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Is stakeholder engagement pointless?

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APM’s People Specific Interest Group (SIG) has stakeholder engagement as one of its work streams and, in line with the overall SIG, the Stakeholder Engagement Focus Group (SEFG) is looking to ‘positively disrupt’ the status quo, as it moves discussions forward on relevant topics. 

The origin of stakeholder engagement can ‘allegedly’ be traced back to the 1930s. Then, in 1963, the Stanford Research Institute first defined the concept of stakeholder. The term ‘stakeholder’ first appeared in the Stanford Research Institute management literature in their internal memorandum (Freeman, 1984, p31). They defined it as “any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organisation's objectives” (Freeman, 1984, p46). Though the Stanford Research Institute introduced the definition of stakeholder, the concept wasn’t linked with management strategy until the publication of Edward Freeman's book Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach in 1984. 

The APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition (APM BoK) Section 3.1 Engaging stakeholders says, ‘There is wide agreement that understanding stakeholders – those influential, interested individuals and groups who are affected by projects, programmes or portfolios – is critical work.’ 

I wonder if the APM BoK eighth edition will carry that same statement? What are your thoughts on any evolution/dismissing of stakeholder engagement in the future? There was a paper shared by the Sustainable Business Network and Consultancy  in 2016, The Future of Stakeholder Engagement. That was almost seven years ago so has anything changed since that time or, perhaps more importantly, does anything need to change? The NC State University Institute for Emerging Issues has a more recent paper, Generation Z: What is the Future of Stakeholder Engagement? that challenges many current practices. 

Googling ‘stakeholder engagement’ returns around 148 million results within 0.39 of a second so we can safely assume there’s a lot of interest in the topic. Tightening the focus somewhat, Google Scholar shows two million plus references to stakeholder engagement with 16,700 since 2022 and 11,900 already in 2023. 

The SEFG will be holding a half-day Oxford style debate on the topic of ‘Stakeholders’ on 17 May. The first motion, of two, that will be debated on the day is 'This house believes that stakeholder engagement is pointless’. Please come along and join us so that you can have your say. To get your debating juices flowing, here’s a few things to consider: 

The 10 key principles of stakeholder engagement 

The 10 key principles that were developed as a joint project between the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and APM, published in 2014, are identified as: 

  1. Communicate 
  2. Consult, early and often 
  3. Remember, they’re only human 
  4. Plan it! 
  5. Relationships are key 
  6. Simple, but not easy  
  7. Just part of managing risk  
  8. Compromise  
  9. Understand what success is  
  10. Take responsibility   

10 Key Principles  

Are these all still relevant? Are all stakeholders still human (Principle 3) or, for example, does artificial intelligence (AI) play a stakeholder role nowadays? Endangered animals, and insects have been known to stop developments, so they are a stakeholder, aren’t they? Maybe they could be classed as silent or sleeping stakeholders (those affected but who can’t represent themselves)?  

There is currently a call for papers for a special issue of the Journal of Product Innovation Management (JPIM) on Artificial Intelligence, Stakeholder Engagement, and Innovation Value, the deadline for which is 30 October 2023. Maybe some of the output from our Oxford-style debate in May could be expanded upon and, as a result, a paper submitted? 

Project stakeholder activities 

An example of a simple approach to capturing analysis of stakeholders, based on their power and positivity/negativity to a project, can be seen below, from page 107 in the APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition. 

Example of stakeholder mapping, planning, influence, and engagement methods can easily be resourced online but are they really worth the time invested in their research, creation, maintenance and implementation? Do the stakeholders really have influence or does the project team do the tasks to appease and ‘tick the box’? What influence do stakeholders really have in a world that now often dictates ‘just do it’.  


A bibliography of stakeholder engagement, produced by the SEFG back in 2017 (in need of updating, we know), will give academics and practitioner enthusiasts a plethora of reading from which currently held opinions can be further strengthened or challenged. For those with access to Google Scholar, more recent readings are available. 

And finally… 

Stakeholders are currently a key factor to project deliveries. Will they remain so after the SEFG Oxford-style debate in May? Well, quite simply, if you attend then you can decide, as all there will play an active role in proceedings. With the first debate motion known in advance, those debating for or against will be encouraged to use supporting evidence to try and win their argument. So, we need you to get involved and be part of the ‘positive disruption’ that will move the profession forward, one step at a time! 

Book your place at the Oxford-style stakeholder debate on 17 May here 


This was authored by the APM People Specific Interest Group (SIG)


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  1. Sunchana Johnston
    Sunchana Johnston 15 April 2023, 07:18 PM

    Love this article, great job. I’d say that artificial intelligence has taken over most of our COMMS, whether we want to admit or not. As such, these 10 principles need a refresher!

  2. Faraz Ahmed Mohammed
    Faraz Ahmed Mohammed 16 April 2023, 08:40 AM

    Excellent Article

  3. Helen Taylor
    Helen Taylor 18 April 2023, 10:41 AM

    Are there any plans to stream the Oxford debate at all as I can't make it to Southampton. Sounds really interesting!