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Researching Stakeholders


Disciplines > Change Management > Stakeholders in Change > Researching Stakeholders

Direct one-to-one interviews | Questionnaires | Focus groups | Things they have said, written and done | Things others say about them | See also


An important part of making change successful is to understand the stakeholders, who can range from a janitor at the bottom of the tree to a CEO of a multinational company. Here are a few ways you can find out more about these people.

Direct one-to-one interviews

One of the simplest things you can do is to go and talk with them. Ideally, this would a long series of discussions over a period of time in which you could delve into their psyche and gain a deep and full understanding of them. Unfortunately, you may well be limited to one short snatch of their time, and so you must prepare very carefully for this.

Interviews should start with a brief overview of the purpose of the interview and can also support relaxing the interviewee. A little light humor here can be very helpful.

The body of the interview can vary in its level of structure from working through a carefully planned set of questions to a relatively unstructured conversation, guided only by a broad set of themes.

Interviews are best done face-to-face, but if your stakeholders are scattered far and wide then telephone interviews are a practical alternative. Communication is cut down significantly when you use the telephone: you lose non-verbal communication and the voice is noticeably distorted. This requires that you take care to ensure you speak clearly.


If you need to get a broad understanding of a larger number of people, then interviews are impractical. Questionnaires give you a long reach, although at the cost of the ability to probe in detail.

Questionnaires that use closed and multiple-choice questions allow you to do statistical analysis afterwards, allowing you to say things like '53.7 % of the population prefer Zonked'.

A classic form is to use a 'Liker scale' such as:


Please tick one box for each statement to show your level of agreement Strongly Agree Agree Neither agree nor disagree Disagree Strongly Disagree
I enjoy a new challenge          
I like working with people          


Focus groups

When you have a large group of stakeholders and where you are able to get a representative sample of these in a room, then focus groups can be a useful tool.

In focus groups, the principle is to ask the group of people some triggering questions and then listen to their responses and observe their interaction. Thus in change, you could ask questions like:

What are your main concerns about this change?
Have the communications so far been clear?

Things they have said, written and done

A useful source of information about stakeholders is the trail of evidence that they leave behind in their writings and actions.

Particularly for senior managers (who may be difficult to meet for long), there is often much information in the speeches they have made (which companies often keep), company newsletters, etc.

Other people may well have written papers, sent emails, commented in meeting minutes, and so on. All, if they may be legitimately accessed, are useful sources which you can analyze for their values, beliefs, etc. In particular, if you can find their actions and words around previous change initiatives, then this may show relevant and useful information.

Things others say about them

And finally, you can just go ask other people about them. Be careful about this as you do not want to appear to be snooping, but legitimate conversation and careful questioning can give you very useful insights. A useful framing during such conversations is one of concern, for example how the person in question will be able to cope with the change.

Just listening to the grapevine and other gossip can be another useful source, although beware of biased discussions based on a dislike of a person which stereotypes them.

See also

Questioning techniques, Social Research


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