A Critical Appraisal of the Stakeholder Analysis

Table of Content

Defining the stakeholder

The development sector is awash with participatory methodology, in part as a result of and a continued commitment to the Paris Declaration, but equally, as a means to lend credence and legitimacy to development activities and interventions. One such methodology is the stakeholder analysis which is, agreeably, rather a nice tool and very much in keeping with current development themes of local empowerment and participation.

From big international institutions down to small grassroots organizations, it is all about the stakeholder and everyone is falling over themselves to be seen as involving them from program conceptualization to deployment and implementation through to completion and evaluation. So much so that Prell (2007) has said stakeholder analysis has ‘… gained attention and is now integral to development initiatives’ (p. 1).

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This essay aims to critically analyze stakeholder analysis by exploring how – as a tool for development – it has been deployed in the implementation of development interventions. It will delineate the process, highlighting its utility at the same time as paying attention to criticisms that have been leveled against it. Emphasis will be placed on the importance of the definition and or identification of the ‘stakeholder’ stage, which is central to the whole process and a key determinant of the overall outcome of the process.

In particular, it will question the misplaced view of the stakeholder as static. The essay will then conclude by arguing that on balance, useful as the tool may be, as is characterized by its ubiquitous use, the ‘stakeholder’ still presents a grey area, one that has – as one example will show – led to the need by some practitioners to deploy it in conjunction with other tools. Crucially, and in the absence of a single viable alternative, more study is required if it is to continue to be widely used.


Stakeholder analysis broadly considers all individuals and organizations that are likely to be affected by a development intervention, as well as how they, in turn, may impact the intervention or its activities (incite citation)[definition? ]. It requires the user or implementer to inquire and develop a full understanding of; the perceived actions of and responses to the intervention, as well as the effect of the intervention on these individuals or organizations; at the same as collating their opinions.

It is very much about these individuals and organizations – the ‘stakeholders’. This approach, much like many others used in the development, can trace its origins back to political and policy sciences and in management theory (Brugha, 2000). But since then, it has grown and now spurns the development sector, with most of the leading actors not only deploying it but making it a major component of their tool kits.

Organizations the likes of; the Department for International Development (DFID), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and The Australia Agency for International Development (AusAID) have all adopted it – in one form or another – as a standard part of their operational manuals (cite and give an example of user[s]). The implication here is that as a consequence of this, its use is not limited only to their programs and projects but to their development partners’ as well.

That is to say, country offices and fund recipients or partner grassroots NGOs of the listed organizations have all had to adopt the use of this approach, further expanding its sphere of use. A quick look at policies (give example and cite) will bear this out. Adoption by big actors has happened concurrent to a general increase in participatory methods. Chambers… Because of its participatory nature… In practice stakeholder analysis involves three main stages, or say three important elements. The first is the identification stages.

Identification has been seen to be carried out some ways; in focus groups, workshops, or individual interviews, all of which take place on-site, that is in the area of the project; or remotely by implementation staff at their offices – by simply drawing up lists of those they deem to be stakeholders for the particular project. Indeed for the latter, as was the case in our class group activity, the list of stakeholders was drawn up in the comfort of a University library study room; while a good example of the former is [cite example].

On the face of it, it is quite a straightforward process but in reality, not necessarily so as we will see in due course. We will return to this in a moment. Following the identification, the stage is the assessment of interest and influence or importance of the identified stakeholders. The best way to do this – which is common across development practitioners – is by use of tables. Here, the listed stakeholders are assigned interests as well as levels of influence and this can take either positive or negative forms. Having assigned interests and influence, the last stage in the process is to plot a participation matrix.

The participation matrix involves arranging the stakeholders in groups based on their interests and or influence will show the required actions for each stakeholder which will ensure the success of the project [expound]. Note that these three steps outlined above are only the key steps in the stakeholder analysis but by no means the only ones. Other instances of stakeholder analysis may build upon this by including additional steps, for example, this could be by adding an impact/priority matrix and readiness/touring matrix. (citation may be required).


Identification of beneficiaries and disbeneficiaries or victims; supporters and likely influencers; risks and conflicts; opportunities and relationships; and ways and means of improving the program or reducing/removing negative impacts. Important in informing the design – who; how. Great for identification of diverse interests – case in point is the case study of the Peak District Natural Park. Example from AusAID – purpose = to understand interests of different groups and their capabilities; = design activities that address issues. Important for people’s voices to be heard – many a time the wrong interventions are deployed because of poor understanding of the development problem = central role in identifying the real development needs [certainly require citation). It’s great for encouraging participation by involving the stakeholders – an arena for more participation. Participation of others, not just the implementers is the principal practice. And plays to the participatory ideas as put forward by Chambers (cite article or book).

It’s great as it ‘supposedly’ involves everybody. At the identification stage, it helps pick up [generate] ideas, which would otherwise have been omitted. Can be used in conjunction with other tools, e. g. focus groups. Lastly, very easy to use and requires not much schooling nor fancy qualifications. It informs actions for corresponding actors (people), i. e. who to inform, consult, partner or control. It’s useful in avoiding inflaming conflict [expound and give examples] (Prell; p.1). A bit like a risk assessment.

Also, marginalization of certain groups isn’t reinforced (Prell,1) It is very versatile. Uniquely and quite unlike many other development tools, the stakeholder analysis can be deployed at all stages of the program cycle, i. e. identification; design and appraisal; start-up; monitoring and evaluation; completion, and impact evaluation. Examples of how it’s used in the developing world and we used it in group exercise for evaluating East Timor women participation in politics (does this appear in the index).

Its multifunctional – different functions at different stages = identification of key stakeholders at identification; more involvement at design and appraisal/inception/implementation/evaluation; Not only that, but it can also be used in conjunction with other [participatory] approaches- focus groups and social network analysis. Quite straightforward and very easy to use – not exactly rocket science which is the case with some of the other development tools, take the example of Cost-Benefit Analysis which is best suited for economists but also may require you to have a good grounding in maths!

It’s step by step…Stakeholder analysis has made its mark particularly in the areas of poverty and gender analysis (cite AusAID) – ‘voices of the poor’ (citation required) is one outstanding example. After many years and many interventions, there did not seem to be any progress in the fight against poverty but ‘voices of the poor was a revelation as it informed what poverty was, as opposed to what had been assumed to be poverty. Possibly explaining increased interest.

Limitations: difficulty in assigning interests/influence especially when carried out remotely; never-ending list of stakeholders – easy to get carried away Criticisms: (name critics if any). Despite its ubiquitous nature, stakeholder analysis has been faced with some criticisms. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to be objective. As such its subjective – entails a relationship to a particular view of development, i. e. participatory versus technological. No guard against skewing of analysis. Individual judgments.

Easy to hijack by elites – labor unions, etc Interests, and influence are subject to change – the unpredictability of the future Also, it’s seen as simplistic and top to bottom – rather like some of the other tools and approaches that are seen to originate in the donor North and are imposed on the recipient South. It generalizes… students should all behave the same, so do cyclists, motorists, etc It makes some assumptions; knowledge – on the side of stakeholders (citation) but also on the implementer – implementers are knowledgeable on the area/topic.

The idea is that you know or have access to all the information required which in many cases is not the case; time – plenty of time to allow planning, implementation, and indulgence of all identified stakeholders; willingness (that the stakeholders are happy and ready to cooperate or take part) – in the example of DFID project that the opium dealers or HIV victims are will be willing to cooperate; and lastly experience of the implementer – implementation staff have the requisite experience and are not basing on intuition.

As such stakeholder analysis doesn’t provide for the absence of these assumptions so we can not tell what happens when there is no information or no time as is the case for emergency interventions or even if the stakeholders are not cooperating. Another concern introduced is that experienced staff – where they exist – are luckily to cause ‘tunneling’; the application of previous experiences from different settings to wherever they go! Can be explained much better… Prone to omission.

Quite easy to omit ‘stakeholders’, in other words, is open to omissions as there is no built mechanism to prevent this (safety mechanism) and the argument that with experience…this doesn’t hold. Take the case of development workers in their HQs listing stakeholders (any examples of this from annex or use group exercise again? ) – despite experience – open to omission or decisions being based on dated information… stakeholder identification informed by a previous visit or similar location visited likely to omit current/localized trends/issues.

This is likely to result in ‘tunneling’ or “straight jacketing” stakeholders – such common occurrences of ‘tunneling’ are identifying widows without factoring in the fact that they are inherited by their brothers in law; AIDS victims with distinguishing between carriers and the seriously ill. Moreover, Boyle and Boguslaw (2007) suggest that ‘stakeholder theory’ has contributed to making the poorest more invisible: they do not have a stake in business operations, and therefore they are not named or taken into account in business decisions. … he issues of stakeholders’ identification and engagement arise – they are not ideologically neutral (Blowfield and Frynas 2005). two main problems to which practitioners do not pay enough attention… who represents certain stakeholders…Some communities are represented to companies via trade unions or NGOs. However, these agents may defend people and seek to resolve problems that are a priority for their respective organizations, and not for others. As a consequence, some problems or some communities may be ignored or forgotten, frequently those who lack voice already: farmers, women, children, or indigenous communities (Prieto-Carro et al.2006). Because of these, the following are limits…Even if it’s no rocket science, it requires experience (many others do – some more than others, bit contestable). Open to hijacking by elites Assigning influence is only a guess – the unpredictability of humans Others are;- jargon, GIGO, oversimplification/ can create problems and alienate people. ‘Static stakeholder?’ – definition and identification: (critique most important) But even worse than omission I want to argue is mis-identification or categorization of stakeholders.

Look for instance at the work done in a group where stakeholder identification and interests can potentially be seen to overlap – say, students and cyclists. At a glance, they are different stakeholders but on closer inspection, the one is indeed the other which creates the dilemma of which of their interests will hold supreme? Similarly, we looked at traders and motorists but these to can go from one category to the other. Even when put down to inexperience – it was a group exercise and many of us were doing this for the very first time – clearly, this can be the case even with experts.

Another example is taken from the DFID example; farmers and opium dealers. Now, these usually are the experts but wait a minute, classifications of the farmers as distinct from opium dealers are not set in concrete. Indeed the farmer’s kid may be a dealer or the farmer during the ‘off-farming’ season may double in a spot of dealing himself! In practice – as we experienced in class/group exercises and is further elaborated by Prell and co – individuals and organizations are… ‘clustered into stakeholder categories according to their similar views, positions and how they affect or are affected by the issue at hand’ (Christina Prell, 2007, p. ). Furthermore, and as is well articulated by ‘’, the stakeholder is not a ‘static entity’ but rather dynamic and can be seen to evolve with time. ‘Pigeonhole’ stakeholders… ‘Straight jacketing’ and ‘tunneling’ (link with infor http://docserver.ingentaconnect.com/deliver/connect/beech/14615517/v18n1/s3. pdf? expires=1324603662&id=66380657&titleid=896&accname=Guest+User&checksum=D243BF4C306402A7E38ACB2DA569817E) recommends ‘quick scan approach’ (looking for elaboration on tunnelling) Alternatives No clear alternatives exist but Prell et al (2007) have deployed it in conjunction with social network analysis.

This helps address some shortcomings. But this only serves as a plug stop – not a full solution. It brings together social analysis and participatory approaches – which is great – but the challenge is stakeholder definition as has been argued here. Its fair to say that stakeholder analysis works brilliantly at a grassroots level, but not equally as well in an NGO boardroom situated in the North. Therefore, there is a need for further study and improvements, particularly in stakeholder definition to make the tool more robust.


  1. ODI suggests ‘A small group of about six to eight people, with a varied perspective on the problem, should be enough to create a good brainstorming session. http://www.odi.org.uk/rapid/tools/toolkits/Policy_Impact/Stakeholder_analysis.html
  2. Books/organisational reports and policies/news articles Is there anything before – what preceded Stakeholder Analysis?  [ 1 ]. This is a framework of five themes adopted by development actors during the Paris Conference of 2005 (word better).

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A Critical Appraisal of the Stakeholder Analysis. (2016, Sep 30). Retrieved from


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