How to Keep Stakeholders Engaged Throughout the Research Process

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Jon Hill
4 mins
market researcher leading planning session knows how to keep stakeholders engaged

For insights teams, optimizing the impact of research findings within the organization is mission critical. This means helping make sure new knowledge is used in every way possible, by everyone who can squeeze value from it. An expanding array of tools offer ways to ensure knowledge is available and accessible throughout an organization, but those tools are only effective to the extent stakeholders pick them up and use them. The insights team’s other mission-critical challenge is keeping stakeholders engaged. If stakeholders only think to contact the research team to request a project and get results, then neither their teams nor the organization are getting the best return on the investment.

Engagement starts with storytelling: one of our most powerful tools for sharing insights. Storytelling techniques enable us to place findings in meaningful contexts and set the stage for what comes next, e.g., a new product idea, a new way to position an existing product, a different strategy for retaining customers. We use storytelling to help insights come alive for stakeholder audiences.

Where we sometimes fall short is guaranteeing the story stays alive when we are not there to relate it. When the audience who hear it from the insights team share it with their stakeholders and beyond, it needs to ring just as true, retaining all the relevance and resonance of the original delivery.

One of the best ways to keep insights stories top of mind is to strategically engage stakeholders at the outset of a project and keep them invested throughout the research process. By making market research a part of the landscape they traverse every day, rather than a specialized place they visit on occasion, you can strengthen their understanding of how the insights team offers ongoing support and reinforce their confidence in the knowledge you deliver.

Invite Stakeholders in Up Front

The importance of stakeholder buy-in at the project design stage cannot be overstated, especially as a first step in securing engagement not only with the outcome—which they may suspend thinking about between launch and report delivery—but with the process. Granted, executing the process is not their job but getting them engaged with it pays off. The exercise of sharing their perspectives in detail encourages stakeholders to become invested in the research process. And understanding stakeholders’ priorities, hypotheses, and assumptions helps the research team get to know the stakeholders and how to communicate and deliver information in ways that are best suited to their needs and expectations.

Share Dispatches from the Field

Everybody’s busy and nobody feels they can spare a moment for anything that does not require their attention on a given day. Stakeholders are apt to push a research project completely off their radar while it is underway, re-engaging when final deliverables are available. But there are ways to keep them engaged without creating disruption or distraction.

Brief, concise progress reports do not have to be intrusive. They can offer visibility into the work and effort required to implement the research and instill confidence that it is all being done well. The same is true for quick, preliminary glimpses of the data. Tailor the substance, granularity, and frequency to the audience(s) and don’t bury them; they neither want nor need to see too much too early. But tidbits can be interesting and fun while keeping interest up. And keeping the project on their radar can improve stakeholders’ understanding of the findings when they are ultimately delivered.

Choreograph Analysis and Reporting

During analysis, use what you know about the audience(s) for each set of insights. Where is their starting point? Are there multiple teams focused on different segments of the data? Are the data generating insights they don’t expect and perhaps won’t welcome? In the latter case, especially, it’s important to frame and deliver the findings in ways that create value for them.

Nowadays, the trusty slide deck is only one tool among many, and often not the most useful. A modular approach to designing deliverables can make specific content accessible and digestible by different people at different times. It is much easier to keep stakeholders’ attention when you enable them to focus on what is relevant to them at the time, without having to plod through a lot of material that they do not want or need right then.

Create a Two-Way Street for Research Engagement

As you keep stakeholders engaged with the research process and create durable engagement with research output, you also reassure them that you are sustainably engaged with them and their agendas. This reinforces the value of the work you provide, which can be especially beneficial when you bring insights that challenge or contradict their assumptions. They need to be confident you understand their business and the implications of what you are sharing.

How to Keep Stakeholders Engaged When Delivering Insights

As for specific tools and techniques, the possibilities are so numerous that we offer just a few examples along with some guiding principles. Bearing these in mind, you can deploy specific methods and means that suit your organization’s culture and circumstances.

Choose Engaging Formats

Step out of the slide deck and into most any available medium or channel. The goal is to encourage or even demand engagement. Post findings prominently and invite viewers to add observations and comments on sticky notes. Incorporate video and/or audio montages of research participants’ input, sharing the literal voice of the customer. Create physical or virtual artifacts, such as stickers, flibooks, GIFS, or Zoom backgrounds, to represent key takeaways.. Establish physical or virtual bulletin boards to pin research findings and deliverables where they are nearly impossible for passersby to ignore. Host lunch and learn events. Conduct workshops around themes that will cultivate empathy and help stakeholders understand customers.

The overarching objective is to encourage public collaboration in creative and even unexpected ways that make people want to join in.

Preserve Authenticity and Immediacy

Remember what makes a good story: authentic voices and immediate messages. Whenever possible, use customers’ own words, even their own voices. Close the gap between your internal stakeholders and the people they seek to understand, the customers. Package the insights so they can stand alone, without the research team’s guardianship or intervention.

Use Physical and/or Virtual Deployment

A lot of people are still working remotely, which can present extra challenges in building sustained engagement with each other and with projects. At the same time, it can offer extra flexibility in accessing digital materials and communicating asynchronously. Physical, face-to-face tools can compliment virtual delivery mechanisms and vice versa.

A Knowledge Management Platform Supports Stakeholder Engagement at Every Step

From defining objectives to sharing final insights, keeping stakeholders engaged depends on maximizing access to anything and everything the organization knows pertaining to the topic at hand. A knowledge management platform puts it all into a searchable library, provides a venue to capture Q&A exchanges (and makes that material searchable), and facilitates conversations around research, the kinds of interactions that help stakeholders make the most of customer insights.

June 9, 2021

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