Saturday, October 17, 2015

On the concept of staleholders

The other day I had a pretty urgent task to complete: Two of our EU projects needed feedback from potential end users of their approaches and outcomes in order to help us understand if we have produced something meaningful and useful to them; one of them is looking at the existing gaps between education and actual professional needs while the other is focusing on the competences required in the same context (both of them activated in the agriculture and green contexts in general). In this context, both projects had online surveys prepared and ready to be completed by potential recipients of an email invitation.

Such projects usually aim to provide solutions to real problems of a predefined target group. In this context, they usually get the initial information and current status from desktop research, they validate these issues through initial workshops that aim at the elicitation of actual user requirements, they start building solutions based on them, they validate these solutions through trials and then, as soon as the solution seems mature enough, this goes public in the form of a public consultation.

What I had to do was to compile two lists of recipients of the corresponding email invitations (one for each case) and prepare a short invitation text for the email, customized for each case. Since I am a big enemy of spam (I receive an awful lot of them on a daily basis), the recipients of my lists were carefully selected, so that only people that might be interested in each survey were included. The invitations were sent to about 15 and 35 recipients respectively (some of them were common). I did not require a response in my email and I have not checked the responses yet. In addition, none of my emails bounced back, so they were all sent to valid email addresses. In the first couple of days, I only received one (kind) response to my email, mentioning that they will complete the survey and that they would also forward the invitation to potential stakeholders.

Have you ever contacted friends, colleagues and other contacts asking for their feedback on something that may be of interest to them but never hearing of them?

My experience from similar efforts in the past shows that the response rate is really-really low; we only get a low number of responses to similar questionnaires from people that ideally should be interested in the specific topic. Why this happens, I don't know: it might be due to lack of time for completing the survey, lack of interest in the specific topic, ignorance in general - maybe it is the way the are presented to them (dull/boring) or the fact that they already receive a lot of similar requests so they have stopped responding to them.

This is when a typo I made in a report I was preparing gave me the idea of the concept; were are referring to staleholders, meaning potential stakeholders that have stop being interested or responsive about a topic that should be of interest to them. I guess that such people should have been interested at first, but for any reason (like the aforementioned ones) they are not interested in it anymore. Stale may refer to both the status of the user as well as to the information that he/she receives. Sounds funny but true at the same time!

The point is that since such projects are working on providing solutions for these users, and they spend time and effort for this purpose, then we need to find ways to actually raise their interest and engage them. Of course this is not possible to take place at 100% but the response rate needs to be improved and since face to face meetings have obvious restrictions (number of seats, time and place limitations), an alternative approach should be identified.

According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, stale is defined as "not interesting or new; boring or unoriginal"

If you have any ideas about that, please let me know (through a comment) and I will be eternally grateful to you!