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 count. Sometimes, 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 communication. With 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 engagement. A 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.
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.