Who should attend our meeting?

For meetings that matter, who should attend our meeting?   Why we often forget to ask the most important stakeholders.

We’ve held our meeting.  We’ve made our decision.  We are just getting into the execution of that decision when we are suddenly confronted with an objection we did not anticipate.

Has this ever happened to you?  Have you ever participated in a meeting where a decision was made, after which there was some unexpected pushback?  Have you ever seen a meeting make a decision in the absence of some critical information or viewpoint?

This occurrence is far more common than it need be and often leads to considerable angst, delay and expense.

So why does it occur?

Our mistake is that the participants to that critical meeting were those that were available.  And these are often insiders whose perspectives are commonly similar.  In other words, the array of participants contains insufficient diversity.

So who are the stakeholders we should consider inviting to any meetings where smooth implementation of the decision is vital?  Here is a generic list.  Feel free to modify or adjust, depending upon your circumstances.

  1. Those in authority.  Whatever the project is, it is likely that there is at least one party with the authority to approve or disapprove of its continuation.  Those in authority are likely to include funders and legislators.
  2. Professionals.  Those with expertise in whatever field we are considering.
  3. Implementers and resource providers.  More practical and applied than professionals, these stakeholders are likely to be field staff and technicians.
  4. Those with local knowledge.  These stakeholders do not necessarily regard themselves as experts.  They are commonly local to the site of our project and understand cultural, geographic and climatic conditions.
  5. Beneficiaries and/or victims.  These stakeholders will be materially or emotionally impacted upon by whatever is being considered.
  6. Critical friend.  Someone who is an outsider, yet who is respected by us and who loves us enough to protect us from our own folly.  They are sometimes called ‘devil’s advocate’.
  7. Our elders and forebears.  Those stakeholders whose past stewardship has brought us to this point.
  8. Our grandchildren’s grandchildren.  This stakeholder voice is necessary to ask whether today’s decision, and its consequences, will be detrimental or beneficial to future generations.

This diversity of voices will reduce the likelihood of our missing critical perspectives.

Now it is obvious that it will be sometimes difficult to have all of these voices present in our meeting and contributing to our decisions.  This deficit can be overcome, in part, by inviting those who can attend to act as proxy for those who can’t.

One way of facilitating this is through the provision of ‘desk tents’ labelled with the name of the stakeholder groups.  Before our meeting, as well as during, participants are advised which stakeholder they are proxy for.

As a result, each meeting participant is invited to bring two perspectives; their own and that of their proxy.  This often requires that participants do some homework so that they are adequately informed prior to the meeting.  Or it may mean that we discover a gap in our knowledge regarding a particular stakeholder’s perspective.  So we may need to suspend the meeting while we find out.

© Ian Plowman