An interview with Lea Große Vorholt, Project Manager of StakeholderDialogues.net, on how the first online learning platform on Stakeholder Dialogues developed.
DEAR LEA, YOU WERE PART OF THE TEAM THAT “GAVE BIRTH” TO STAKEHOLDERDIALOGUES.NET – HOW DID IT ALL START?
LEA: The rough idea for a practitioner network around the topic of Stakeholder Dialogues grew a long time ago. The Collective Leadership Institute´s vision is to empower as many people as possible to use Stakeholder Dialogues as a means to bring about positive change and to contribute to a sustainable world. This is why we envisioned an online platform that would make our specific knowledge and methodology accessible to everyone. So we knocked on many doors trying to raise funds for the development of this platform, and, finally, received a seed funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2012. The development phase was a very exciting time. None of us had ever done something like this before. But in April 2013, less than a year after initiating the development, we launched the website officially. I am proud that StakeholderDialogues.net turned out to be a fantastic website.
WHAT WAS NEW ABOUT THIS IDEA?
LEA: It was definitely the radical decision to make our methodology – for us, as a training institution, our key asset – accessible to everyone. On top of that we tried to design StakeholderDialogues.net in a way to make it as practical as possible. Besides the theory, with online tools, the user can apply the methodology to his/her own case in an iterative and continuous learning process. An experience that is otherwise only possible if you attend one of our training courses.
On the other hand, the new focus on building a community of actors in multi-stakeholder environments is a new step towards bringing people together and learning from each other. Through StakeholderDialogues.net we can reach out to practitioners all around the globe and exchange thoughts and ideas with them. We are thus building a global network of change makers. Our partners, like Future 500 or CSR Resources help us with that.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL ADVICE FOR TRIGGERING INNOVATION PROCESSES?
LEA: For me, innovation starts with problem solving. It is important that a project or product is not designed as an end in itself, but it has to have an added value for the people who use it. One of the reasons for starting to think about a practitioner network in the first place was, for instance, that we received many inquiries from people involved in multi-stakeholder processes, who could not afford our training courses, but were highly interested in learning about how to better design their stakeholder processes.
Another way to get to the root of problems or finding innovative solutions is to step out of your comfort zone. Simple tools like “the five whys”, building personas or talking to your biggest critics help you to involve new perspectives on the project by walking in other people's shoes.
INNOVATION PROCESSES DO NOT ALWAYS RUN SMOOTHLY. WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES YOU ENCOUNTERED AND HOW DID YOU MASTER THEM?
LEA: One of the biggest challenges that we faced was to guarantee the usability of StakeholderDialogues.net. Since we had never done something similar before, we underestimated the multiple ways in which a website interface can be used and used by different people. We ended up testing the beta version of StakeholderDialogues.net with the Collective Leadership Institute’s team and our alumni, and had to adjust some pages and rearrange some features. My learning from this: Had we tested the usability at an earlier stage, it would have saved us quite some time and effort.
The project StakeholderDialogues.net was started over one and a half years ago – and what really impresses me, is how well the concept was designed. We took lots of detours, knocked-over decisions, changed strategies. But reviewing our objectives and plans from the very beginning, one realizes that now we are very close to where we had planned to be – and we learned a whole lot about website design, our target group, and ourselves along the way.
INNOVATION IS CONSTANTLY HAPPENNING: HOW IS STAKEHOLDERDIALOGUES.NET GOING TO EVOLVE IN THE FUTURE?
LEA: This year StakeholderDialogues.net is going to focus on the exchange and interaction of users as well as building the community. In 2014 the Collective Leadership Institute will also introduce an Accreditation Scheme which will be a blended learning experience with several elements being realized online (i.e. on StakeholderDialogues.net).
We are very excited about these prospects and in the spirit of co-creation happily invite our users, alumni, and partners to share their ideas and thoughts on how to design the future of StakeholderDialogues.net with us.
RECENTLY YOU INTRODUCED A NEW FEATURE ON STAKEHOLDERDIALOGUES.NET: FAQS ON STAKEHOLDER DIALOGUES. TELL US MORE!
LEA: StakeholderDialogues.net now features a series of FAQs covering the most common knowledge gaps about stakeholder engagement. We receive similar questions in our offline courses, so we thought we would provide our users with very concrete tips that will answer both the most basic question and help them to tackle even complex project issues. Users also have the opportunity to post their specific questions and receive an answer from the experts! We look forward to every contribution and will gladly welcome you to our community of practitioners.
AND FINALLY, WHICH STAKEHOLDERDIALOGUES.NET TOOLS DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST VALUABLE WHEN IT COMES TO IMPLEMENTING CHANGE PROCESSES?
LEA: Definitely the tools for the 4 phases of the Dialogic Change Model. Once you have familiarized yourself with the Dialogic Change Model you can then apply the methodology to your own context by assessing the progress and identifying important areas of development within your change process. Guiding questions will help you to decide on the most crucial next steps to focus on. These tools are even more valuable when carried out with your project team to facilitate a joint reflection on the progress of your project.