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Theories in technology evaluation
Theories in technology evaluation

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2.2 The purpose of stakeholder involvement

The approaches outlined above are helpful in that they suggest a model or approach that defines stakeholders by associating them with the benefits, impact or outcome (whether positive or negative) of investments in technology. However, in certain contexts defining who stakeholders are, and whether and on what basis they should be involved in an evaluation, is never going to be an easy task, as the example in Box 3 demonstrates.

Box 3 Defining risk and stakeholders

In late November 2007 the UK Government announced that two CDs containing personal details of 25 million people had been lost in transit between Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the National Audit Office (NAO). From a technology evaluation (and policy evaluation) perspective, as well as in terms of risk assessment, an interesting question is whether these 25 million people had been regarded as stakeholders when (or if) the development and operation of the system, including the security and operating procedures, was evaluated.

Ward and Daniel qualify their suggestion that an expansive approach to stakeholders may be justified by making absolutely clear what the purpose is of identifying and involving stakeholders:

it is best to ‘cast the net’ widely at the start of any project to ensure no one who can affect the success of the project is ignored ... Stakeholders are first considered in terms of how important their involvement and commitment of resources is to achieving success with the project and then an assessment is made of their current attitude to the particular project.

(Ward and Daniel, 2006, p. 217; emphasis added)

I would suggest that the crucial point to take from this quotation – because it represents what I consider to be the most pragmatic and workable approach for technology evaluation (and is applicable whatever its focus) – is its clarity about the purpose of stakeholder involvement. It is then possible to combine this with Svendsen’s definition of stakeholders (cited in Remenyi et al., 2000) as the individuals or groups who can affect or be affected by an activity or entity to arrive at a two-stage approach. Use of this definition provides the basis for a survey of the potential scale and scope of stakeholder involvement. Defining the purpose of stakeholder participation allows the actual scale and scope of participation to be agreed. An evaluation can then be designed and resourced accordingly. Or, alternatively, a mismatch between the desired scale and scope of stakeholder involvement and resources can be identified and action taken to address this in some way.

I accept that there will be occasions in the ‘real’ world where defining the purpose of stakeholder(s) participation in evaluation is not a subject that either evaluators, or other stakeholders, will want surfacing. There may be legitimate or illegitimate reasons for this – and some of these are discussed in the later sections of this unit. Indeed, even where these are legitimate, as in the example given in Box 4, the purpose of stakeholder participation may be multi-layered and therefore difficult and challenging to apply. Nevertheless, my own experience is that even where a conclusion remains incomplete the process can prove extremely valuable to the design, transparency and credibility of an evaluation.

Box 4 Evaluation and empowerment

In 1989–90 I was involved in organising the participation of stakeholder groups in the evaluation of a new tram system for a major city in the north-west of England. The project was ground-breaking because, unlike many continental European cities, trams had disappeared from British cities in the 1950s. (There is one exception: the British seaside town of Blackpool has operated trams since 1885.) A variety of potential users of the trams, or representative of these groups, such as pensioners, the disabled and parents with young children, were involved in evaluating a variety of tram designs, and the operation of tram systems in several European cities. This was, however, not solely about evaluating the technology. The city had an established tradition of community/stakeholder involvement in policy development as a means to strengthen local democracy. Consequently, participation in the evaluation of trams also served to reinforce that practice and thus serve as a form of empowerment.

Activity 8 Defining stakeholders

Using an example of your choice or any of those used in this unit, identify up to ten stakeholders in a technology assessment or evaluation. Explain why you define them as stakeholders and their relevance to the evaluation (e.g. are/were they potentially or definitely affected by the outcome of a technological development).