360-degree stakeholder management

There is no doubt that it is becoming increasingly important for drinking water utilities, during their asset management decision-making, to recognise and take into account the interests and expectations of stakeholders. What is less clear, however, is which stakeholders should be included, why and to what purpose. This project will develop specific criteria so that the stakeholder involvement in this context is the product of a deliberate, well-considered process.

View of stakeholders

Because of a more and more complex ecological and societal context, the energy transition and physical constraints, both above- and underground, drinking water utilities must take an increasing number of stakeholders into consideration. An understanding is required about who the relevant stakeholders are, and their ideas, desires and interests need to be taken into account. This situation also calls for transparency towards the stakeholders when it comes to the water utilities’ performance.

With regard to asset management, the importance of this issue is reflected for instance in the NEN ISO-55000 (2014). This standard indicates that organisations (water utilities) need to determine:

  •  (i) which stakeholders are relevant for the asset management system;
  • (ii) what are the requirements and expectations of these stakeholders regarding asset management;
  • (iii) what are the criteria for asset management decisions; and
  • (iv) what are the stakeholder requirements concerning the recording of financial and non-financial information that is important for asset management, and concerning the reporting of this information, both internally and externally.

A stakeholder is defined in the NEN-ISO-55000 (2014) as a person or organisation that can affect, be affected by, or perceive themselves to be affected by a decision or activity.

Thanks to a lengthy tradition in maintaining contact with stakeholders, the drinking water utilities have a great deal of practical knowledge about how they, for instance in environmental management, should relate to a wide range of government and other organisations and stakeholders. But they don’t as yet have any specific criteria for stakeholder involvement. This is something for which there is a growing need, now that it is becoming increasingly pertinent for drinking water utilities, as asset management organisations, to carefully define and take account of the interests and expectations of stakeholders in decision-making processes.

Specific criteria for stakeholder involvement

The 360-degree stakeholder management project’s objective is to provide building blocks for the desired criteria, according to which stakeholder involvement in decision-making processes can be realised. This will be done on the basis of a literature study and the analysis of concrete cases, which will generate systematic knowledge about three core questions concerning stakeholder participation: what for, who and when? The ‘what for’ question is directed at the goal, that is, why it is makes sense to involve stakeholders, and what kind of stakeholder involvement is most suitable. The ‘who’ question is directed at which stakeholder should and which should not be involved. And, lastly, the ‘when’ question defines the most effective timing for the involvement.

Based on the analysis of three concrete cases, the research will zoom in on the questions ‘what for’, ‘who’ and ‘when’ stakeholders were involved, or whether this (ideally) could have been the case. Besides a reconstruction of the stakeholder involvement, the research will go a step further, namely: in drawing lessons from the cases, so that systematic insights can be formulated to assist in further fleshing out stakeholder involvement. To this end, for each case study, interviews will be conducted with those involved at the (drinking) water utilities, and with stakeholders, whether or not they are involved in the cases.

Concrete results

The project will produce the following concrete results:

  1. Systematic insight into structural criteria for stakeholder involvement in asset management decision-making processes (what for, who, when).
  2. Knowledge about the (fulfilled and unfulfilled) expectations, interests and (potential and realised) chances for stakeholder involvement by (drinking) water professionals and stakeholders themselves, through the analysis of three cases.
  3. Synthesis of the results in a presentation, report and peer-reviewed paper.

Water tower.