Ethical dilemmas in professional practice in anthropology

Policy - environment - development

Stakeholder analysis and stakeholder participation

This page provides a briefing on what to consider when undertaking a stakeholder analysis and how to engage stakeholder participation. The briefing was prepared by Dr Stella Mascarenhas-Keyes. Below is an activity about stakeholder analysis. You will need to read through the briefing paper and then through all the documents in one of the worked examples. Alternatively you could do a stakeholder analysis of your own research context.


This task will take three to four hours to complete fully. First read through the briefing paper below and then choose one of the worked examples (or your own research). You might find it helpful to print out this activity so it is to hand as you work through other documents.

  1. Define the stakeholders and then order them into primary, secondary and key stakeholders.
  2. Using point 6 in the briefing paper draw up a stakeholder table. This could be in the form of Venn diagrams, or as a graph with different axis identifying, for instance, importance and power. On the table identify the stakeholders interests, both overt and hidden, and briefly assess their likely impact on the project.
  3. Identify the risks and assumptions which will affect project design and what counts as success

Think in terms of presenting your findings to your supervisor or a group of fellow researchers. If you are able, present your findings to someone! Alternatively you could submit your summary by emailing admin(at) and see it added to a collection of student analyses.

What is a stakeholder analysis?

Stakeholder analysis is the identification of a project's key stakeholders, an assessment of their interests, and the ways in which these interests affect project risk and viability. It is linked to both institutional appraisal and social analysis: drawing on the information deriving from these approaches, but also contributing to the combining of such data in a single framework.


Stakeholders are groups of people who share a common interest, for example, the 'consultancy company', the 'project management', 'the villagers', 'the local authorities' etc. But, within any of these, there are sub-categories of stakeholders with differing interests which they may or may not be prepared to subsume in the general collective interest. Analysis might conclude that the concept of 'villager', as a collective stakeholder, is quite meaningless because the various groups of people living in a village have so little in common; some villagers might consider that they have more shared interest with the representatives of the local authorities than with their next door neighbours. Similar issues arise in formal institutions, such as government ministries. Competition between departments or individuals may be stronger than commitments to the institutions as a whole. There may also be crosscutting interests, such as on an ethnic basis, both within the institution and affecting outside relationships.

Stakeholders can be divided into two very broad groups:

  • Primary stakeholders are those ultimately affected, either positively (beneficiaries) or negatively (for example, those involuntarily resettled). In most projects, primary stakeholders will be categorised according to social analysis. Thus, primary stakeholders should often be divided by gender, social or income classes, occupation or service user groups. In many projects, categories of primary stakeholders may overlap (e.g. women and low-income groups; or minor forest users and ethnic minorities).
  • Secondary stakeholders are the intermediaries in the aid delivery process. They can be divided into funding, implementing, monitoring and advocacy organisations, or simply governmental, NGO and private sector organisations. In many projects it will also be necessary to consider key individuals as specific stakeholders (e.g. heads of departments or other agencies, who have personal interests at stake as well as formal institutional objectives). Also note that there may be some informal groups of people who will act as intermediaries. For example, politicians, local leaders, respected persons with social or religious influence. Within some organisations there may be sub-groups which should be considered as stakeholders. For example, public service unions, women employees, specific categories of staff. This definition of stakeholders includes both winners and losers, and those involved or excluded from decision-making processes.
  • Key stakeholders are those who can significantly influence, or are important to the success of the project. Influence refers to how powerful a stakeholder is; 'importance' refers to those stakeholders whose problems, needs and interests are the priority of the funder's aid - if those important stakeholders are not assisted effectively then the project cannot be deemed a 'success'.

Why stakeholder participation is important

  1. The purpose of aid both overseas and in the UK is to enhance the economic and social development and well-being of recipients according to the Department of International Development. This means fully taking into account recipients' views on objectives and how they are to be achieved. It is a question both of principle and practice. The principle is that people should be fully involved in issues concerning themselves and the society in which they live. And effectiveness and sustainability depend practically, in part, on the commitment of interested parties (stakeholders). thus participation is a central element in achieving aid objectives.
  2. Participation contributes to the chances of aid being more effective because, in drawing on a wide range of interested parties, the prospects for appropriate project design and commitment to achieving objectives is likely to be maximised. People are lore likely to be skilled and confident, committed to carrying on the activity after aid stops thus strengthening ownership and sustainability.
  3. The Department of International Development has found that the most successful projects proved to be those where the project objectives corresponded to the priorities of partner institutions and beneficiaries, and where the local institutions and beneficiaries were regularly involved in decision-making at all stages of the project cycle.
  4. Participation should reduce the risk of failure. But it is not a guarantee of project success. Achieving participation is not easy. In any aid activity there may be conflicting interests among recipients as well as among others involved in the project or programme. It may result in conflict; it can have significant costs in time and it means that institutions, such as funding agencies, will have to change the way they go bout their business.

Why do a stakeholder analysis?

  • to identify and define the characteristics of key stakeholders
  • to assess the manner in which they might affect or be affected by the programme/project outcome
  • to understand the relations between stakeholders, including an assessment of the real or potential conflicts of interests and expectations between stakeholders
  • to assess the capacity of different stakeholders to participate

When should it be done?

Stakeholder analysis should always be done at the beginning of a project, even if it is a quick list of stakeholders and their interests. Such a list can be used to draw out the main assumptions which are needed if a project is going to be viable, and to identify some of the key risks.

The outside intervention by an aid agency, bringing additional resources into an area, may in itself create new stakeholder groups which previously did not exist. Stakeholder analysis must be repeated at intervals during the project cycle to ensure that the involvement of such groups is adequately addressed and also to check whether the situations of original stakeholders have changed. Stakeholder analysis often involves sensitive and undiplomatic information. Many interests are covert, and agendas are partially hidden. In many situations there will be few benefits in trying to uncover such agendas in public.

How to do a stakeholder analysis

There are several steps to doing a stakeholder analysis:

  • draw up a 'stakeholder table'
  • do an assessment of each stakeholder's importance to project success and their relative power/influence
  • identify risks and assumptions which will affect project design and success.

Stakeholder tables

To draw up a stakeholder table:

  • identify and list all potential stakeholders
  • identify their interests (overt and hidden) in relation to the problems being addressed by a project and its objectives. Note that each stakeholder may have several interests
  • briefly assess the likely impact of the project on each of these interests (positive, negative, or unknown)
  • indicate the relative priority which the project should give to each stakeholder in meeting their interests

Checklist for identifying stakeholders

  • have all primary and secondary stakeholders been listed?
  • have all potential supporters and opponents of the project been identified?
  • has gender analysis been used to identify different types of female stakeholders (at both primary and secondary levels)?
  • have primary stakeholders been divided into use/occupational groups, or income groups?
  • have the interests of vulnerable groups (especially the poor) been identified?
  • are there any new primary or secondary stakeholders that are likely to emerge as a result of the project?

Checklist for drawing out stakeholders' interests in relation to the project

Interests of all types of stakeholders may be difficult to define, especially if they are 'hidden', or in contradiction with the openly stated aims of the organisations or groups involved. A rule of thumb is to relate each stakeholder to either the problems which the project is seeking to address (if at an early stage of the project), or the established objectives of the project (if the project is already under way). Interests may be drawn out by asking:

  • what are the stakeholder's expectations of the project?
  • what benefits are there likely to be for the stakeholder?
  • what resources will the stakeholder wish to commit (or avoid committing) to the project?
  • what other interests does the stakeholder have which may conflict with the project?
  • how does the stakeholder regard others in the list?

Information on secondary stakeholders should be available from institutional appraisals; information on primary stakeholders should be available from social analyses. Especially in the case of primary stakeholders, many of the interests will have to be defined by the persons with the best 'on the ground' experience. Double check the interests being ascribed to primary groups, to confirm that they are plausible.

Assessing the influence and 'importance' of stakeholders

Assessing influence

  • Influence is the power which stakeholders have over a project - to control what decisions are made, facilitate its implementation, or exert influence which affects the project negatively. Influence is perhaps best understood as the extent to which people, groups or organisations (i.e. stakeholders) are able to persuade or coerce others into making decisions, and following certain courses of action.
  • Power may derive from the nature of a stakeholder's organisation, or their position in relation to other stakeholders (for example, line ministries which control budgets and other departments). Other forms of influence may be more informal (for example, personal connections to ruling politicians). It may also be necessary to consider stakeholders whose power, and therefore influence, will increase because of resources introduced by the project.

Assessing importance to project success

  • Importance indicates the priority given by funders to satisfying stakeholders' needs and interests through the project. Importance is likely to be most obvious when stakeholder interests in a project converge closely with the funder's objectives.
  • Importance is distinct from influence. There will often be stakeholders, especially unorganised primary stakeholders, upon which the project places great priority (e.g. women, resource poor farmers, slum dwellers, ethnic minorities etc.). These stakeholders may have weak capacity to participate in the project, and limited power to influence key decisions.
    For instance, for a proposed population project, satisfying the interests of women and lower-middle income couples (unorganised primary stakeholders) is of high importance to the success of the project, even though they are weak in terms of their influence. Conversely, a category like religious leaders, may also appear as a stakeholder group with a high degree of influence on the project, but whose interests are not targeted by the project.

Checklist for assessing which stakeholders are important for project success

When assessing the importance of stakeholders to project success, use these 'checklist' questions, the answers to which may already be suggested by the information existing in stakeholders' tables:

  • which problems, affecting which stakeholders, does the project seek to address or alleviate?
  • for which stakeholders does the project place a priority on meeting their needs, interests and expectations?
  • which stakeholders' interests converge most closely with policy and project objectives?

Identifying appropriate stakeholder participation

  1. Defining who should participate, in what ways, at what stage of the project cycle. contributes to a well designed project.
  2. Stakeholder analysis can contribute to the process of deciding who the key stakeholders are to be included in the project. Note that the 'key' refers to high importance, high influence, or both.
  3. Key stakeholders with high influence and importance to project success are likely to provide the basis of the project 'coalition of support' and are potential partners in planning and implementation.
  4. Conversely, key stakeholders with high influence, but with low importance to project success may be 'managed' by being consulted or informed.