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What Are Stakeholder Networks & How to Build One

by Content Team, FiscalNote

Building a network of stakeholders is key to achieving your organization's goals. Learn what stakeholder networks are & 7 tips on how to build one!

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Unprecedented shifts in policy and power at local, state, and federal levels are posing a challenge to executives and government relations pros tasked with strengthening their company’s stakeholder networks. 

While cultivating relationships with influencers through years of hard work is still fundamental to managing government impact, it’s no longer enough. You need to be able to see and manage how all of your stakeholders – internal team members, the public, governments, or other organizations, intersect. 

To connect the dots, build your network, and manage your issues against rapidly changing political landscapes, partisan lawmakers, or even public perception, you need to implement a stakeholder management system so you can monitor everything from one place.

What is a Stakeholder Network?

Dealing with stakeholders can be challenging and it sometimes can feel like their interests conflict. But, how you create value for your teammates is connected to how you create value for your organization’s members, which is connected to how you create value for your general public, allies, etc. 

How to Educate & Influence New Stakeholders

The right tools can help your organization make your voice heard, educate new stakeholders, and be a top priority for them.

“Stakeholders are interdependent,” says R. Edward Freeman, professor and an academic director of the Institute for Business in Society at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. So a stakeholder network is that interconnected web of stakeholders. Managing a stakeholder network means understanding that interdependency and working to see each stakeholder group, not in a silo, but as part of a connected network of influence with a common objective.

Why is Building a Stakeholder Network Important?

“You have to harmonize their interest,” Freeman says. “In music, the notes are different, but they sound good together.” Looking at each stakeholder as an independent unit and thinking that the demands of one are more important than the others or that you have to trade off the interests of one over the other, is a mistake. And the way to avoid that mistake is through communication.

Managing your stakeholder network means keeping open lines of communication, using your imagination, and working on aligning all interests with a common goal. Occasionally, you might have to trade off the demands from one group over those of another to reach your goal. “But if you don't look for it, you won't find it,” says Freeman. “If you engage in a bunch of trade-offs, you are just taking shortcuts. You haven't done the creative work that you need to do.”

What Are Ways to Build a Stakeholder Network?

1. Know Your Stakeholders

The first step might sound obvious but it is often taken for granted. It’s not about listing out your stakeholders but rather understanding the needs and goals of each one. It’s about understanding and mapping how all of their goals are interconnected and how you can harmonize them to strengthen your partnership and communicate more effectively to get buy-in and engagement.

Stakeholder management technology allows you to look at voting records, ideological stances, and the committee’s representatives sit on. By using these data points, your team can begin to create an accurate map of which representatives vote in similar fashions, and more importantly, across party lines from the federal government, all the way down to the local level. Stakeholder management is all about building out your network through data-driven decision making. 

2. Use Data to Find New Champions

With most of the legislative action happening at the state level, finding new sponsors and cosponsors across the aisle is increasingly more important if you want your agenda to be recognized and prioritized. Modern government and public affairs teams that implement a stakeholder management strategy focus not on the backroom deals but on what the data is saying. By using technology to examine what representatives or lawmakers have done in the past, teams will be able to find new support for their public policy issues down the road. 

Stakeholder management tools such as FiscalNote use technology, such as natural language processing and artificial intelligence, which enables teams to see who has the same opinions on regulations as your organization by analyzing the public comments on federal regulations and monitor social media activity. 

With this insight, you can pinpoint new advocates and build coalitions with key stakeholders to help drive specific goals. Teams can see feedback from competitors, advocates, consumers, and like-minded businesses through regulatory analysis in ways that previously were solely built around face-to-face interactions and relationships. 

3. Collaborate in a Single System of Record

Managing a stakeholder network is completely built around the idea that your notes, information on communications with staff, contacts, and the working relationship networks your team and members have, should not be kept in disparate files or spreadsheets. Instead, teams should put this proprietary information into one place to create a single source of truth. 

Teams should prioritize creating a workspace to centralize their workflow, make knowledge accessible, and get a 360-degree view of any issue affecting your organization.

By creating this single system of record, it enables you to create multi-directional communication and collaboration with teams outside of government and public affairs. If everyone can view the same dashboard and workspace, communication becomes seamless. That way, even if a team member leaves or is promoted you don’t lose the working networks and relationships your organization has. Maintaining a shared knowledge system on relationships fosters collaboration across teams and departments. It also lets employees outside of the government affairs department to upload information on outside relationships further expanding your networks. 

That opens the door to allow you to begin mapping who is connected to who, how you can leverage them, how to best activate them to advance your goals, and what you’re getting out of that working relationship.

4. Stay Top of Mind With Regular Communication

It’s important to stay top of mind with your stakeholders and be considered a partner using recurrent communication linking your work to their issues. Planning ahead is key to developing an effective communication strategy. 

Make sure to map out your stakeholder networks, identify the shared issues, and the preferred forms of communication in order to create effective and targeted messages that get your stakeholder to engage. Using a stakeholder management platform allows you to label your stakeholders by their interests or topics, enabling you to target specific groups with specific messages.

A stakeholder management platform lets you store more than contact credentials. You can also store meeting notes, talking points, proprietary information, and more, providing broad-sweeping organizational visibility into various documents and their connotations to specific stakeholders. This allows the team to stay up to date with your stakeholder network activities and better communicate with all stakeholders.

5. Focus on the Right Metrics & Investments

Effective advocacy and lobbying have always revolved around the networks that you and your organization can rely on and activate. The difficulty sometimes lies in proving to your c-suite and board that investments in building your network are worth it. One of the major benefits of implementing a stakeholder management strategy driven by technology is that teams can report up and down on the return on investment of their actions. Stakeholder management allows you to focus on what actually matters for your team and organization and prioritize the right metrics in a language your board understands. 

Teams can determine which networks were most effective, where their advocacy and lobbying campaigns are seeing the most results, who the most influential and productive stakeholders are, and the direct budgetary impact of their advocacy and lobbying efforts. Implementing a stakeholder management strategy allows your organization to begin to measure and quantify the previously immeasurable, and provide accurate and detailed reporting on your efforts to provide value to your organization or company.

6. Follow Through on Projects

Maintain credibility with your stakeholders and show your commitment to their goals by delivering on projects and plans you’ve set up together. Again, communication here is key. Keep your stakeholders up to date with the progress you are making on specific goals and even when there are roadblocks or obstacles.

7. Sustain the Relationships

Think about what it takes to truly get to know a legislator and develop a lasting relationship. Stakeholder management is a labor-intensive, long-term activity. Being able to manage all the stakeholder relationships and networks your organization maintains in one place for easy cross-departmental collaboration is the key to effective stakeholder management. 

Technology platforms such as FiscalNote allow your teams to log actions and relate them directly to bills, regulations, legislators, and committees to keep track of what’s been done and what the specific outcomes are. Meanwhile, collaboration tools make it possible to collect and share these actions and outcomes within and across your organization. Additionally, analytics can tell you things you didn’t know about existing relationships, as well as dive more deeply into the leanings of surface legislators with whom you ought to be building stronger ties.

Manage Stakeholders with FiscalNote

FiscalNote’s stakeholder management solution is built with your team’s policy needs in mind. You need to organize the people that can help push your issue forward. That means engaging, tracking, and getting insights on all the key stakeholders and how they’re connected.

FiscalNote helps you manage the relationships that matter, get access to more than 100,000 public officials at the state and federal level, keep track of all those interactions, and share that with everyone at your organization, all in one place.

Global stakeholder solutions

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