Moving towards partnerships for impact – stakeholder mapping

In this blog we explain how stakeholder mapping can help organisations get an overview of their existing and potential partnerships, and identify which partnerships are a priority for impact. We provide an example of a stakeholder map. Key lessons are summarised at the end of this blog.

Start from the status quo

Most organisations do not start developing partnerships from scratch. There is a whole institutional history of relationships, expectations, and modalities of working together with others. Some of these relationships may be formalised in governance mechanisms, legal or funding contracts, or slightly softer memoranda of understanding (MOUs); many may have been agreed verbally between leadership or staff. Staff capacity – but also individual relationships – are often invested in existing partnerships.

Before making any changes to an organisation’s partnerships, first understand the status quo. Partnerships cannot be built or ended at a whim. Forming a partnership, making unilateral changes, or ending a partnership without a clear process and criteria is a risk for organisations as well as individuals involved. Abrupt changes may result in legal conflicts or conflicts of interest, create expectations that cannot be met, and undermine trust and an organisation’s reputation.

“Abrupt changes to partnerships may result in legal conflicts or conflicts of interest, create expectations that cannot be met, and undermine trust and an organisation’s reputation.”

Map what is meaningful

Many organisations make the mistake of trying to map all individual relationships of all staff members down to the minutest contact data. Such month-long mapping exercises not only wear staff down and require lots of capacity, but also result in an end product that is overwhelming, quickly outdated, misses key information, and is near impossible to base decisions on. Before mapping, a number of steps are important in preparation.

1. Know what drives impact

For international development organisations, partnerships are a means to drive more impact. Organisations first need to be crystal clear about what (measurable) impact goals they are working towards, and what factors drive impact.

2. Include only what is key for impact or the organisation

A useful stakeholder map fits on one page. It should in its first iteration include only top-line information, for example names of organisations (not departments or individuals). It should include both organisations that are key to achieving the desired impact goal (both current partners and potential), but also organisations that currently require large amounts of staff capacity.

3. Work in iterations – from top-line to detail

A first stakeholder map should cover an entire organisation, and start with leadership levels. Where is a leadership team investing most of its capacity (a good rule of thumb is more than two full-time weeks of work per quarter)? In subsequent versions, stakeholder maps can be broken down into departments, teams, or even the individual staff level. Stakeholder maps can also be broken down for countries, or for individual organisations if needed in order to identify key partnership teams and individuals.

4. Make sure you have leadership support and buy-in

Before any mapping exercise, make sure leadership is supportive and understands what the stakeholder map is for, and what types of decisions it can inform. There’s nothing worse for staff than to invest capacity into something that never gets looked at or used.

“Before any mapping exercise, make sure leadership is supportive… There’s nothing worse for staff than to invest capacity into something that never gets looked at or used.

An example of a stakeholder map

The template below is one example of a stakeholder map. There are many different ways to map and present stakeholders, but this version is particularly helpful for a number of reasons:

  • relevance for impact is captured (along the Y-axis)
  • level of existing engagement is captured (along the X-axis)
  • status of a relationship is illustrated (active or potential)
  • an ideal end-state is included (getting partners most relevant to impact to become “active” partnerships, and moving those partners as far towards “engaged” or right as possible)
  • partners less relevant for impact can be de-prioritised in terms of capacity, or exit strategies can be developed.
Partners for Impact (PFI) – Stakeholder map example (2020)

We will in upcoming blogs discuss how partnerships can be formed and made more meaningful, and how partnerships that have run their course can be ended with the help of exit strategies. We will also discuss what this means for leadership and staff capacity, behaviour and incentives.

Key points summarised

  • Organisations should make changes to their partnerships based on a clear process and criteria
  • A stakeholder map can help organisations gain a better overview of their existing partnerships, but also potential partnerships that are relevant for impact
  • A strong stakeholder map fits on one page, and can inform decisions where to invest leadership and staff capacity, and make changes to partnerships where needed
  • Map only what is meaningful, and work in iterations starting with leadership levels and top-line partnerships first
  • Ensure leadership buy-in for the goals and process before you start.

Further resources on stakeholder maps and analysis: GroupMap, Stakeholdermap, Smartsheet.

Questions or feedback: Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions, feedback, or would like to contribute to the work and resources provided by Partners for Impact (PFI).

Published by Katri Bertram

Katri works in international development, and is a mom of four children. She is driven in her work to ensure that all people can receive quality healthcare, gender equality becomes a reality, and organisations working in these areas leverage the power of partnerships for impact. 
Katri has worked at the World Bank, where she headed External Relations for the Global Financing Facility for Women, Children and Adolescents (GFF), and Save the Children, a non-governmental organisation that works in 120 countries, where she headed global advocacy, policy and campaigning.
 Katri lives in Berlin/Germany, and is Finnish by nationality. She is a graduate from the London School of Economics (Master in International Relations), the Hertie School (Master in Public Policy), and the University of York (Bachelor in Economics and Politics). 
Also follow Katri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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