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Chapter 5 - Critical Success Factors

Align purpose with identified needs and capabilities of your stakeholders

The grantees regularly emphasized the importance of making sure the purpose and goals of their projects were closely aligned with the needs of their stakeholders. They appreciated the statement of one of their colleagues, “if you build it…well, they might not come after all” and regularly invested in understanding their stakeholders. They saw this as a two step process – first, the teams worked to reach consensus concerning project purpose and goals, and second, they worked to ensure the product would in fact meet the needs of their target audience. In addition to identifying the specific needs of their target community, the project teams also had to pay attention to the technological limitations they were likely to encounter in those communities.

A key component of this process for the eight projects was defining their stakeholders and constituents. The eight projects were originally proposed with broad objectives. As the project teams began working they realized they needed to narrow their perspectives and establish alignment between the purpose of the project and the needs and technological capabilities of a specific set of stakeholders. As one grantee stated, “You need a reason to create whatever it is you are creating – in order to do that, you have to know your stakeholders and what their needs are.”

Identify key stakeholders – and listen to what they say
The original vision of the White-tail Deer team was to create a Web-based database of information on controlling the population of white-tail deer in various regions of the country in the interest of improving overall forest quality. However, through discussions with potential users prior to the design of the Web site, they realized their original vision would not fulfill the needs of all their stakeholders. Namely, they did not account for the various interests of conservationist, hunters, farmers and others whose lives and livelihoods were touched by this issue. After analyzing the feedback received from their information-gathering sessions, they changed the focus of the Web site to providing information to all interested parties on how to ensure healthy deer herds with emphasis on a symbiotic relationship between the forest and the deer.
Sustaining White-Tail Deer & Forest

For instance, the project manager for the Forest Resource and Technology project personally knew the teachers and schools with whom she was working. She knew their technological capabilities and limitations and made sure their concerns were addressed with training prior to the beginning of the projects. The Cooperative Weed team on the other hand had less direct knowledge of the capabilities of their stakeholders and relatively little experience in using the specific technologies. Therefore, they had little ability to even assess the limitations of the potential participants against some standard or experienced-based understanding of the technology – they had to learn “as they went.” By conducting several preliminary training sessions using their Web-based tools they found that some of the participants faced unexpected technological limitations. Identifying these limitations resulted in the development of an alternative training strategy for future participants facing similar conditions. In both of these cases the grantees aligned their purpose with a select set of needs that were not being met while paying attention to the technological capabilities of their audience.

Stakeholder Analysis
Stakeholders are individuals and groups who are affected by or have influence over your initiative. Every project needs a careful assessment of stakeholders in order to understand who cares about it, how they can affect it, and how they will be impacted by it. Stakeholder analyses are structured examinations of the relationships between a proposed project and key players in the environment.
Source: Making Smart IT Choices

  • Identify primary stakeholders and their needs.
  • Conduct a careful and detailed stakeholder analysis prior to and during the project development phase. Be sure to communicate often to key stakeholders to keep them engaged in the process.
  • Continue to review the project goals and to ensure they continue to fulfill the identified, but typically dynamic needs of the stakeholders.