53. Stakeholder Stance Map

1 November 2023
How can I map where various stakeholders stand on an issue?

Key Definitions

Stakeholders are the people or groups of people who believe they have a stake in an issue. As they feel that on this specific topic their interests are at play, they generally will have an opinion about how it should be dealt with, and they will frequently act accordingly.

An effective stakeholder analysis starts with identifying which parties view themselves as stakeholders with regard to an issue and then maps where each stakeholder stands. A typical follow up step is to delve deeper into the reasons why stakeholders take a particular stance, which strategy they are pursuing and what power they have to influence the issue.

Conceptual Model

The Stakeholder Stance Map gives an overview of where people stand on an issue, compared to where you stand. It not only shows what people’s position is on the topic – from very negative to very positive, along the x-axis – but also how vocal they are about their position, from entirely silent to highly outspoken, along the y-axis. The model emphasizes that not speaking out is also an important stance. Once this stance mapping is completed, an analysis of each stakeholder’s motivations, strategies and power can be built upon it. Please note that I am not the originator of this model but have only adapted it. However, I have never been able to track down who did create it – if anyone knows, I would be grateful to give appropriate credits.

Key Elements

The five general categories of stakeholders are the following:

  1. Change Agents. If stakeholders have a positive view of a development or proposed solution and are willing to publicly ventilate their support, they are change agents – they have the potential to assist or even drive change in the direction favored by the person drawing up the Stakeholder Stance Map. Having allies to share the work of realizing change is valuable, but having them as vocal champions is even more important, to signal to the broader population that it is better to jump on the unstoppable bandwagon.
  2. Silent Supporters. Stakeholders with a positive inclination, but who remain (largely) quiet, are called silent supporters. While it is good that they are in favor, their lack of active advocacy makes them useless in countering opponents and convincing doubters. Whether they are silent because they feel unsafe or powerless, or because they are naïve or disengaged, it is in the interest of the person drawing up the Stakeholder Stance Map to activate them and get them to speak out about their support.
  3. Stakeholders who candidly voice their opposition to a development or solution are called boxers, to convey their willingness to throw verbal punches. The advantage of frank opponents is that their contrary opinions are out in the open, allowing them to be treated as sparring partners instead of enemies – they can actually help to challenge ideas and spot weaknesses, if they can be seduced into a constructive exchange. If they insist on landing hard blows, however, it can be better to try to avoid them or exit them if possible.
  4. Guerillas. Stakeholders with a negative opinion who remain silent are called guerillas, to express their inclination towards undercover resistance. Sometimes they speak to no one about their opposition, but more often they are publicly silent, but disparaging behind closed doors. Such criticism at the coffee machine can undermine support or even lead to active sabotage. Therefore, it is important to draw out the guerillas and get them to voice their views, so they can be treated as sparring partners or exited.
  5. Fence Sitters. Not having a clear stance is also a stance – people in this category are called fence sitters, as they are neither on one side or the other and are waiting to see how things turn out. Some truly don’t have an outspoken opinion, while others prefer to sit on the fence for opportunistic reasons, waiting to join the winning side once it becomes clear who that is. As the fence sitters tend to be pragmatic waiters, they can be mobilized to join the change agents if they can be convinced it is time to jump on the bandwagon.

Key Insights

  • Stakeholders can have different positions. Any stakeholder analysis starts with comparing people’s position on an issue compared to yours. Their stance about your ideas or proposed solution can range from very negative (opposition), through neutral to very positive (supportive). In other words, positions are relative to you.
  • Stakeholders can have different vocalness. Stakeholders can also vary in how firmly they take a public stance on your ideas/proposals, ranging from being highly outspoken (vocal) through neutral to entirely silent (quiet). Vocalness is not relative but absolute.
  • Stakeholders can be mapped into 5 categories. Outspoken supporters are change agents, but you can also have silent supporters. Your outspoken opponents are boxers, while the silent ones are guerillas. Besides these four categories with a tangible stance, the fence sitters will postpone judgement and see how things develop.
  • Stakeholders can shift between categories. The Stakeholder Stance Map is a snapshot of the current situation and needs to be constantly updated to reflect changing positions and outspokenness as developments unfold.
  • Stakeholders can have different motivations, power, and strategies. Once their stance has been determined, it can give extra insight to understand stakeholders’ drivers (see model 46, Ambition Radar Screen), power (see model 39, Tree of Power) and strategies.



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