When you release a snippet/trailer/extract/teaser/scene from a book/movie/musical/play in which you have a disabled character, and you receive a flood of criticism from disabled people because you didn’t engage with them up front about representation which could affect lives, it makes no sense to say “Don’t criticise until you have paid for the book/ticket etc. and read/seen for yourself”, unless you are prepared to pull the book from the shelves, take the movie off the circuit, or write a new book or make another movie that has a bigger reach than the first, to counter the misinformation which you put out into the world.

Nothing about us without us

Disabled people are entirely entitled to criticise your poor stakeholder engagement while you are doing poor stakeholder engagement. They don’t have to wait for you to publish or launch the product of poor stakeholder engagement before they criticise poor stakeholder engagement.

Yep, Judith and Magdel, this is about you. You are not being written off as an entire human just because you are being vehemently criticised for something which you can change; so don’t be so defensive. Learn. You can even use your new insight as PR for your new book/movie/musical/play. We can help you.

Or maybe the real problem is that your ableist pride can’t handle the idea of being helped by disabled people, because the power hierarchy in your head tells you that you must be the helper? So you’ll attack whoever criticises you, even those you want to ‘help’?

You can keep comforting yourself in the knowledge that thousands of ableists continue to think highly of you; because it was their opinion that always mattered to you most, after all.

Or you can be brave and learn how to let go. Perhaps this short movie will give you that courage?

Stakeholder management

The basic principles of stakeholder management are true for all projects. Here are some of them, interspersed with explanations of the concepts:

There are some stakeholders that simply must be engaged up front.

Ignored stakeholder needs translate into project risk.

Stakeholders are not the same as shareholders. Stakeholders aren’t just “the client”. Stakeholders aren’t only the people paying for the project. Stakeholders are parties affected by the project and parties that can have an effect on the project. (Sometimes those overlap.) Stakeholders aren’t just external parties. Stakeholders include people working on the project.

Powerless stakeholders (parties that are influenced by the project but don’t have much influence on the project) gain influence inter alia by forming coalitions or by pulling in powerful external authorities and other pressure groups. Don’t stomp on the little guys!

When assessing stakeholder-related risk, pay particular attention to:

  1. Marginalised, powerless parties. If they’re your beneficiaries, don’t assume that they will like what you are doing if you don’t if you don’t respectfully consult them.
  2. Powerful fence-sitters. They could fall off the fence on either side. Get them on the side where you want them.
  3. People connected to the people on the project, who have a strong influence on them (e.g. your project manager’s husband and children).

Stakeholders shift position. Watch this and work with it. It could affect your project’s outcome, for better or for worse.

Not every stakeholder group needs to be represented in the steering group. Steering committee politics can be very counterproductive! (Special tip for corporates: Steering committees tend to be less effective than other types of steering groups. If you must have a steering group, don’t make it a duplication of your operational manco or exco. Projects are not operations.)

Don’t be angry with angry stakeholders just because you failed to assess their needs. Do your users/beneficiaries want respect or do they want charity? How do you know? What are you going to do about it? Why?