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Contacts database

How do I keep track of who I have spoken to?

Category: PlanningName: Hilary
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“A good stakeholder management system will significantly improve the quality of your engagement”

Why?

If you are working on your own it is perfectly possible to keep track of who you have spoken to by keeping good notes on conversations and having a well-organised email filing system or spreadsheet.  As soon as engagement includes a project team, it is vital to keep records of conversations to avoid duplicating effort and confusing those you are trying to engage with. A good stakeholder management system will significantly improve the quality of your engagement by helping you send accurate, relevant and timely information – in line with what your contact is interested in.

The Celtic Seas Project worked in six countries, across multiple sectors, with a project team of about 10 people.  We used two techniques: we assigned a ‘stakeholder engagement officer’ to lead for each country and we used a specialist contacts database (Highrise) to keep track of who we had interacted with.

Step by Step

  1. Use your engagement strategy to work out the number of people you think you will be talking to regularly: up to a hundred?  up to a thousand?  several thousand?  This will help you decide what approach to take.
  2.  Assign members of your team to ‘lead’ on engagement with specific groups.  We divided our stakeholders by country, but it could be done by profession i.e. fishermen, renewable industry, government, by language or by area i.e. for a particular marine protected area.
  3.  Work out who is going to lead on contact for people and organisations that don’t fit into your groups i.e. international charities, UK-wide business associations, people who work in multiple industries.
  4.  Do some research into content management systems for contact databases.  There is lots of very clever software out there that can make organizing your data easy.  By data I mean: names, address, organization, twitter handles, email address, invitations you’ve send, content of important emails etc.  (see the top tips below for what to look for).
  5.  Undergo training on the relevant data protection and confidentiality issues.  This is a legal requirement in virtually every country.  If we wanted to add someone’s contact details to our database we needed their permission, not just to have them on the database, but specific permission to send them eNewsletters for instance.
  6.  Decide how to categorise or tag entries so you can find information quickly i.e. JOHN SMITH #fisheries #CEFAS #governmnet #attendedworkshop #SarahLeading
  7.  Enter the names and address of your contacts into the database
  8.  Provide training on how to use the system to everyone on the team and monitor its use closely over the first few months to make sure everyone is using it in the same way.  Once you start getting hundreds of contacts it becomes very difficult to correct mistakes later.
  9.  Regular review and monitor by asking the team to highlight any problems or opportunities for improvement.

Top Tips

Here is a list of requirements to consider when choosing contact database management software:

  • Price
  • Number of people who can use the system
  • Ways for making conversations or contacts private – ability to create access permissions
  • Capacity – how many contacts can you have
  • Does it work for people AND organisations
  • Be able to work with multiple types of addresses / contact information (i.e. international addresses)
  • Ability to categorise, tag and organize contacts
  • Easy to import contacts from a different database or Excel spreadsheet
  • Ability to connect directly to our email system
  • Powerful search functions
  • Ability to add comments or additional fields
  • Ability to send messages out to multiple contacts at the same time
  • Works in multiple languages
  • User friendly
  • Good user support from the software company
  • Other user reviews
  • Analytics i.e. the software helps you develop reports and count numbers.

Be vigilant of data protection aspects of having a contacts database.  As mentioned above, there is often a legal requirement to seek documented permission to add people.  People will need to know what the project is about, how you will store and use their details and how they can ‘unsubscribe’.

It can be quite a time consuming task keeping on top of all the people you meet and the conversations you have.  Allocate time every week or ever month to keep the database up to date.

Categorising people into groups can be difficult.  We created ‘tags’ for the different sectors we were interested in (tourism, recreation, ports, military etc.), the different countries and whether the person had been involved in our engagement activities e.g. ‘fishing task group member’ or ‘attended final workshop’.  See the categories we created in the links section below.  What we didn’t do, and would have been useful, is to tag people into ‘interest areas’. So for example if you click on the ‘fisheries’ tag you don’t just get fishermen, you get everyone interested in fishing including the government fisheries officers, bait shops, researchers working on fishing, citizen scientists collecting fishing data etc.

We had two ‘stakeholder engagement officers’ working in England based in different parts of the country so it was really useful for us to be able to see who had spoken to who.  It was even more useful when it came to reporting against our engagement targets.  The software quickly told us how many people, from what industries.

Don’t be afraid to make changes if things aren’t working.  Building relationships can be a very personal experience.  If one of your team is struggling to make progress with a particular group of people, then try a different approach which might mean a different lead person.

Your contacts database is a very valuable resource.  Keep it in a secure, password protected location and regularly back it up.

Resources

Time

Coordinating your engagement efforts takes time in the beginning with planning, training and setting up the systems.  If you can make using your contacts database a part of daily activity then monitoring and recording engagement becomes streamlined and easy.

At our team meetings we would have an agenda item to discuss and address any issues.

People

Contributing to the contacts database is an activity for everybody in the team.  It is a good idea to have one person in charge of the database over all to make sure it is regularly backed-up, that people are using the tags consistently, to remove unsubscribers and correct things like spelling mistakes or companies that change.

Cost

A spreadsheet like Excel can be used for very simple databases.  For better coordination use a professional database designed for the task.  We used Highrise (which is a bit out of date now) which cost USD $50/month.