A stakeholder map paper template with sticky notes to visualize the stakeholders.

3 efficient stakeholder mapping techniques

March 8, 2022

Curious about stakeholder mapping techniques that can help you to improve engagement during a project? In this article you will not only learn why, but also how to use stakeholder maps.

You’re about to dive into a product improvement project, or a service innovation project – but have to deal with the fact that 6 out of 10 people in the company are disengaged in the workspace.

Does it sound too dramatic?

Well, this is the conclusion drawn from Gallup’s study which analyzed 112,312 business units. One outcome was that 51% of employees were not engaged in the workplace, and 13% were actively disengaged.

According to this study, the phrase “actively disengaged” describes those people who have had negative work experiences and spread their unhappiness to other team members. "Not engaged" describes people who are psychologically unattached to their work and company.

The truth is, regardless of the size of your organization, finding key people related to the project is critical and helps identify who may influence the project’s successful development. This is true for both internal stakeholders (e.g., employees, shareholders, …) and external ones  (e.g., partners, government, …).

For example, you might want to keep people with high interest updated about the project's progress because, even though they are not the decision-makers and don’t have great power, they are allies in the process. In contrast, people with high power and low interest could be moved upwards in the hierarchy of project coordination so they stay engaged and impactful.

Throughout the following article, we’ll recap on a few important concepts about stakeholder management and stakeholder mapping, discuss when it is relevant to create a stakeholder map, and introduce three techniques with some examples.

What is a stakeholder?

The terminology used in the customer experience field varies across companies and cultures. This can be confusing, so a clarification of how terminology is used is desirable.

A stakeholder is a person, group or organization that is somehow connected to, or interested in a project, organization, or service/product.

For example, stakeholders might include:

  • Users
  • Customers
  • Clients
  • Employees
  • Support staff
  • Agencies
  • In-house departments
  • Business partners
  • Governmental institutions
  • … and other individuals and groups that match the criteria mentioned above.

What is stakeholder mapping?

A stakeholder map is a visual representation of all actors involved directly and indirectly in a certain experience of a service or digital/physical product, as well as their interactions.  

Stakeholder mapping is the process of creating a visualization that answers the question, “who are the most relevant people and organizations involved in an experience?”.

A stakeholder map created in Smaply
Stakeholder map created with smaply.com

Understanding the interactions (or their absence) of customers with internal and external stakeholders allows for a project’s success, deliberately tackling interactions and building a support network.

A stakeholder map consists of several circles and the more at the center a stakeholder is, the more important they are. The stakeholders’ position might change depending on the project’s goal, such as a map with specific departments for in-house services or employees at the center for projects on employee experience.

A customer-centered service puts the customer at the center of the stakeholder map – because the customer is the most important stakeholder after all. This is also how you can tell whether or not  a company acts in a customer-centered way: if the customer is not at the center of a stakeholder map, there is definitely room for improvement.

However you will often come across stakeholder maps that put other stakeholders at the center.

What are the four steps of stakeholder mapping?

In a nutshell, there are four fundamental steps to take when you're about to create your stakeholder map:

  1. Identify stakeholders: Who is connected to, or interested in the project?
  2. Analyze stakeholders: Their level of interest and power in this project.
  3. Map stakeholders: Create a visualization to understand the ecosystem.
  4. Prioritize stakeholders: Create a plan on how to engage with them.

If you are interested in in-depth content on the topic, look at this stakeholder mapping article.

Now, let’s dive into different techniques and learn more about creating the various ways to visualize your map.

3 stakeholder mapping techniques

There is an extensive variety of stakeholder mapping techniques. Let’s have a look at three efficient ways to illustrate ecosystems, as well as each visualization’s strengths and weaknesses.

This can help you decide how to map your stakeholders when working on a product or service change and trying to understand who to involve.

Sociogram

A sociogram is a graphic representation of social relationships in many settings and can be used perfectly in a stakeholder mapping context.

It helps you see who the people of high impact are, plots the structure of interpersonal relations, and shows how people are related to each other as members of specific groups – including those who don’t have a strong political influence on a project.

Advantage: Uncover the underlying relationships between people.

Disadvantage: Sociograms do not illustrate the nature of stakeholder relationships.

An example of a sociogram.
Example of a sociogram of a clinician's ideal network. Source: Research Gate
A template of a sociogram.
Sociogram Template by Creately. Edit the sociogram template.

Force field analysis

Well-known for supporting business decisions, the force field analysis provides a minimalistic way to understand tendencies among stakeholders, including forces that might work against a scenario/decision.

As you can see below, the arrow’s thickness represents a stakeholder’s strength of influence and allows to gauge the levels of support and opposition around a project.

By the way, don’t forget to also think of those stakeholders who are neutral, or have not yet made their decision.

Advantage: Helps to understand the actors who are in favor or against the development of your project, as well as their level of influence.

Disadvantage: Force field analysis doesn’t present the interaction among stakeholders, and how they might impact the project.

A fore field analysis that helps you to think about the pressures for and against a decision, developed by Kurt Lewin.

Source: https://powerslides.com/powerpoint-business/business-analysis-templates/force-field-analysis/

Power-interest grid or matrix stakeholder

Known both as a stakeholder matrix and a power-interest grid, this technique can visualize who is part of the project, their level of concern (interest), and how much control (power) the stakeholders have to modify a project’s direction.

A stakeholder power-interest map allows us to identify, investigate and align people and organizations involved in the project. The visualization is through a 2x2 matrix indicating “power” on the Y-axis, and “interest” on the X-axis.

The more the arrow moves towards the top, the more power this stakeholder holds – on the other axis, interest increases as the arrow moves from left to right.

Advantage: It’s a minimalist visual representation of who affects a project. It can reveal different stakeholders’ expectations that you should consider along with your project.

Disadvantage: Same as in the force field analysis, there is no visualization of stakeholders’ interactions and how they impact customer experience, or their internal impact throughout a department process for example.

A power-interest-matrix with four fields: monitor, keep informed, keep satisfied, manage closely.
Source: Nielsen Norman Group – Stakeholder analysis

Ecosystem maps – extra tip!

As you now know, those well-established stakeholder mapping techniques all have their individual pros and cons. So here’s an extra tip for those who need a more advanced version of a stakeholder map.

Ecosystem maps help visualize entire systems involving all actors beyond people and organizations, such as machines, interfaces, devices, platforms, systems, etc., as well as their relationships and interconnection. Ecosystem maps include sectors, actors and relationships, as well as their value exchanges.

With all those details, ecosystems can become very complex, so they often demand different zoom levels. Thus, maps can be illustrated on a high level, such as an overview with no details, to particular subsystems. Also, maps can have a very specific focus, for example analyzing internal stakeholders only, analyzing national stakeholders, or analyzing stakeholders who are involved in a very specific step of the customer journey.

Would you like to start out with a pen and paper draft that you can create in a physical workshop setting? Find a stakeholder map template to download here!

An ecosystem map created in Smaply visualizig the stakeholders of a café.
Ecosystem map created in Smaply

And now, what's next?

Now it's time to simplify your project, learn what key players influence your service and how they are connected!

Use Smaply's stakeholder mapping software to visualize the ecosystem of your product or service and identify interconnections.

Create stakeholder maps with Smaply, it’s free!