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Who Will You Invite? An Exploration of Stakeholder Selection in Dialogue and Deliberation

A NCDD Listserv synopsis of the conversation entitled: How to pick stakeholders for a stakeholder dialogue

Listserv Contributors: Tom Altee, Adrian Segar, Peter Jones, Marjo Curgus, Peggy Holman, Chris Santos-Lang, Betsy Morris, Eric Simley, and Sally Theilacker

Synopsis by: Annie Rappeport, NCDD Intern

“The approach to stakeholder selection is the most critical step in the design of fair and inclusive dialogues that reflect a community’s contributions and perspectives” ~ Peter Jones, NCDD Member

In your dialogue and deliberation work do you find yourself struggling as much about who to invite to a dialogue as how to set the agenda? Are you wanting to include many but worried about sacrificing the needed intimacy of the conversation?  If so, you are not alone.

In September 2018, NCDD member Tom Altee began a conversation with an inquiry to the greater NCDD community about the different considerations for and ways to select community stakeholders gathering because they all care about a particular issue.  Although Tom Altee’s questions were for a specific project related to community transit and the varying interests of bicyclists, walkers, and drivers, the responses quickly broadened this important conversation about dialogue. Tackling who will be included in a dialogue has valuable impacts on what will be discussed as will the overall size of the group and any present uneven power dynamics.

Our NCDD community responded with resources and ideas aplenty. Here are some contributions we believe may serve others well as they craft an approach for their specific local needs and contexts.

  1. Peter Jones has dedicated much of his work and scholarship to the importance of stakeholder selection. He recommends a technique entitled “evolutionary stakeholder discovery” whereby there are multiple waves of invitation and a creation of optimal criteria that the participating stakeholders may represent. This is a time-consuming and worthwhile approach. Marjo Curgus also uses a specific technique that combines network analysis and stakeholder analysis to craft a preferred list of included stakeholders. Marjo notes the importance of conducting this process with a committee and to prioritize levels of influence.
  2. Peggy Holman mentions different models including the diversity promoting “faultlines” conceptual framework from The Maynard Institute. A handy guide to the faultlines approach is provided on the Society for Professional Journalists website (2019). She also mentions the work of Sandra Janoff and Marv Weisbord as providing useful criteria considerations. (Update from Peggy – the Weisbord and Janoff acronym for thinking about the system is that you want to invite the people who “ARE IN” — with Authority, Resources, Expertise, Information, and Need.)
  3. Chris Santos-Lang illustrates impossibility of creating the perfect gathering of stakeholders and the significant issue in dialogue and deliberation work to include stakeholder representation when the needed stakeholder may be physically, mentally or technically (i.e. language barriers) unable to participate at the needed level themselves.
  4. Adrian Segar recommends the 2013 John Forester book Planning in the Face of Conflict. This book features a dozen profiles of planning practitioners that serve as exemplary cases of stakeholder selection for practical problem solving in communities.

What we can continue to take from this discussion overall is the importance of questioning how we invite and who we invite in community discussions. The tools and approaches vary, but many times our goals remain constant–to have high quality and effective dialogues that are so because they are diverse, inclusive, and a size that enables everyone to contribute.

We hope this discussion may continue! Please post your thoughts and ideas for stakeholder selection in your work.

Annie Rappeport
Annie is a current Ph.D. student at the University of Maryland College Park and the NCDD intern. Her work in dialogue and deliberation began at her undergraduate university, Trinity University in San Antonio and continued with her M.Ed. work at the University of Virginia and professional time with Semester at Sea for over 5 years. She loves combining her fields of the arts and international peace education with D&D initiatives.

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  1. Peggy Holman says:

    Just a correction on my name: It is Holman, not Holmes.

    Also, the Weisbord and Janoff acronym for thinking about the system is that you want to invite the people who “ARE IN” — with Authority, Resources, Expertise, Information, and Need.

  2. Ricardo says:

    Excellent pieces.

  3. Culler says:

    Thank you, quite great article.

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