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Theories in technology evaluation
Theories in technology evaluation

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2.1 Defining stakeholders

Interests and involvement

How stakeholders are defined is clearly significant for the scale and scope of participation in evaluation, with a consequent impact on resources, timescales and so on. Consequently, decisions about this dimension of an evaluation clearly need to be treated seriously and taken in a timely fashion to enable the implications of whatever approach is chosen to be factored into the design and resourcing of an evaluation.

Approaching the stakeholder issue from a traditional programme perspective Clarke (1999), Bamberger et al. (2006) and others take the view that stakeholders can be any or all of the individuals, groups, or organisations that have an interest in the outcome of a project or programme. ‘This may include funding agencies, policy makers, planners, advocacy groups, the communities, or groups that the program (sic) is intended to benefit and other groups that might be affected negatively or positively’ (Bamberger et al., 2006, p. 439).

This contrasts with the approach used by Barrow (2000) and others for social impact assessment where stakeholders are defined as those individuals and groups who are involved in the different stages (i.e. development, application or implementation and outcome) of a project or programme. Some stakeholders may be involved throughout, others only at particular times.

Clearly it ought to be more straightforward to identify groups and individuals who are actually involved in a project or programme than it is to identify individuals and groups who have an interest. Amongst the reasons I’d highlight would be:

  • How do we define interests? What criteria should be used and why?
  • Who should define interests? This may well have a significant bearing on how they should be defined, and therefore on the whole stakeholder scenario.
  • Interests can be static or dynamic, and identifying and acting on this may not be straightforward. That is, some potential stakeholders may have interests in the findings of an evaluation but not in the design and conduct of it, while the reverse applies to other stakeholders. Some may have interests in the whole process.
  • What impact, if any, do the different forms of evaluation and assessment have on interests? If we are undertaking a formative evaluation rather then a summative evaluation, what does this do to interests?
  • Can all interests be known or predicted before (or during) an evaluation and therefore factored into the exercise?

Clearly any technique or approach that can help address these issues is going to be valuable. Here I focus on one example that also feeds into a more general and, I would suggest, extremely helpful approach.

Benefits and costs: an instrumental view

If you are coming to the study of technology evaluation with knowledge or experience of benefits analysis or project management you may well be familiar with an approach to stakeholder definition that is designed to control the potential scale and scope of the exercise. It is based on employing a very instrumental view of what a stakeholder is and when and how they should be involved, based on an analysis of benefits and costs. I cited Remenyi et al.’s acceptance of stakeholder participation in IT/IS project evaluation above, and they employ a variant of this approach when they define ‘primary’ stakeholders as:

the individual or group of people who have the most to gain or the most to lose if the investment is or is not a success ... Most often the principal or primary stakeholders are in fact the user-owner ...

(Remenyi et al., 2000, p. 16)

Two further groups are also categorised as primary stakeholders. ‘IT professionals’, such as internal staff, contractors, and consultants, are one group. Other ‘financial managers and administrators’ are the other, because of the instrumental role they play in the investment process.

Ward and Daniel employ a similar approach – although one that seems to take a more expansive view – in their discussion of stakeholder analysis techniques for IT/IS projects or programmes, concluding that stakeholders:

include the beneficiaries of the investment, those who have to make changes to bring about the benefits and, in some cases, other groups who are indirectly affected by the project, for example groups who may notice a reduced level of service or cooperation during the change period.

(Ward and Daniel, 2006, p. 212)