The Stakeholder Engagement Process

CivicLab’s Stakeholder Engagement Process is a relationship-based, systems-building approach.  It is rooted in the idea that when it comes to addressing complex social challenges, it’s a systems thing, not a single thing. And the “system” is the way we have chosen to work together.

Every community has a process it uses to collaborate, whether it knows it or not. And before things can be made better, a group has to be able to see their process and understand it. As the adage says, if you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, then you may not know what you are doing.

Dozens of communities have used the Stakeholder Engagement Process to tackle challenges of all types and sizes – ranging from redesigning wrap-around supports, co-creating public spaces, and establishing the most equitable community in America for youth.

CivicLab has taught this process to hundreds of organizations and partnerships across the country in their Stakeholder Engagement Process Lab.


Download the Stakeholder Engagement Process Tools and Frameworks


Framework Walkthrough

WHAT IS IT? A relationship-based, systems-building approach to addressing complex social problems by redesigning the way people work together.

WHAT IS ITS PURPOSE? When it comes to community collaboration, the process is the product. The purpose of the process is to discover and pioneer new ways of working together, creating a system that brings out the best in people. Frameworks 2-3

GUIDING QUESTION: What question are we collectively working to address? Framework 4

WHO: Identify the relationships that affect the guiding question

  • Improving a system is everyone’s responsibility:  Who will accept responsibility for the various roles on the guiding team? Frameworks 5-6
  • Whose relationships most shape and influence the guiding question? Frameworks 7-8
    • Beneficiaries:  Who does the system serve? (targeted populations)
    • Providers:  Who serves the system?
    • Leaders:  Who can change the system?

WHY: Understand how the relationships currently work

  • Transforming a system is ultimately about transforming relationships: What relationships currently exist among the stakeholders? (primary data)
    • Providers: How are the stakeholders serving the system currently working together? Frameworks 9-10
    • Beneficiaries: Have the voices and experiences of those being served by the system been collected and understood in context? Frameworks 11-13
    • Leaders: How is the current design of the system’s structure creating problems and inequities for the beneficiaries and providers? Framework 14
  • What do we know and not know about the guiding question? To foster a shared understanding, what data can we share and what does it mean to us? (secondary data)
  • We must ensure equity before we can enjoy equality: Have we explored the primary and secondary data using an equity lens?
  • As long as it remains invisible, it remains unsolvable: What is it that we want to make visible within the system? Framework 15

WHAT: Co-create new ways of working together

  • Leveraging the evolutionary potential of the present, what outcomes do we want to co-create together? What difference do we want to make? Frameworks 16-18
  • It’s a systems thing, not a single thing: How could we change and improve the way we work together to achieve the desired outcomes?
    • Providers:  How could we improve the relationships among the providers who serve the system? (remember: the “system” is the way we work together)
    • Beneficiaries:  How could we improve the relationships among the beneficiaries whom the system serves? (empowering them to more effectively self-organize)
    • Leaders:  How could we improve the relationships among the leaders who can influence and change the system? (seeing and understanding the system)
    • Intrinsic Relationships:  How could we improve the way the providers serve the beneficiaries?
    • Power Dynamics:  How could the leaders shift more power to the beneficiaries, giving them more voice and choice about how the system works?
    • System Redesign:  How could the leaders and the providers better redesign the system to improve the way it serves all people? (coordinated entry, system navigation, coordination, integrated service teams, feedback loops, transforming the system by changing the type of system it is thought to be, etc.)
  • Create a model or framework visually showing the new system. A set of key factors must be conceived and pursued as a coherent whole because they work together interactively. Framework 19

HOW: Redesign the work by rewiring relationships

  • A system cannot be controlled, but it can be re-designed:  How will we redesign the way we work together? What relationships should be formed, rewired, and strengthened? (based on the new co-created model or framework)
  • Start small, think big, aim high:  How will we pilot and test out the newly redesigned relationships? A pilot project should “re-humanize” a social system, reducing challenges down to a human scale, taking them to a local level, and re-engaging those that have a stake in the outcomes of the system. Framework 20 
  • A dynamic problem cannot be solved with static data:  How will we measure the new outcomes produced by the rewired relationships? Over time, can we shift the way we measure the work…

From To

Isolated Measures Shared Measures

Programmatic, Organizational Systems-Level

Static, Episodic Dynamic, Real-Time

Secondary Data Primary Data (People-Specific)

Reactive Analytics Predictive Analytics

  • How will we evaluate what we learn and determine what measures have meaning to us? How will we return learning back to the system?
  • Sustainability is not an event, stage, or phase of implementation. It is a continuous process of situating the new ways of thinking, learning, and working within the system. How will we organize, coordinate, and embed our new way of working together into the system giving it permanence? Frameworks 21-24 
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