The stakeholder meeting just ended. What’s next?
Welcome back to the What’s Next? series.
In this series, we’ll look at different outreach events and explore ideas for moving the project forward to the next step – even if the event didn’t go as well as you hoped it would.
THE OUTREACH EVENT
Your team held a two-hour meeting with members of the target audience and key stakeholders to discuss challenges, solutions, and ideas for the outreach campaign. The meeting ends and…
SCENARIO A: It didn’t go well.
The discussion erupted into arguments with a lot of blame and accusations thrown around. You barely got through the planned agenda before disagreements emerged, heels were dug in, and critical voices were silenced.
SCENARIO B: It went OK.
You got through the agenda, saw some heads nod, and had a friendly, cordial event. But you didn’t receive much feedback from the group. There were a few active participants, but the majority of attendees remained silent.
SCENARIO C: It was great!
Active involvement and constructive discussions led to adjustments and refinement of the strategies and plans. You have an energized group ready to shepherd the ideas forward.
Let’s explore how we can move the project forward for each scenario.
SCENARIO A: The meeting did not go well. What’s next? ⇄
These situations can be daunting and draining. Give yourself and the team time to rest and recuperate. If helpful, host a venting session with the team to release frustrations before heading into the next step.
Now, it’s time to evaluate what went wrong. It’s essential for this step to push beyond the above venting and shift toward an objective and critical analysis of the situation.
What were the main points of disagreement during the meeting?
Consider if those conflicts could have been avoided by providing more information on the topic before the meeting or holding pre-meetings to prepare attendees.
Were there existing tensions between attendees that flared up during the meeting?
Explore ways of understanding the interpersonal dynamics of your audiences and stakeholders to prepare better and manage these interactions. It could result in the need to hire trained mediators or hold separate meetings with stakeholder groups.
Was there a lack of trust or an imbalance of power among the group attendees?
When a healthy balance of power and trust doesn’t exist among a group, it creates ingroup/outgroup dynamics that can increase tensions between groups or result in groups disengaging.
→ Learn more about how trust, identity, and power can enhance equitable and resilient conservation partnerships here.
What went right?
Meetings typically don’t dissolve at the start, which means there may have been points of agreement before the conflict emerged. You can build upon those alignments when heading into the next step.
REPAIR AND RECOVER
It can be helpful to let some time pass so tensions can subside. But don’t let too much time pass where the outcome of the meeting (i.e., the conflict) becomes set in stone. Proactively resolving the issues and moving forward will be vital for keeping the good parts and shedding the bad.
Deciding which steps to take next will depend on the nature of the conflict. Here are ideas to consider:
» Hold smaller meetings with individuals or groups who were especially upset after the meeting. Find out what it will take to get them re-engaged in the conversation.
» Identify trusted messengers or liaisons who can help bring a pivotal partner to the discussion or successfully bring groups together. If needed, hire a trained mediator to facilitate the next meeting to increase trust and decrease the chance of conflict.
» Keep the next meeting more tightly focused on areas of alignment to build a shared foundation for moving forward.
» Solicit initial input from stakeholders through surveys to hear from more individuals and find common ground before holding a group meeting. Presenting findings and ideas from a less defined group of respondents can reduce existing ingroup/outgroup delineations.
Overall, repairing and recovering from a situation like this takes time. You may need to adjust the project’s objectives and timelines to secure buy-in, build trust, and repair relationships.
SCENARIO B: The meeting went okayyyyyy…. What’s next? ⇄
While this event seems to have gone well, the lack of active participation (and my general cynical disposition) makes me suspicious.
Bust out your Sherlock Holmes magnifying glass and resist the temptation to quickly check the box of this event and move forward.
√ The agenda was designed to be participatory.
When workshops primarily consist of giving presentations to attendees, it doesn’t leave much room for feedback and input. Future gatherings should be designed with ample time and activities that foster discussion.
√ Attendees were provided with opportunities to give input in a format that was most comfortable for them.
Not everyone wants to raise their hand and speak in front of a group, which means their voice is left out of the discussion if multiple feedback mechanisms are not used. Instead, mix up the input activities with individual writing time, anonymous polls, pairing and sharing, small group work with report outs, and more.
√ Attendees were given time to process information and provide feedback within the agenda.
Big ideas and complex topics require processing time, so you’re not likely to receive substantive input if feedback questions are asked directly after a presentation. Instead, build individual processing time and reflection activities into the agenda.
√ The meeting was a trusted and safe space for feedback.
This relates to understanding power and trust dynamics within a group setting (referenced above). Explore if the lack of feedback was due to discomfort or distrust within the workshop setting.
GET MORE INPUT
Receiving little to no input during the workshop doesn’t mean everyone is aligned with the project’s plans, so create new next steps to get more substantive information.
This may take the form of smaller group meetings or one-on-one discussions, especially among stakeholder groups that could have provided more input during the session. You can also explore using anonymous feedback surveys if accessible to stakeholders.
SCENARIO C: The meeting was a smashing success! What’s next? ⇄
CELEBRATE AND CAPTURE.
As I mentioned in the last post, take the time to celebrate with the team and capture your learnings from this event.
INVOLVE THE ENTHUSIASTS.
Successful meetings often end with a sub-set of attendees asking to get more involved. This enthusiasm can be hugely helpful in expanding the reach and capacity of your project.
You can harness this energy by:
» Establishing an ongoing advisory committee to provide a stakeholder’s perspective on the project.
» Designing a set of volunteer projects that can be filled by stakeholders and audience members, like supporting future events and outreach activities.
» Creating an ambassador and champions program to amplify the project’s messages among their social networks.
KEEP ‘EM UPDATED.
Don’t let the good vibes fizzle out. Create a plan to keep the group engaged and updated regularly. This can be done by developing a quarterly newsletter or hosting future update sessions.
Kick things off by sharing outcomes from the successful workshop with the group and thanking everyone for their time and participation. Let them know how the project aims to keep them updated and invite them to get more involved (see ideas above).
A theme that cuts across all three scenarios is preparation.
Planning can prevent scenarios A and B from occurring and reduce the post-meeting scramble to keep stakeholders engaged in scenario C.
Before any stakeholder workshop, aim to:
→ Be aware of existing tensions beforehand and have a plan for how to redirect them when it happens.
→ Craft a participatory agenda that gives space for all attendees to contribute.
→ Be prepared with ways attendees can stay involved and informed to present at the end of the workshop.
Enjoy taking that next step!