Stakeholder Engagement in Communities

In community based research, I want stakeholder engagement practices to be meaningful. As a change leader, I often ponder the approach to engaging stakeholders. One strategy would be to utilize Bolman and Deal’s (1999) four frame model. Using the political frame is imperative in community development practices to at least inform community leaders of the change strategy. Civic structure already carries a tremendous amount of power and accountability to its taxpayers but should everything be their responsibility to change? Should we rely on local government to control and manage all of the community decisions? Weisbord (2012) believed that the role of a change agent is to help systems unfreeze, move, and refreeze (p. 221). If we rely on government to be the sole change agent it could likely strip accountability away from its citizens. Block (1999) believed that reliance on government to manage change can result in a detached and isolated population with “people in our communities whose gifts remain on the margin” (p. 2). Although citizens are important stakeholders in every community, I am at a partial loss as to the best ways to engage all of them.  Block further commented that community fragmentation manifests itself by “low voter turnout, the struggle to sustain volunteerism, and the large portion of the population who remain disengaged” (p. 3).  Choosing the ‘right’ constituents can be as difficult as choosing too many.


On one hand there is value in looking for an equal representation derived from multiple neighborhoods, political voices, or policy angles.  I fear however that this differentiated approach would bring out a variety of ‘usual suspects’ who want to complain or engage in selfish interests. The challenge I believe is to locate an equal distribution based on the factors involved in the specific change effort. Beckhard (1987) suggested that involving a cross-section representation of constituents from a range of hierarchical levels would provide adequate multilevel representation for the change effort (p. 693). Another strategy would be to use either the social relationships approach that Armenakis, Harris, and Mossholder (1993) noted hinge on social networks and begin cataloging the individuals that come up as important ‘informants’ in a community. Dexter (1970) believed that informants, although biased among their own constituents, can help identify latent values and assumptions due to their role as surrogate observers or experts that may otherwise not be captured by the investigator (pp. 10-11). This approach surely would provide a broader lens in identifying key change agents in a community. Schuster and Weidman (2006) however believed that engagement needs a minimal structure that engages multiple parties while maintaining a low political profile (p. 49). In my situation I believe the latter will prevail. In the effort to respond to gaps in the community, the instability of revolving political interests, and a growing need for collaboration, the nonprofit organization I am involved with will begin the engagement process with its Society membership.

I am currently in the process of engaging a community nonprofit organization’s Board of Directors in the identification of an appropriate methodology to engage the current membership of the Society as well as other potential community groups that may be aware of our existence. In more ways than one there will be an overlap of engagement processes between the community based research, inclusive strategic dialogue, and socially innovative research into ways the organization can involve its partners in participatory action research. The Board of Directors has adopted a philosophy of engagement that befits the nature of participatory research and has the mandate to aspire to implementing this approach within the system.  Glesne (2011) believed that community based action research works well when stakeholders become agents of change in order to keep research cycles moving (p. 23). Although this approach is being seen as a desirable outcome for the organizational vision, it extends past the nature of my current research.

In my organizational leadership project I will look to approach, invite, and convene our current members in a dialogue that treats them as equal participants in forming a non-traditional approach to community engagement. Through the methodology of interviews and possibly a world café they will ideally inform the participants, while enabling their own role in creating change in the community. Should my role as facilitator be successful, I will be able to remain an observer and act as an action researcher. Lewin (1946) posited that “we need reconnaissance to show us whether we move in the right direction and with what speed we move” (p. 38). Hopefully the patterns and themes that emerge from my inquiry can provide me with insight that promotes the value of inclusive strategic planning for nonprofit organizations.


Armenakis, A. A., Harris, S. G. & Mossholder, K. W (1993). Creating readiness for organizational change. In Burke, W., Lake, D. G., & Paine, J. (Eds.). (2009). Organization change: A comprehensive reader. (pp. 569-586). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Beckhard, R. & Harris, R. T. (1987). The change process: Why change? In Burke, W., Lake, D. G., & Paine, J. (Eds.). (2009). Organization change: A comprehensive reader. (pp. 687-698). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Block, P. (2009). Community: The structure of belonging. San Francisco, CA: Berett-Koehler Publishers.

Bolman, L.G. & Deal, T.E. (2003). Reframing Organizations. (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass.

Dexter, L. A. (1970). Elite and specialized interviewing. Evanston, Il: Northwestern University Press.

Glesne, C. (2011). Becoming qualitative researchers: An introduction. (4th ed.). New York, NY: Longman.

Lewin, K. (1946), Action Research and Minority Problems. Journal of Social Issues, 2, 34–46. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.1946.tb02295.x

Schuster, M., & Weidman, S. (2006). Organizational change in union settings: Labor-management partnerships: The past and the future. HR. Human Resource Planning, 29(1), 45-51. Retrieved from

Weisbord, M. R. (2012). Productive workplaces: Dignity, meaning, and community in the 21st century. (3rd ed.). San Francisco, Ca: Jossey- Bass.

About johnthornburn

Masters in Leadership graduate from Royal Roads University. An Engagement specialist engaged in various avenues of organizational and community development. Currently interested in social innovation, planning and engagement. View all posts by johnthornburn

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