monitor stakeholder engagement considering: needed expertise, responsibility for implementation, coordination, communication channels, digital resources, etc. The logic models become action plans for stakeholder engagement and tools for monitoring progress.

Just More Work?
Is an audit just more work or does it put a museum ahead strategically? Museums can’t do well for themselves or their communities without investing in their stakeholders. Any time a museum focuses on its stakeholders thoughtfully, from a variety of perspectives, and in the context of long-term interests, it will be better off. There are other benefits as well. A stakeholder engagement audit can give a sense of how large and active the museum’s base of support is; surface new questions to explore about its stakeholders; identify new stakeholder groups; strengthen relationships with stakeholder groups; and identify stakeholder activities to drop because they are not valuable.

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Monday, July 1, 2019

Stakeholder Mapping

Originally posted February 2011

Every museum I know has a long list of partners critical to reaching its audiences, delivering solid content, getting its message out, and raising funds. Among the partners, friends, supporters, and sponsors are schools, arts organizations, media, libraries, business clubs and social clubs, community centers, colleges and universities, and hospitals.

While having lots of partners is considered a standard, if not best, practice, few museums have a shared, systematic, and strategic way of knowing, and managing them. At best, a museum has a working list of its partners. Maybe it has a list of partners and constituents pulled together for interviews and focus groups early in its strategic planning process. More likely a museum has a mixed-media creation of lists of active (and dormant) partners, current sponsors, a few paragraphs from grant proposals, and a roster of advisors scattered across 5 or 6 offices.

Regardless of how they are organized or referred to, partners, sponsors, advisors, and friends are among a museum’s stakeholders: the people, groups, constituencies, and institutions who are likely to affect or be affected by a museum, its plans, or projects

When a museum plans a major project such as an expansion or a new facility, these stakeholders and their interests countSometimes, a stakeholder analysis is used to understand the likely effect of a proposed project on them. A practical stakeholder-mapping tool that I have used with several museums is helpful in carrying out the stakeholder analysis for an entire museum. These six basic steps for stakeholder mapping are expanded below. Stakeholder mapping:

  • Identifies the museum’s internal and external stakeholders;
  • Clusters stakeholders with similar interests;
  • Characterizes the nature of their interest in the museum;
  • Represents stakeholder groups in relation to one another and the museum;
  • Develops stakeholder messages to guide and align communication; and
  • Selects approaches to stakeholder engagement.

Identify the museum’s internal and external stakeholders. Bring out the lists of existing partners, supporters and friends, both individuals and groups that are likely to affect or be affected by the museum. Think about partners that are programmatic, project, or strategic; that are local, national, or international. This is not a brainstorming exercise to make a longer list, but an exercise to make a better list. Consider stakeholders from across sectors such as health, arts, business, media, and education. Be sure to add internal stakeholders including staff, trustees, volunteers, members, and the museum’s audience. You will have a mix of specific people and groups (museum members, the Public Housing Authority, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.) and categories (private schools, parks, etc.). Once the list is fairly complete, review it, talk about who’s on it—and who's not on it, but should be. Think about stakeholders who could be in more than one group; are superintendents “education leaders” or “educators”? 
  • Move on when the list of internal and external stakeholders relates to the museum’s accomplishing its work and reflects the community.

Cluster stakeholders with similar interests. Begin the big sort. Think about the needs, concerns, wants, and authority of stakeholders. How do these interests converge with the museum’s? This question helps connect the museum’s benefit to the stakeholder’s interests and brings, at least modestly, an external perspective on these relationships. Create about 5-7 stakeholder groups based on similar interests within a group and on distinct interests between groups. Focus especially on  groups that share strong interests with one another. More extensive and detailed analysis of stakeholders is possible, but not necessary or probably realistic. Still, this is a good point to ask what additional information the museum should have about stakeholder groups to understand and engage with them more effectively. 
  • A typical stakeholder group might be staff, board, and volunteers.
  • Move on when most or all of the stakeholders fit into 5-7 groups.

Characterize the nature of their interest in the museum. Working with the preliminary clusters, focus on the nature of each stakeholder group’s interest. These are likely to be relationship based, and are less likely to follow existing partnership categories such as programmatic or media. Stakeholders might cluster around an interest in increasing access and providing opportunities; being advocates or champions; or simply being “wonderful friends.” Make meaningful distinctions among the interests of all the groups. Since clustering stakeholders is related to the interests they share, revisiting clusters may be helpful. Some shifting of specific people or groups from one cluster to another is to be expected. 
  • A stakeholder group might be the “Museum Team” including board, staff, committees and task forces, and volunteers. The interest of the Museum Team could be: contributing personal interest and expertise to advance the museum's long-term purpose. 
  • Move on when the stakeholder groups feel firm and identifiable, their interests are explicit, and they have names based on their interests.

  • Represent stakeholder groups in relation to one another and to the museum. Assess the possible impact of each stakeholder group on the museum and the museum’s impact on that group. Think of sorting stakeholders according to primary or secondary groups by assessing the impact, or influence, of the interest. Roughly characterizing the size or intensity of the impact is one approach. Locate each stakeholder group in one circle of a set of concentric circles according to their impact: greater impact closer to the center. This is an opportunity for lively discussion on where stakeholder groups should be placed and why. Should the museum’s core team or its audience be at the center? A variation in this step is for several small working groups to each locate stakeholder groups on the map; then compare and discuss. 
  •  In the Museum Team example, this group is placed at the center of the stakeholder map because its interests are inextricably linked to the museum. This group has the most responsibility and greatest impact on the museum. 
  • Move on when stakeholder groups have been located on the map.

 Develop stakeholder messages to guide and align communicationWith stakeholder groups formed around their interest, named, and mapped, try composing a message to highlight their significance to the museum. Messages convey a high value on all stakeholder groups; they provide guidance and consistency across the organization for approaching and interacting with members of stakeholder groups. Be clear, complete, and concise. Try to frame the message for each group in parallel ways. Consider voice; the message might be in the second person, “Your ,…” 
  • In the Museum Team example, its message is, ”Your skills, expertise, perspectives, and commitments shape and improve the museum’s thinking, practices, and offerings and expand its resources.” 
  • Move on when a message has been composed for each group.

Select approaches to stakeholder engagementA stakeholder map could simply be a diagram if it didn’t point to actively and intentionally engaging  strategic group members on behalf of their, and the museum’s own, mutual interests. The last step focuses on developing and strengthening relationships between the museum and its stakeholder groups, and their members. Engagement strategies work to benefit both the group and the museum and draw on what the museum already does well in interacting with a group. Going forward, a museum’s plans, strategic and project, annual development, program, and marketing plans, should reflect an understanding of the stakeholder groups. Using the engagement strategies from the stakeholder map, each plan lays out specific ways to connect with stakeholder groups critical to the plan's success. 
  • Before moving on, think about how to make this tool even more useful to the museum's purposes. For instance, could setting a target or outcome for each stakeholder group help?

A Few Tips on Process
  • If possible, set the stakeholder mapping in a larger context: the museum’s strategic planning, gearing up for an expansion, reorganizing the museum's structure, branding the museum, etc.
  • Bring together a mapping team of about 7 people from across the museum.
  • Plan on 2-3 sessions of 1-1/2 to 2 hours over several weeks. Extending much beyond that could end the process.
  • Between sessions, share the mapping process with staff; incorporate their knowledge of stakeholders and build ownership.
  • The mapping team  might find itself weeding out stakeholders at any step. Early on individuals or groups who are listed might turn out to be inconsequential. In firming up the groups, ask whether these are key stakeholder groups and individuals within them.
  • When completed, share the stakeholder map with all staff and with the board. Walk them through the purpose, the process, and how departments and teams can and will be expected to use it.
  • Members of the mapping team should conscientiously use and refer to the stakeholder map to help themselves and others across the museum internalize it. 

Map It
Museums have and need stakeholders. To accomplish their goals and serve their communities well, museums must know and grow the individuals and groups who share and influence their interests. While museums are interested in increasing their stakeholders, expanding the variety, and cultivating relationships with them, they also must be concerned with managing them in targeted and strategic ways that are respectful of a stakeholder’s time and interest and also protect the museum’s image and resources. Stakeholder mapping is one tool. If you have used a different tool to manage your museum’s stakeholders, please share it. If you use stakeholder mapping, please share how it has worked for you.