Three Tips to Ensure Research Stakeholder Engagement

August 2, 2021

“The worst pain a man can suffer: to have insight into much and power over nothing.” – Herodotus

Ok, Herodotus was likely not discussing Net Promoter Score™ trends or impact modeling outcomes when he made this statement. But, if you work in the world of data analytics and research, you’ve likely sympathized with the guy at some point.

Savvy leaders understand that making data-driven decisions and using insights to guide strategic action is essential to organizational health and growth. But the reality is there are many reasons you may need an extra hand with internal stakeholder engagement, aside from the general workload that comes with running a research program. Chief among them are:

  • Being new at a company
  • Transitioning a program to a new vendor with whom stakeholders are unfamiliar
  • Working at a company that is large and/or siloed
  • Experiencing a company reorg

At Escalent, we take the same pride and care in helping our clients engage stakeholders and optimize insights utilization as we do in any of our more tactical research projects. And while that consultation is tailored and may look different client to client or project to project, we have done this enough to know there are three key opportunities to ensure strong stakeholder engagement:

1. Pre kick-off alignment

Ah, the kick-off meeting. Easily one of the most exciting moments on a project, as everyone is eager to meet and greet, review timelines and brainstorm “what could be” in the research program at hand. And nothing brings that kick-off meeting to a grinding halt faster than realizing in the first ten minutes that project owners or stakeholders aren’t aligned on deliverable timing, business objectives, or resources/budget.

To avoid this, we recommend a bit of due diligence ahead of the kick-off meeting: conducting stakeholder interviews. Consider these interviews a “warm-up” to the kick-off. Your agenda may even be similar to the actual kick-off meeting, except individual or small-team interviews provide an opportunity for you to hear the stakeholder’s unique perspective or concerns, without potentially competing opinions circling from others. These interviews not only provide important information and context that may not surface in the kick-off, but help situate the stakeholder in the plan moving forward and provide an opportunity for you to demonstrate your commitment to meeting their needs. In some cases, Escalent conducts these interviews; at other times, we develop the guide for the project leader to own. At the end of the day, it’s about uncovering needs and, most importantly, understanding how stakeholders would operationalize “program success.”

2. Regular check-ins

For many stakeholders with a vested interest in a research program, they only meet with the project owners, vendors, and other stakeholders two times—at the beginning (e.g., a kick-off) and at the end (e.g., a report read-out). Oftentimes, the project owner makes this conscientious choice to be respectful of everyone’s busy schedules. But the truth is the benefit of additional touch points throughout the life of a research program outweigh additional meetings. To the surprise of no one: projects can change. Budgets may shift. Staff may quit. Objectives may alter. Timing gets pushed.

Scheduling biweekly (or monthly) cadenced check-ins with stakeholder teams keeps everyone in the loop so no “surprises” occur and no details fall through the cracks. Touchpoints also serve as another way to unify different teams around a common goal and keep your research program top-of-mind. The type, length and format of the meeting need not be one-size-fits-all. In fact, for one of my clients with 50+ stakeholders, we produced monthly newsletters to keep everyone abreast of changes, share upcoming milestones, and remind them of who they can reach out to with questions.

3. Insights action plan 

Congratulations, you did it! You assembled the masses, got everyone’s buy-in, fielded your study and shared out the results. Your job is done, right? Wrong. Or, at least, wrong if you want to ensure that the past several months of grinding produce real results.

Make Herodotus proud and help stakeholders construct an insights utilization action plan. That is, explore with them how they plan to apply key findings from the study to their area of the business. If you’re working with Escalent, you already have a leg up here—actionable recommendations for various stakeholders are reporting staples. Knowing the challenge and time consumption this step can mean for our clients, we often facilitate workshops where project owners and stakeholders come together to “get their hands dirty” with the data. Perhaps even more important though than getting stakeholders involved in the findings, is holding them accountable for doing something with them.

Sure, it’s a bold move, and at first blush, you may feel like you’re overstepping your bounds. But guess what? You’ve followed our suggestions and demonstrated your interest in your stakeholders’ unique perceptions and needs prior to a kick off. Then, you engaged them along the way with cadenced check-ins. And finally, you shared results in a thoughtful way, tailored for their business purposes and distilled those results into actionable goals.

 

In doing all these things, you’ve built a relationship. You’ve built trust. And maybe that’s what is missing from poor Herodotus’ equation—it’s not enough to just have the insights. The power to move your organization forward only comes when you have the trust of those pulling the levers.

 

Send us a note to see how our team can help with actionable research projects that will truly impact your firm and keep your stakeholders happy and engaged.

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Elizabeth Baiocchi-Wagner, Ph.D.
Vice President, Health Insurance & Systems

Elizabeth (Liz) is a vice president in Health Insurance & Systems at Escalent. She brings 15 years of quantitative and qualitative research experience to the table, along with solid industry knowledge in technology and telecommunications (after years of lead analyst work in that space). Liz is a former Communications professor (University of Missouri, University of Portland) teaching everything from Advanced Research Methods, to Gerontology, to Communicating in Romantic Relationships. Originally from Detroit, Liz joined the Escalent team in the summer of 2011 and moved to the Pacific NW. When she’s not working or teaching, she is leading marketing and outreach efforts for the nonprofit organization, GiGi’s Playhouse Portland, biking around her VERY hilly neighborhood, or playing DJ for a family dance party.