A stakeholder survey invites an organisation’s stakeholders to share their opinions on where they believe the organisation is doing well and where improvements are most needed
The process typically involves both quantitative (an online survey) and qualitative (depth interviews) research techniques. The effective use of stakeholder surveys will not just improve stakeholder engagement but will help drive better business performance. Jungle Green has been conducting stakeholder surveys for the rail industry since the beginning of the millennium. There has been a sharp rise in enquiries about this activity over the last twelve months, suggesting that understanding what stakeholders think and feel about a TOC is of increasing interest and relevance.
Jungle Green have recently carried out a qualitative research exercise with some of their longstanding clients and contacts to explore what they believe to be the most important aspects of conducting a stakeholder survey. Their contributions are summarised here as the five key things you need to know before embarking on a stakeholder survey.
Firstly, it must be a conscious undertaking. Ensure that you understand exactly why you are doing the survey and what you are going to do with the results. This does not mean that action based on the results will always be necessary but choosing not to act must still be a conscious decision. Rather than a passive reception of findings, ‘that’s what stakeholders currently think of us’, question the findings and ask ‘what does that mean for us and what do we need to do to fix that problem or build on that positivity?’
This point also has an impact on the time interval between surveys. There is a need to ensure that participants are not over-surveyed. Make sure that there is enough time to act on the findings before the next survey goes out. Stakeholders can otherwise become cynical about the true intention of the survey and will not wish to waste their time feeding back the same messages again and again. As one contributor to this article remarked: ‘Be ready to act on the findings, otherwise it risks being seen as lip service and eroding stakeholder trust.’
The second thing to be aware of is that you will hear hard and uncomfortable truths at times, these can be some of the most valuable insights. This is best illustrated through the words of our contributors: ‘Don’t be afraid of criticism, it is the way as operators we get the opportunity to learn and grow, this should not be a vanity exercise.’
‘It is a dose of reality. We should all be able to deal with that but sometimes it does mean some difficult conversations.’
‘Consider how you and your business will handle or cope with negative feedback and what you will do about it. Do you have the buy in and support of your senior team to take action, if needed.’
‘Stakeholders can be very blunt and honest via a trusted external research organisation. They know it is confidential and anonymous. Passing these truths on internally can also have more impact when they are contained in a commissioned research document.’
Cast your net widely
The third piece of advice repeated several times in the qualitative research exercise for this article, centred on casting your net widely and wisely when embarking on a stakeholder survey. Many different stakeholder categories are relevant from rail user groups and friends of stations, through to community rail partnerships, business and local development related groups, chambers of commerce, the tourism sector, the education sector, MPs, the media, rail industry bodies, local/transport/combined authorities/PTEs.
To seek the views of the complete spectrum of stakeholders that a TOC engages with will produce a full and varied picture. This will range from niggles at station level through to insights for planning engagement strategies and quite often adjustments to your wider business approach.
Comparing and contrasting is key
Stakeholders will answer between 15 and 20 questions on any one survey occasion. These will be a mix of rating scales and open-ended opinions on strengths, weaknesses and improvements. It is always a good idea to have a topical issues section that changes over time as issues arise e.g. the response to the pandemic. The subsequent analysis of responses, while useful by itself, is made all the more valuable when provided in the context of how the results compare and contrast with previous years, other TOCs and even other industries.
Careful planning is key to ensure that the responses and ratings you are gathering are consistent and measurable over time, and comparable with other organisations.
It bears fruit
Finally, rest assured, conducting a stakeholder survey bears fruit. Here we return to the words of our contributors, individuals who have been carrying out stakeholder surveys with Jungle Green for many years. ‘The data helps us understand how to grow and develop. Gathering this level of information via a research exercise helps foster a better understanding of the knowledge, attitudes, perceptions, interests and experiences of the people we serve.’
‘In particular this year, we have been able to validate the importance and high value of regular, meaningful communications with our stakeholders.’
‘Collaboration was the buzz word this year.’
‘Independent evaluations add enormous credibility and value. These surveys give us the opportunity to benchmark areas where improvements can be made and review and check areas where satisfaction is high to retain that value and sentiment.’
‘It consistently reinforces the value of personal, regular and consistent relationships with key stakeholders. It shows that where you listen to stakeholders and act on their feedback, they value that approach and will be greater advocates and supporters for your organisation.’
‘We’ve found surveys tend to reaffirm some things we were already aware of, but they shed valuable light on ‘what next’’. Summing up, a stakeholder survey generates useful pointers as to how you can improve not just stakeholder relations, but your wider business approach and, when things are going well, provides a helpful and reassuring endorsement. The time and effort required to prepare a high-quality stakeholder survey are very worthwhile. Don’t forget, don’t just do it, ACT ON IT. Jungle Green wishes you all long and happy relationships with your stakeholders and the best of luck with your stakeholder surveying.
With thanks to the following contributors
- Jonathan Denby, Head of Corporate Affairs, Greater Anglia.
- Carolyn Watson, Director of Stakeholder and Community Engagement, Northern Railway.
- Sian Sansum, PR and Public Affairs Manager, West Midlands Trains.
- Lauren Riley, Corporate Communications Manager, Merseyrail.
- Alice Owen, Regional Communications Manager, Stadler.
- Sarah Pinch, Managing Director, PinchPoint Communications.
Janice Guy is Marketing Research Consultant at Jungle Green
Tel: 0117 914 4921