Welcoming Stakeholders as a Source of Innovation

by Eduardo Sasso, Engagement Process Optimizer at Ethelo Decisions

I used to rave about a board game called “Snakes and Ladders” when I was a kid. It made me sad to land on a snake (and thus move back), but I got a kick every time I landed on a ladder (and thus jumped forward).

Organizations are often similar: they can move step by step (and often slide back by failing to catch up with disruptive innovations); or they can advance towards new heights with surprising velocity if they embrace them. Collaborating with stakeholders intelligently can help climb up innovation “ladders”, while minimizing the frequency and impact of costly mistakes.


Involving consumers. Brazilian manufacturer of beauty products, Natura, is aware of this trend. Through a two-way exchange on their online platform, they share data and receive input about their products. As they engage consumers by providing them with transparent information, the company breeds confidence and simultaneously turns them into brand ambassadors. A smart trade-off and an important step, no doubt.

Founder of think-tank CSR International, Wayne Visser, believes crowdsourcing needs to be rescued from becoming a stale marketing add-on, and instead be embedded into a company’s DNA. This allows stakeholders to become architects and co-builders of solutions. Shandwick/KRC Research, for instance, found that already in 2010 more than 43% of sustainability managers have used crowdsourcing to tackle sustainability challenges through open-sourced innovation.

Beyond involvement. It’s amply recognized, however, that engaging stakeholders to scale-up sustainability efforts requires going beyond information-sharing and idea harvesting. On that note, AccounAbility’s Stakeholder Engagement Standard identifies five rungs in the engagement ladder:

  • consult
  • negotiate
  • involve
  • collaborate
  • empower

Surely, the level of engagement depends on how critical each type of stakeholder is for a particular organization. That said, GE’s Jack Welch’s enthusiasm for participatory approaches to management might be worth remembering. In The Wisdom of Crowds James Surowiecki highlighted Welch’s  “boundaryless” collectivity as being key to performance, because participation breeds ownership and ownership breeds better results.

Great examples of empowering engagement are advanced by organizations with a responsible mission built into their core identity; such as BlaBlaCar which connects drivers with empty seats with people looking for a ride, or Leadnow, a people-centered movement in Canada co-creating progressive forms of democracy by engaging thousands of citizens using problem-solving platforms.

This may sound cheeky, sneaky, (or snaky), but to be ahead of the game this last rung in ladder is the next great big thing in stakeholder engagement.

Who’s up for playing?