How to Build a Stakeholder Network For Learning, Trust and Innovation


How to Build a Stakeholder Network For Learning, Trust and Innovation
Notes for Practitioners Series:
CoreRelation Consulting Inc.
How to Build a Stakeholder Network
For Learning, Trust and Innovation
Ann Svendsen and Myriam Laberge
April, 2007
“We belong to one inescapable network of mutuality – mutuality of ecosystems; mutuality of freer movement of information, ideas, people, and good and services; and mutuality
of peace and security. We are tied, indeed, in a single fabric of destiny on planet earth.”
Miedo Nishimizu, World Bank
The Challenge
What Is a Stakeholder Network?
The world today is increasingly complex, diverse, and interconnected. In this new reality, co -creating value with
external stakeholders is a key to business success. This
involves new ways of thinking about, leading in, and engaging networks to support learning, innovation and opportunity creation.
Stakeholder networks are held together by the members’
shared interest or stake in a common issue. While a network may be convened by one organization, the members
come together voluntarily. Stakeholder networks exist to
deal with complex local and global issues including security, sustainability, health, and education.
Many of us are not network builders. For short-term
transactional relationships with suppliers, community
groups, government officials and other stakeholders we
have learned to manage in more traditional ways. We are
pressured to get things done quickly and efficiently. Focusing on our own issues and goals, like blinkered horses
in a race, we communicate externally to sell our ideas
and move our projects forward. When we ask for input,
often we have already made a decision or at least believe
we have the right answer. When issues become more
complex, this type of relationship management approach
limits our ability to gather new information, learn, build
trust and to innovate in ways that create sustainable
value for our own organization, for our stakeholders and
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Copyright ©2007 CoreRelation Consulting Inc. All rights reserved. How to Build a Stakeholder Network: For Learning, Trust and Innovation
Why Build Networks?
There are three main reasons for building stakeholder
networks: enhanced learning and innovation, trust-building and capacity to manage change:
Learning and Innovation:
“None of us is as smart as all of us.” Thinking together
with others can help generate sustainable and innovative solutions to organizational and societal issues.
Trust and Support:
Given the right process, network members build trust,
mutual understanding and a sense of common identity
and purpose. They are more likely to share ideas and
information, respect confidentiality, and put the good
of the network ahead of their short- term self interest.
Capacity to Manage Change:
Over time, effective networks develop collective
knowledge and intelligence, new capacities and
governance structures that allow them to address
increasingly difficult issues.
How to Build a Network
1. Understand the Issue and Map the Network
First, define your issue, problem or opportunity and
decide whether you need the ideas and involvement of
others. If the issue is straightforward, if you have the
authority and power to implement the decision, and/or
if a decision has already been made, convening a network is likely unnecessary or inappropriate. Once you
have the internal support to proceed, develop a stakeholder network map. Then reach out and talk to some
of the people who have a stake and are respected and
well connected. Find out what they think. Is the issue
important to them? What do they want to happen?
What questions are they asking? Would they be willing
to help convene a network to find new solutions?
2. Build Relationships and Connections
At this point you (and perhaps a few allies) will be
serving as the ‘hub’ in the emerging network. Your job
is to connect those who have a shared interest in the
issue, disseminate information, and encourage further
discussion. This phase is about building relationships,
a clearer framing of the issue and the commitment of
individuals and organizations to get engaged.
3. Establish Goals and Ground Rules
At some point key stakeholders will be willing to
meet. Before tackling the central question or issue, participants must be ready to enter into a new
conversation and be open to the possibility that
something new can emerge. At the first meeting of
the network, members will need to:
Define the goals and objectives of the group;
Agree on the process and guiding principles that
will shape how the members deal with one another;
Define roles and responsibilities;
Establish communication protocols, and
Develop the network’s learning agenda.
A neutral facilitator may help the network get established. Rather than controlling or directing what the
network does, developmental facilitators act as catalysts to help participants deal with blockages and inertia. They also play an important role in helping the
network adapt to the tensions that arise out of the
differences and diversity and build coherence amongst
the group as a whole.
Ann Svendsen and Myriam Laberge are Directors of Collaborative Learning and Innovation at Simon Fraser University’s
Centre for Sustainable Community Development ( and partners in CoreRelation Consulting
Inc. . For further information please contact us at 604-437-6112 or 604-943-9133.
CoreRelation Consulting
Copyright ©2007 CoreRelation Consulting Inc. All rights reserved. 

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