What kind of staff capacity will I need?Category: PlanningName: Jenny Oates, Project Manager
“PEOPLE will always be your most valuable asset for building relationships”
Until robots take over the world PEOPLE will always be your most valuable asset for building relationships (stakeholder engagement). Engagement at a regional scale brings specific challenges: the number of people involved, the diversity of views and agendas and a lot of external factors that could influence your outcomes. This means that in order to build trust, reduce risk and develop effective working relationships you will need staff with specialist skills.
The Celtic Seas Partnership employed six ‘stakeholder engagement officers’ (SEOs), one for each country. The project also employed a project manager, communications officer, project assistant and project officer. Even with this significant resource, engagement activities had to be prioritized and targeted.
Step by Step
- Start by identifying the main work areas for the project and how these would be best split into roles.
- Identify the key expertise and skills required for each role and carry out recruitment.
- Ensure that enough time is set aside at the start of the project for recruitment and induction before main activities begin.
- Make sure that staff members have relevant opportunities for training and development for their roles throughout the project.
- Towards the end of the project, discuss future opportunities for staff to remain within their organisations so that skills can be retained.
Match the number and type of staff to the project scale and ambition. Working at a regional scale on an EU funded project required significant staff capacity.
Hire people with the right skills for the job. An engagement officer should have experience designing processes across time and for specific events; the confidence to host and facilitate events; write coherent reports; build interest, and build momentum over the lifetime of a project. On a personal level is it important they like people (!) are approachable, good listeners, open to different perspectives and inspire people to want to work with together. An ideal engagement officer would also have an understanding of the work area and an established network of contacts.
“I think ideally when it comes to appointing SEOs, ideally if they can’t be from that area or that country, that they have a good sound knowledge of the networks that exist and I suppose who has the power and who can influence. I don’t just mean government decision makers, I mean they need to have a broad understanding of the policy network as well as what’s going on in the industry in that country or in that region. I suppose an ability to communicate science to different people, to tailor the message to the different audiences. To me, it’s very much a communications and networking role.”
Hiring staff is just the beginning. Building a successful team can be difficult and requires good leadership. There is plenty of information available on the internet with top tips about how to build a team.
“…we had pretty regular face-to-face meetings, and I think that was essential. The other thing that helped gel our team and was a real turning point was the first event. Being with everybody and working towards a collective goal to organize and deliver that event was a milestone.”
Make sure each of the roles is well defined and everyone is clear on their responsibilities. Having different SEOs take the lead on parts of the project enabled a distribution of leadership and took advantage of different skills to ensure good outputs.
Include staff time dedicated to reporting, evaluation and monitoring. If your funding comes from a large institution such as LIFE, HORIZON 2020 the World Bank it will come with extensive reporting, evaluation and monitoring requirements. Make sure you have adequate staff to meet these challenges. During the course of the project we decided to modify the role of the Project Officer to provide more support on these aspects.
Working at a regional scale can mean your team is located in different offices. Make it easy for people to communicate with each other by having a mix of formal scheduled meetings, video and telephone conferencing, face to face meetings, project planning tools and ‘chat’ facilities, as well as the usual telephone and email options.
We also developed a team ‘contract’ that laid out guidance on how we would like to work.
Team contract: what is most important for us to do/continue to do in order for our team to function well?
- Pick up the phone rather than sending emails as much as possible
- Have clear leads who are responsible for leading on different aspects of the project and organising meetings to progress them (involving others where needed)
- Make sure we meet deadlines ourselves to set an example for partners
- Be clear and specific on actions that we need from others
- Keep ourselves informed about decisions or actions that are needed
Action Learning Sets. One of the values of a multi-national and distributed team is its potential to enhance learning and approaches to engagement. One of the ways we helped share experience through the project was by holding regular ‘action learning sets’. They involve explicitly stopping to reflect back on actions taken, drawing out learning from that reflection, and applying that learning to planned practice. The action learning sets were tagged onto regular administrative meetings to make the most of face to face opportunities.
“It was really useful to see how differently stakeholder engagement officers approached finding the audience. It’s just interesting to see how each person used their individual skills to motivate stakeholders and gave me lots of good ideas.”
Expect and plan for staff changes by ensuring adequate handover. There was a fairly high degree of staff turnover within the project. Relationships between the engagement officers and their contacts had been carefully developed over time and were difficult to ‘hand-over’ to a new person. Allowing time for introductions, especially with key or challenging stakeholders is important. Comprehensive handover notes and the contacts database provided a mechanism for tracking previous communications with individual stakeholders.
It takes time at the beginning to find the right people and build your team. The hiring process can take months, from defining a role to someone being comfortable and effective in their job. It can also take years to build relationships between stakeholders that contribute to realizing your project goals. Stakeholder engagement is a long-term (but rewarding) commitment.
We decided to have stakeholder engagement officers (SEOs) in each country. This enabled SEOs to build good relationships with individuals in their area and gain detailed local insight on key issues and opportunities.
In addition, you need a project team that includes the relevant expertise to carry out and manage the activities in the project. For the Celtic Seas Partnership the Project Manager provided oversight of the whole project, managing the core team at WWF and the activities of the partners. We had a Policy Officer to ensure that the project activities were well connected to the current policy context. The project also had a dedicated Communications Officer which is important in a stakeholder engagement-based initiative. The administration side of EC projects is very heavy. The Project Officer provided a lead on monitoring and evaluation, as well as supporting with the EC reporting. The Administration and Finance Officers kept a tight check on the budget.
Each of the Partners had a Project Lead, who coordinated staff activities for their organization.
As with any project you need to think about salary, which includes, holidays, sickpay, health insurance, pension etc. The equipment each person will need, a computer, office space, a telephone. Stakeholder engagement also tends to involve a lot of travelling to meetings.
In terms of our staffing levels the Celtic Seas Partnership was a resource intensive project. Attempting stakeholder engagement on a regional scale means the project was relatively expensive. To reduce costs the stakeholder engagement officers were based in the countries they were working and we took full advantage of e-mail, telephone and video conferencing as low cost communication methods.