Stakeholder Mapping: Understanding Our ‘Who’

Background

As my group and I embarked on our semester-long design capstone project a few weeks ago, we began with the timeless, 5 W’s — who, what, where, when, and why. As human-centered design students, though, our journey really began with our ‘Who’. To get to the heart of this question, we utilized a design method known as stakeholder mapping.

Goals & Objectives

Stakeholder mapping allows us to pause and reflect on who our stakeholders are and prioritize them for interviews or other project elements via structured brainstorming and thoughtful categorization.

Prerequisites

Stakeholder mapping begins with the baseline assumption that you have identified your problem space and have completed a good bit of secondary research to familiarize yourself with it.

Materials

Sticky notes and a blank surface OR an online platform such as Miro, Google Jamboard, or Mural

Process

[1] Start Big and Broad

The first part of this mapping process is applying structured brainstorming. For this, you must start big. Think about the biggest categories of stakeholders you have. For the purpose of my group’s current capstone project, these broad stakeholder groups included high school students, high school teachers, college students, etc. It might help to think of these groups as broad as job titles.

[2] Think in Concentrated Bursts

Think of the hub and spokes systems design model. Each hub represents a stakeholder group, and each spoke is a sub-category of that group. Taking the job titles example from above, now think about all of the ways people in those jobs would differ — experience level, the company they work for, work location, etc.

By the end of this step, your workspace should look something like this.

Tip: If you use one color for one hub and spokes model, it’ll be easier for you to identify stakeholders later on.

[3] Figure Out Your Two Dimensions For Analysis

These two dimensions are what you will use to sort stakeholders into different user groups for further analysis or decide who to prioritize with your work. With our project, we used relevance and accessibility to sort different stakeholders.

Other dimensions you can use include but are not limited to interest & influence, work experience & accessibility, or relevance & impact, among many others. Try to think of two dimensions where stakeholders would have high variability. For example, if all of your stakeholders are highly accessible, then choose another dimension instead of accessibility.

[4] Map Out Your Stakeholders

Once you have your two dimensions selected, plot out a 2 x 2 matrix and label your axes with the dimensions. Then, begin taking your sticky notes and placing them with consideration to both axes.

When you’re done, it should look something like this.

Advantages

Stakeholder mapping is quick and simple, and it delivers extraordinary results by allowing us to:

  • Structure the brainstorming and evaluation process
  • Think objectively and make decisions relatively quickly
  • Visibly see where our stakeholders fall on given dimensions

Disadvantages

There are some disadvantages to this method which include:

  • Not being able to assess stakeholders across multiple dimensions
  • Having overlapping sticky notes when there is a large concentration in one area of the grid potentially leading to muddled thoughts
  • Not being able to account for differing opinions from group members on where certain stakeholders fall

Takeaways

Overall, stakeholder mapping is a great way to orient yourself when you’re new to an ambiguous, multifaceted project. It’s an effective, lightweight method to find your footing, figure out who to talk to first, and dive into your next big thing.

Thanks for reading!

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