New Ways of Engaging Stakeholders: From Design to Deliverables

Tips for engaging with stakeholders

Insights Association and Olivetree Insights webinar series: “Insights, A Source of Strategic Leadership”

Gaining widespread buy-in and support early in the insights process is critical to ensuring findings have the “legs” to reach the desired goal. So, what are some best-in-class ways to engage stakeholders well in advance of launching projects?

This important topic was addressed by several insights and communication leaders in the 2nd session of a five part Insights Association and Olivetree Insights  webinar series: ‘Insights, A Source of Strategic Leadership.’   The following is a recap of the key points from each presenter.

A Fitness Routine for Insights

Smisha Samra, Director, Grail Insights 

Smisha focused on the importance of thinking about potential insights activation throughout the entire research process, not just once the project is completed.

Design Phase: During this first phase she emphasizes getting stakeholder consensus on “what we know, what we think we know, and what we don’t know.” Hypothesis gathering is useful to assess feasibility, harvest existing knowledge and identify any knowledge gaps.  Identifying the knowledge gaps allows the team to more easily call out the new insights discovered through the research. Using ideation walls or online brainstorming platforms that allow for real-time sharing of everyone’s input helps ensure alignment upfront with stakeholders, buy-in on the research plan and is critical for generating actionable insights that are activated.

Fielding Phase: Staying agile while conducting the research is important to activation, as the team responds to the preliminary learnings. Frequent check-ins with stakeholders is critical. During this phase again, brainstorming platforms are a good way to share the findings and build buy-in on as the team iterates through the process.

Analysis Phase: During the analysis phase, she suggests continuing to work with stakeholders to identify areas of impact, re-evaluate the feasibility of the initiative, and map the insights to actionability and activation. Whenever possible reuse previous learnings that apply to complete the story – this is a good way to activate insights from a previous study. In addition, apply consumer needs oriented frameworks – don’t just think about the product/service in a vacuum but fully understand the consumer environment related to using the product/service.

Activation Phase: Finally, during the Activation phase, collaborate with stakeholders and other relevant outside agencies (advertising, marketing) to implement the action plan agreed to by the project team. Workshops using iterative processes are useful during the Activation phase. And, although there is a great emphasis on dashboards, infographics, and storytelling techniques, make sure that findings are usable and consumable by stakeholders. Don’t lose sight of what will help stakeholders activate findings.

A Case Study Example

Steven Horne, Senior Manager Research Insight, American Dental Association.

Mike Lionetti, Senior Research Assistant, KJT Group.

The American Dental Association, with the help of KJT Group, implemented a new process to align business stakeholders with insights resulting from research studies in order to assure widespread activation.  The team shared their first use of the new process based on a segmentation study that would have broad application throughout the organization.

Before starting the segmentation study, the research team (internal and supplier) met with over 30 stakeholders who would be utilizing the research to clarify what would make the research successful for each of them. This meeting helped to build consensus among the stakeholders and laid the groundwork for buy-in to the research results.

Post-research, the engagement with stakeholders continued. The research team facilitated an on-site workshop, supplemented with collaborative software, with the same ADA stakeholders. The objectives were to actively immerse the stakeholders in the learnings to build buy-in and then to build messaging and an implementation plan.

The workshop was composed of small group immersive work as well as full group presentations and discussions.  The collaborative software platform complemented the in-person workshop.  The platform was used to brainstorm what the main unmet needs for each segment were, the main value propositions the ADA could provide, and suggestions for names of the segments.

The software allowed stakeholders to make comments anonymously, so they could be candid and avoid groupthink. The tool also helped the team prioritize key themes rapidly, and facilitated stakeholder consensus more quickly.

Feedback from the session was overwhelmingly positive. The software tool was new, collaborative, engaging and even entertaining. Getting the stakeholders deeply integrated in the process and the strategy served to vest them in the outcomes. The level of support and integration was higher than the team had seen following most research projects.

Framing Difficult Conversations with Stakeholders

Greg Owen-Boger, VP, Turpin Communication.

The webinar wrapped up with a useful communications framework: “The Orderly Conversation Process.” The framework contains two phases: “Orderly” which is the planning phase when one looks ahead to the uncertainties of the conversation and “Conversation” which is when one must adapt what was planned to what’s happening in the moment.

Preparation (the Orderly phase) is particularly critical in difficult conversations, e.g. when you are about to provide surprising findings (in a negative way!) or need to address challenges in field research.  Framing what you need to present by thinking about your target audience’s current situation, the goal of the conversation, the agenda, and the benefits to them goes a long way to mitigate potential problems.

Importantly, Greg recommends working to anticipate what questions you may be asked and any uncertainties that might come up. As the old expression says, “forewarned is forearmed.”

An example of this process is:

  • Current Situation – We’ve been conducting research on XYZ. Some of the findings have been surprising.
  • Goal – Share the objectives of the research; acknowledge some of the information might be difficult to hear.
  • Agenda – Highlight the key points to be covered.
  • Benefits – The team will be able to make more informed decisions after hearing the results.

Finally, the higher the stakes of the meeting or presentation the greater the need to frame the conversation. Make sure you organize your thoughts and set the context for your stakeholders. Using such a process can be helpful in coaching less experienced team members in preparing their presentations.

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