What do we mean by stakeholders and their interests?

Stakeholders are those who may be affected by or have an effect on an effort.  They may also include people who have a strong interest in the effort for academic, philosophical, or political reasons, even though they and their families, friends, and associates are not directly affected by it.

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One way to characterize stakeholders is by their relationship to the effort in question.

  • Primary stakeholders are the people or groups that stand to be directly affected, either positively or negatively, by an effort or the actions of an agency, institution, or organization.  In some cases, there are primary stakeholders on both sides of the equation: a regulation that benefits one group may have a negative effect on another.  A rent control policy, for example, benefits tenants, but may hurt landlords.
  • Secondary stakeholders are people or groups that are indirectly affected, either positively or negatively, by an effort or the actions of an agency, institution, or organization.  A program to reduce domestic violence, for instance, could have a positive effect on emergency room personnel by reducing the number of cases they see.  It might require more training for police to help them handle domestic violence calls in a different way.  Both of these groups would be secondary stakeholders.
  • Key stakeholders, who might belong to either or neither of the first two groups, are those who can have a positive or negative effect on an effort, or who are important within or to an organization, agency, or institution engaged in an effort.  The director of an organization might be an obvious key stakeholder, but so might the line staff – those who work directly with participants – who carry out the work of the effort.  If they don’t believe in what they’re doing or don’t do it well, it might as well not have begun.  Other examples of key stakeholders might be funders, elected or appointed government officials, heads of businesses, or clergy and other community figures who wield a significant amount of influence.

While an interest in an effort or organization could be just that – intellectually, academically, philosophically, or politically motivated attention – stakeholders are generally said to have an interest in an effort or organization based on whether they can affect or be affected by it.  The more they stand to benefit or lose by it, the stronger their interest is likely to be.  The more heavily involved they are in the effort or organization, the stronger their interest as well.

Stakeholders’ interests can be many and varied. A few of the more common:

  • Economics. An employment training program might improve economic prospects for low-income people, for example.  Zoning regulations may also have economic consequences for various groups.
  • Social change. An effort to improve racial harmony could alter the social climate for members of both the racial or ethnic minority and the majority.
  • Work. Involving workers in decision-making can enhance work life and make people more satisfied with their jobs.
  • Time. Flexible work hours, relief programs for caregivers, parental leave, and other efforts that provide people with time for leisure or taking care of the business of life can relieve stress and increase productivity.
  • Environment. Protection of open space, conservation of resources, attention to climate change, and other environmental efforts can add to everyday life.  These can also be seen as harmful to business and private ownership.
  • Physical health. Free or sliding-scale medical facilities and other similar programs provide a clear benefit for low-income people and can improve community health.
  • Safety and security. Neighborhood watch or patrol programs, better policing in high-crime neighborhoods, work safety initiatives – all of these and many other efforts can improve safety for specific populations or for the community as a whole.
  • Mental health. Community mental health centers and adult day care can be extremely important not only to people with mental health issues, but also to their families and to the community as a whole.