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Who are the key stakeholders?

Who are the key stakeholders?

In the last step, we suggested that one way of identifying your research problem was to consider the level at which the problem resonated – is this a more localised or a more strategic issue?

An extension of this is to consider who is involved in the problem and who would be affected by addressing it – in other words, who are the stakeholders?

In this step, we will look in more detail at how stakeholder analysis can both help identify problems and determine how you might establish a clear focus for your research.

Stakeholder analysis draws (unsurprisingly) on stakeholder theory. In brief, this theory sought to act as a counterpoint to shareholder theories of the firm which placed the needs and interests of shareholders above all others – in effect, saying that producing profits to give shareholders a return on their investment was the main purpose of any business. Although this is important, it clearly gives only a partial view of any company and certainly doesn’t account for the many organisations that don’t have shareholders or don’t seek to make a profit. Stakeholder theory suggests that businesses must consider all groups and individuals who have an interest (or a stake) in what they do. Doing so gives managers a better understanding of how they can create value and an acceptance that they play a wider role in society than just serving those with a financial investment.

Stakeholder theory is, in some respects, a simple idea and it can be applied at different levels – meaning that it can be used to explain not just how a company as a whole operates but how constituent parts of that organisation function, which is where it is helpful for your research.

For example, let’s say that you are an HR manager and you know that there is a problem with the recruitment and selection process, where, despite attempts to increase the representation of BAME staff in the manufacturing department, they are still underrepresented in relation to the local community. To define how you might approach this subject, you can conduct a stakeholder analysis to think through who might be involved. In this case, you might say line managers in the manufacturing department, HR business partners, current employees, local community groups and employment agencies, regulators, senior managers and customers may all have a legitimate voice in analysing this problem.

Stakeholder influence

Now, not all of these stakeholders will have the same degree of insight and nor will they be impacted in the same way but from a research perspective you have already opened up the potential breadth of your research. This means you need to think about how you can differentiate between your stakeholders and the role that they might play in your research. For example, some stakeholders will be gatekeepers – meaning that they will allow you access to other groups or relevant data. For example, the HR business partner might be able to support your research and contact line managers. You might also identify a director who chairs an equality and diversity committee, who, as a stakeholder, could be a sponsor of your research. This means that they would give you some authority to complete the research and would also help disseminate the findings. Other stakeholders might be beneficiaries. For example, could an increase in diversity have a positive impact on existing BAME employees?

Analysing the role of stakeholders in this way is not just about selling the idea of your research to different groups. Stakeholders regardless of their role can help you to better define the problem and help you think about different angles you could take. If we continue with our example of the HR manager trying to address diversity issues, line mangers might feel that the focus should be on the processes around recruitment, whereas existing employees might feel that there are issues around attitudes of line managers. As we will consider in a future activity, this is critical to helping you develop your research questions, but in terms of establishing your research focus, a stakeholder analysis ensures that you avoid approaching your research based on just your own views and experiences.

One final point to make here is that knowing your stakeholders can also help with managing the impact of the research, including what it means to you and your career in your organisation (or beyond). This can be your opportunity to build links to key influencers in your organisation and to raise your personal profile if you have stakeholders amongst senior management. Of course, your research should be about contributing to wider organisational goals, but there is no reason why your research cannot also have a personal benefit. Remember, you are also a stakeholder in your research, so don’t neglect your own needs and interests.

Your task

Choose two of the problems you identified in the previous task and conduct a stakeholder analysis for each of them by answering the following questions:
  • Who cares about this problem or who should care?
  • How does the problem impact upon them at the moment?
  • How would they benefit from changes to the problem?
  • How could they participate in your research (gatekeeper, sponsor, beneficiary)?
  • Can you list your stakeholders in order of priority?
Share your analysis in the comments section.


Parmar, B. L., Freeman, R. E., Harrison, J. S., Wicks, A. C., Purnell, L., & de Colle, S. (2017). Stakeholder theory: The state of art. Academy of Management Annals, 4(1).

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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Academic Research Methodology for Master’s Students

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