Communication is king: stakeholder communication

Schools are awash with information that needs to be distributed to the right people at the right time and, especially if you have a big project in mind, engaging key stakeholders is essential. With so many different platforms and modes of communication available to SBMs we look at the best ways to deliver your message and engage all those who need to know

A school’s primary focus is educating students, of which teaching is the main component. However, there’s growing awareness and recognition among schools that they must do a lot more than just educate – there must be effective communication with key stakeholders – both internal and external.

Let’s look at it from a business standpoint; stakeholders are the true customers here and UK schools are now acknowledging this, recognising that ‘customer’ satisfaction truly matters.

Identifying your key stakeholders

Considering who your stakeholders might be, beyond the usual user groups, is sometimes easier said than done, but let’s think about it. A stakeholder is an individual who has a vested interest in your school, academy or MAT; this interest can be vast and varied since the education sector is the very heart of our community.

Internal stakeholders can take the shape of faculty, administrators, students and parents and estate groups, while external ones might include statutory authorities, alumni, national and local government bodies, businesses, elected officials and committees. This is not an exhaustive list, however, as it could evolve further into project partners, board groups and planning authorities.

Given the rather complex nature of stakeholder identification in the education sector – a sector that is fiercely competitive and where institutional allegiance and reputation truly matters, it is crucial that SBMs devise an engagement strategy to better deliver their message to their school’s key stakeholders.

How to prioritise your stakeholders

In a project delivery stage you must assess stakeholder interest versus influence. For instance, stakeholders who might have the least interest and influence might be, prospectively, worth cultivating, but they do not necessarily need to have a key role in project decision-making – for example, parents have a high degree of interest in their child’s education, but relatively little direct influence on your school.

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Now, looking at the student, this is someone who has a high degree of interest, as well as influence, on a project – it probably affects their academic needs directly, including future career opportunities. It also may help them choose whether they wish to study at a specific institution.

You can prioritise your key stakeholders this way through the interest versus influence method which will also allow you to streamline engagement and communication during the project delivery phase.

How to meet your stakeholders’ needs

It must be understood that every stakeholder has different needs, goals, influences, pressures, challenges and behaviours. These can affect various aspects of your school as a whole. Start understanding the ‘what’ of these needs early on and you will know the ’how’ and ‘when’ of stakeholder engagement. For instance, stakeholders might highlight an issue that you have not considered. Take a premises upgrade or construction – having the site manager involved in the design phase, for example, might offer a fresh perspective on access strategy and space planning, something which can help you mitigate design risks.

There may be conflicting challenges ahead though – after all, you might have to deal with a diverse group of stakeholders where managing expectations might prove cumbersome. Analyse the impact of issues highlighted, explore alternatives, accommodate changes where needed and fully communicate them to your different stakeholder groups. Compromise where required and you are looking at successful stakeholder engagement.

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