by: Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, NeuroDevNet
I wanted to write about top tips for conducting a stakeholder consultation because it is so important to do it right in order to maximize your time and financial investment. The people in attendance are willing to give you the greatest gifts you could receive: their time and their wisdom. It is therefore your obligation to carefully construct the event. There have been other blogs written about stakeholder consultation, that you may also find useful, but I wanted to write about tips I have learned through my own experience. With that, here are my top tips for conducting a stakeholder consultation to inform your research and KT:
1) Start Early: You need to start planning at least 6-8 months in advance of the date you plan to hold your event. At this stage you should know: why you need to hold a stakeholder consultation including a general sketch of what you need to know from your stakeholders. Once you know this, you should also be able to roughly sketch out the categories and types of stakeholders you need to invite. Starting early is especially important if you plan to invite Chief Medical Officers of Health, as they need this much notice to be able to get it into their calendars.
2) Write a purpose statement: A purpose statement should be broad and should clearly establish the overarching goal of the meeting. Once you know (as in #1) why you need to hold a stakeholder consultation this will be relatively easy. The purpose statement quickly summarizes why you are holding the meeting, but should include information such as: i) what is the nature of the meeting (e.g. ‘…to provide a forum for information exchange and open discussion….’), ii) who will be attending the meeting (e.g. ‘…between public health practitioners and researchers…’), iii) what the outcome of the meeting is intended to be (e.g. ‘…how current knowledge on partner notification could be incorporated into practice and how knowledge gaps could be addressed’). In this way, it gives participants a quick overview of what the meeting will be about and why their input is important toward achieving the meeting’s outcome(s).
Here is an example of a purpose statement:
To provide a forum for information exchange and open discussion between public health practitioners and researchers on how current knowledge on partner notification could be incorporated into practice and how knowledge gaps could be addressed.
3) Clearly articulate the objectives of the meeting: The objectives should be clearly articulated, and should relate to but be more specific than the purpose statement. It is critical to do this, and early on in the process. The objectives represent the anchor to which the rest of the meeting will be tethered. In other words, the people you invite, the activities you do, the focus questions you ask, will all be informed by what you are trying to achieve. Sadly, I have observed all too often that this step is neglected in favour of brainstorming and deciding on activities which inevitably end up being a mish mash of disconnected “stuff” that rarely results in a useful set of outcomes. Usually you would have at least 2-3 objectives for the meeting, but you could have up to around 6, 7 or even 8 depending on what you are trying to achieve and how long the meeting is. Here are example objectives that nest under the purpose statement example above:
- Provide participants with an overview of [organization name/researcher or project team name(s)] partner notification project and findings to date
- Provide participants with opportunities to exchange information and ideas on partner notification strategies that have been attempted in local public health jurisdictions
- Identify ways to incorporate knowledge from research and local experience into policy and practice
- Identify knowledge gaps related to partner notification and ways to address them
- Identify a potential role and next steps for [organization/researcher or project team name(s)] to facilitate the improvement of partner notification programs in Canada
4) Link all of your documentation: all documents for the meeting including (but not limited to) the meeting agenda, invitation letters, consistent breakout group/report back forms, evaluation forms should repeat the purpose statement and objectives at the top. Before the event, it helps the meeting organizers and planners to ensure activities are aligned with the purpose and help to achieve the meeting’s objectives as these various documents are being drafted and reviewed. At the event, it shows your attendees that you respect their time by having prepared a seamless and well-organized meeting package (the final documents should also be formatted uniformly). It also helps to ground the meeting as it unfolds, and provides a visual reminder to facilitators and participants of the purpose in case the discussion(s) begin to veer off track. It is especially important to ask participants on the evaluation forms how well they believe the meeting achieved its objectives.
5) Draft an agenda before sending out invitations: your invitees will likely have to book time off work or otherwise rearrange their schedules to attend your meeting, so they need to be able to determine whether their attendance can be justified. In many cases they will need to show the agenda to their employer (which is one reason why it is important to state the purpose and objectives at the top of the agenda) in order to gain approval to take leave from the office to be able to attend.
6) Piggyback onto another event: a popular option for conducting a stakeholder consultation is to tack it onto another event such as a conference that you know there is a good chance your stakeholders will be attending. This greatly cuts down on transportation costs, because if you are paying for your participants’ travel expenses all you have to do is pay for an extra hotel night instead of paying for their airfare as well. The only tricky part is that if the conference is not being coordinated by your own organization it can be difficult to gain access to the attendee list. If you don’t know which of your stakeholders will be attending it can make it a little more difficult to extend invitations strategically. However, you can also target local stakeholders in the city where the event is taking place; if you reach out and ask those stakeholders to come to your consultation it doesn’t really matter if they are already attending the other event because there will be no airfare/travel costs for them to attend anyway (the only expense will be food but you would have to provide that anyway).
7) Have good food: it’s the least you can do to thank people for their attendance, and it makes the day that much more enjoyable for them. Plus, the benefit to you is that your attendees will be able to think/ provide better input for you if they have had enough (and good) food and coffee. I usually ask the venue caterers to leave the coffee/tea and food out (as opposed to coming and picking up the food right after lunch) so people can ‘graze’ if they get hungry or need to be caffeinated throughout the meeting.
If you are a NeuroDevNet researcher or trainee and would like advice on how to plan your stakeholder consultation (or other stakeholder engagement activities), contact the KT Core.