Switching from stakeholder

The word stakeholder is becoming increasingly contested due to its colonial connotations. Has this hit your radar and are you trying out other words?

In November, Mark Reed posted a thought piece on the use of the word stakeholder concluding “ultimately that means re-thinking our use of the word “stakeholder”.”

The issue with the word stakeholder is that in a colonial context, a stakeholder was the person who drove a stake into the land to demarcate the land s/he was occupying/stealing from Indigenous territories. Continued use of the term can be construed as disrespectful of Indigenous people as well as perpetuating colonization and re-traumatization.

Mark’s post was followed up by a fairly lively LinkedIn discussion. The only conclusion was that everyone respected the discussion. Some options to replace stakeholder were rights holder, KMb constituents, actant and potential beneficiaries.

On November 25, Research Impact Canada (RIC) held a discussion on the use of the word stakeholder in a Dr RIC session – a monthly member driven call where RIC members craft the agenda. About 25 RIC member participants were present. In advance, I sent around Mark’s first post and the subsequent LinkedIn discussion to get everyone on the same page. Some interesting points arose in the discussion:

  • Stakeholder isn’t used by some who have a community-based research practice. It comes across as corporate.
  • It has a “man vibe”
  • I checked with co-chair of Indigenous Council at York University, and he was not aware of the issue. It doesn’t mean it isn’t, just that it is not a discussion that has permeated all Indigenous settings.

One take away is that this is an issue beyond Indigenous contexts so an important discussion whether or not you are approaching this as decolonization.

Some options to stakeholder were

  • Those in the circle
  • Those who do/should care
  • Partners – although that was acknowledged as having a legal definition

My trouble with anything other than stakeholder is that I use “stakeholder engagement” routinely. It is on all my slides. We have developed a tool for stakeholder engagement. And “those in the circle engagement” or “those who care engagement” are clunky alternatives to stakeholder engagement.

[Potentially] Interested Parties

This term came up in the Dr RIC discussion and I’m trying it out. In my knowledge mobilization practice I consider those who have already agreed to participate in a project are interested parties. Those who I have yet to engage but might be interested in a project are potentially interested parties. I presented in MobilizeYU on December 1 and while my slides on the co produced pathway to impact still had the words stakeholder engagement I explained the context of seeking an alternative and proceeded to use “engaging with [potentially] interested parties” throughout. After I checked in with Michael Johnny, KMb York Manager, who gave it two thumbs up.

I’m not changing my slides just yet. I want to see if [potentially] interested parties gets under my tongue and into my lexicon. If/when it does then I will change my slides.

Until then, if I stumble, please be patient.