Stakeholder Mapping

Stakeholder mapping allows you to take an empathetic view of where they come from and how to best engage them.

IMG 0069
Time Alone: 1.5-2 h Group: 2-4 hours
Difficulty Hard
Participants Self, team, stakeholders
Group size 1-6

A stakeholder map is a visual or physical representation of the various individuals and groups involved with a particular challenge or ‘system’.

Creating a draft for a stakeholder map can help you:

  • Identify the core actors you wish to collaborate with
  • Understand where the power and influence flows from and to
  • Reveal a previously neglected group of stakeholders and allow them to be reconsidered
  • Avoid duplicated effort

If you already have a sense of who some of the main stakeholders are you can involve them in the mapping process as a really tangible way to ensure participation and involvement right from the start.

This is a great exercise to do with a team, or a group that represent a number of different views across your organisation. Inviting others to participate helps to challenge assumptions and make the exercise true for different perspectives.

It might take time to bring people together and get them in the same room, so in the meantime you can do a rough draft on your own to see whether insights emerge about who you might need to involve. As there are many different ways to map stakeholders (detailed below), this might also be an opportunity to experiment with a couple of different types of map that might best suit the purpose of your stakeholder map. Your organisation and context will be unique, there is no one right way, some mapping techniques might feel more appropriate than others.

Finally, don’t be afraid to re-do with others, let go of your own assumptions to allow new perspectives and insights to emerge from the collective.



Invite people you would like to be involved in the stakeholder mapping process. What different perspectives, understandings, interests would it be helpful to reflect in the mapping process? Remember to include stakeholders too if you can – the earlier the better to ensure maximum engagement.

To get them on board and see why it’s important you can:

  • Bring to attention a particular challenge that stakeholder mapping might help to address
  • Recognise how it might help everyone be more aligned in their understanding of the organisation and its context
  • Explain how it will help to identify gaps, or relationships and dynamics that could be developed and nurtured with the right kind of engagement

Once everyone is together, the first step is to identify all of the stakeholders involved in the ‘system’ (a system is a group of interacting or interrelated entities that form a unified whole) in which your organisation operates. Brainstorm, writing each individual or group onto a separate post-it note. Please consider groups such as:

  • Clients/service users/beneficiaries? (e.g. direct service users, indirect service users, and advocates)
  • Employees, volunteers, board members
  • Funders
  • Government (e.g. public authorities, and local policymakers; regulators; and opinion leaders)
  • Civil society organisations (e.g. voluntary organisations, faith-based organisations, and labour unions)
  • Community (e.g. residents near company facilities, chambers of commerce, resident associations, schools, community organizations, and special interest groups)
  • Environment (e.g. nature, nonhuman species, future generations, scientists, ecologists, spiritual communities, advocates, and NGOs)

Other things to consider:

  • Be future focussed - Consider potential stakeholders who might be on your horizon.
  • Be as diverse as possible - in order to build the richest stakeholder map, cover as many perspectives as possible
  • Be aware - step back and add silent stakeholders to your map - they may have a hidden wealth of expertise

Once you are happy with your brainstorm of stakeholders, you can start to create your map.

Start by thinking about the purpose of your map to help determine what type of map might be most relevant:

  • What do you want to show? (E.g. The relationships between individuals and clusters flows of influence and value (information, capital etc.)
  • What do you want to discover? (E.g. who has influence? who is active? Where might barriers to change be?)

Together discuss each stakeholder and where to place them and why. Move the post its notes around on your wall or paper. Use a different colour post it to name the groups or cluster.

It can be fun and interesting to play with some of the different ways of mapping if you have time and resources. If you’ve tried one map, why not experiment with another? You might find you gain new insights from different maps. If these don’t feel right for you, see if you can create your own map.

Example - Cluster around shared interests, Traffic citation system

Stakeholder Map for the Traffic Citation system

(image source: Open Law Labs)

You can cluster stakeholders together by their shared interests. See this map of stakeholders for a traffic citation system. Note the level of detail e.g. the yellow ‘People’ cluster - it’s broken down into different roles, from drivers and bikers, through to family, friends and community, and the person who gets the citation, taking all angles and perspectives into account. By grouping them by colour it’s easy to see which groups and individuals are connected to others.

Example - Cluster according to who’s internal and external

Segemented Stakeholder Map

(image source: Professional Academy)

Clusters and groups might fall naturally in concentric circles with internal stakeholders and your organisation at the centre of the map.

This map will help you to think about the proximity of the stakeholders to the organisation and where you might want to draw boundaries when it comes to who you actively engage with, and who are part of a wider context of influence.


Now you have your map you can start to think about how the stakeholders relate to each other. By identifying flows of power, influence and value you can start to think about how you might start to address imbalances and prevent isolation and disconnection of stakeholders.

Some questions to ask the group / yourself:

  • What is the value exchanged within the system and stakeholders?
    (It is important to understand who gives value, who receives it, and crucially, who does not)
  • Who holds the power in the system? How might you show this on your map?
    (It is important to know who feels powerless, or overpowered, and where imbalances might need to be addressed)
  • How does influence flow through the system? - Can you show this on your map? Think about using arrows to show the direction of influence.
    (Seeing the flows of influence will help to understand why stakeholders and groups behave the way they do)
  • What are the drivers, barriers, resistance to change among the stakeholders? Can you map these on to the map too? (understanding where the barriers and resistance to change might be is the starting point to knowing how to move towards the change)

As a final part of the stakeholder mapping exercise take some time to reflect on the insights you’ve gained. Please consider:

  • What insights did this mapping exercise bring about who and how I might engage people around my challenge?
  • What surprised me/us?
  • How might we ensure we are taking into consideration multiple perspectives?
  • Who do we want to engage? How might we engage with them?
  • Are there any tensions between stakeholders or groups that need to be looked at or held as we move forward?
Facilitator notes

No model or map will be perfect and it will not remain static or relevant. A map can continue to evolve over time, as contexts change and as stakeholders themselves make decisions.

The process of stakeholder mapping is as important as the result. It’s an exercise that brings a team into alignment with a deeper understanding of the bigger picture, and an opportunity to share different perspectives and knowledge. Building a map together can bridge gaps in a team and help smaller voices be heard through the power of co-creation.


There are many resources on stakeholder mapping. One examples that we’ve taken inspiration from is a stakeholder mapping task from BSR™ (Business for Social Responsibility™) designed for sustainable business, but applicable to all sorts of projects. They have further reading around stakeholder engagement online here. Burge Hughes Walsh set out a set of instructions for mapping an influence diagram here.

This could also be useful – a massive repository all about participatory working – stakeholder mapping is just one element so maybe add in a general reference appendix - there is lots to learn from the international development field.


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