Good practice example

Getting feedback from stakeholders by thematic interviews and questionnaires (Finland)

WHERE | WHY | HOW

WHERE

The Finnish EQUAL Development Partnership Response (2004–2007) was managed by the Finnish Red Cross. The goal of the project was to support social enterprises and organisations operating in a similar manner in their efforts of better reaching their set business and social objectives, and to enhance the employability of those in the weakest labour market situation. The main priorities of the project were 1) to develop a performance improvement model for social enterprises and other organisations operating in a similar manner based on organisational self-assessments applying the EFQM Excellence Model, 2) to develop a tool for demonstration of social results using the method of social accounting, 3) to promote diversity in the workplace, creation of paths to the open labour market and volunteering, and to 4) enhance recycling and to come up with new ideas for using recycled materials, especially textiles.

The quality of a partnership can be analysed by questionnaires or interviews

The nationwide project partners were the Finnish Red Cross (FRC, co–ordinator), Excellence Finland, Ruralia Institute of University of Helsinki, and the S Group. The partners developing their operations were all units with a social mission and operating in a similar manner as social enterprises: the Kontti Recycling Department Store Chain (FRC), Logistics and Sorting Centre (FRC), Meriko project/Meriko factory of the Merikoski Vocational Training Centre, Omaoksa laundry co-operative, Social Janitor project (FRC), House of Skills (FRC), and Uusix Workshops of the City of Helsinki Social Services Department. These units offer their staff a possibility to increase their capabilities in order to help become employed or to continue to some other meaningful goal after supported employment.

WHY

The partner organisations of the Response project did not have adequate methods to demonstrate the social responsibility of their operations, neither did they have suitable methods to develop their stakeholder relationships. The organisations were keen on finding concrete ways to analyse their non-economic impacts on community and how their external stakeholders viewed their operations. In addition, practical methods were needed to show the value of the work these units are doing – not only to the external stakeholders but also to their mother organisations. In response to these needs, suitable methods were started to be developed in co-operation with the Ruralia Institute of the University of Helsinki (stakeholder interview in year 2005) and Develooppi Ltd (social accounting in 2006 and 2007).

HOW

Stakeholder interview and survey as methods of stakeholder analysis

In the Finnish EQUAL Development Partnership Response (2004 –2007), the participating organisations analysed in 2005 and 2006 their most important external stakeholders’ views on co-operation. In 2005, stakeholder analysis was carried out by 12 partners by means of a thematic interview and in 2006, eight partners carried out a survey using a questionnaire and one partner conducted a thematic interview. In both years, there were approximately 45 respondents from different parts of Finland.

Since Response partners are organisations providing employment and rehabilitive work activity opportunities for people with difficulties in entering the labour market, the respondents represented mainly institutions that direct persons to the employment and rehabilitative work activities offered by the Response partners. Thus, most of the stakeholder interviews were arranged with the local employment office or regional labour force service centre (in seven different towns), some with city departments, and two with the central office or local branches of the Red Cross.

In the first year, the objective was to make the method of stakeholder analysis an established element of continuous improvement of operations and to gradually increase the number of stakeholder groups interviewed. The adoption of a more comprehensive method of social accounting in 2006 changed the situation, because in that context stakeholder relationships is only one of the many areas to be reported. Still, most of the Response partners preparing their social accounts decided to continue the analysis of stakeholder relationships.

Stakeholder interviews and survey questionnaires are used to find out the most important external Stakeholders’ views on the operations of the Organisation and the results achieved in these operations. Both methods of stakeholder analysis can at their best lead to an effortless, fruitful discussion between the Organisation and its Stakeholder, and to immediate improvement actions.

The questions can be presented in an interview or by means of questionnaires filled in writing or electronically. According to Response experience, the interviews provide a lot of in-depth information and allow immediate concrete improvement actions to be taken. In the Response project, the first year’s interview created a good basis for the following year’s survey by means of a questionnaire, because the respondents were already familiar with the purpose and objectives of the stakeholder analysis.

The results of the stakeholder interview/survey are analysed and communicated within the Organisation and to the stakeholder groups either as part of the Organisation’s social accounts or in some other way. If the stakeholder analysis results in a need for development actions, these actions will be planned with persons responsible and implementation schedules.

Defining the most important stakeholders and the respondents

The most important Stakeholders of an Organisation are determined on the basis of the Organisation’s basic mission, vision and values. The most important Stakeholder can be, for example, the employment office directing workforce to the Organisation, a buyer of products or services, or some other key partner. Interviews and questionnaires can be tailored for several stakeholder groups in the same year.

For interview/survey, a minimum of four respondents is selected representing the most important external Stakeholder of the Organisation so that at least one of them is in a decision-making position and at least one has active contacts with the Organisation. The person who represents the Organisation in the interview should also be someone who is in frequent contact with the Stakeholder, such as the person in charge of placement of new employees. A person coming from outside the Organisation can participate in the interview as secretary.

Having several respondents representing the same Stakeholder is recommended because there may be considerable variation between the opinions of individual respondents. A larger target group will also ensure a satisfactory percentage of response.

Defining the themes

The themes of the stakeholder interviews and the questions in the survey questionnaires are defined on the basis of the basic mission of the Organisation and the objectives set for stakeholder relations. In the Response project, the stakeholder relations were evaluated with relatively open themes in the first year, but also with numeric assessments. For Stakeholders directing workforce/rehabilitants to the Organisation offering subsidised employment or rehabilitative work activity opportunities, the interview themes in 2005 were:

1. What is your general image of the Organisation?

  • How well do you know its main activities in practice?
  • How familiar are you with the goals, values and basic mission of the Organisation?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, what grade would you give for the general image of the Organisation?

2. What is the present relationship between the Organisation and you (’Stakeholder’)?

  • How does the interaction work in practice: what is working well, what should be improved?
  • What grade would you give for the co-operation with the Organisation on a scale of 1 to 10?

3. What are your expectations of the Organisation’s operations as a Stakeholder?

  • How well have these expectations been met so far?
  • Do you consider the Organisation’s operations reliable?
  • What grade would you give the Organisation for its reliability as a co-operation partner on a scale of 1 to 10?

4. How good are the Organisation’s possibilities to create paths to the open labour market, to training or to other good choices for the subsidised employees and rehabilitants?

  • What is especially good about the Organisation and what are its biggest challenges?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, what grade would you give the Organisation for creating future paths to persons with difficulties to find employment?

5. What opportunities and threats could the changes in the operating environment bring to the co-operation?

  • Do you as Stakeholder wish to be closer involved in the Organisation’s operations and in which way?

With the introduction of the method of social accounting in 2006, the objectives relating to stakeholder relations were defined more precisely and also the themes of the interviews/questionnaires became somewhat more concrete. Thanks to the previous year’s positive experiences, no great changes were made in the basic themes. However, a written definition for the numeric assessments was also supplied.

In its social accounts of 2006, the Kontti Recycling Department Store Chain had an account concerned with stakeholder relations called ‘Good and reliable stakeholder relations’. The objectives of this account were:

  • The stakeholder has a good image of the organisation
  • The stakeholder has good knowledge of the organisation
  • The co-operation between the organisation and the stakeholder is good
  • The expectations of the stakeholder have been fulfilled
  • The stakeholder considers the organisation’s operations reliable

Answers to the above statements were gathered by means of a written questionnaire sent to the key stakeholders directing workforce or rehabilitants to the Kontti stores (see enclosed ‘Questionnaire to Kontti’s partners at the employment office/labour service centre’).

The City of Helsinki Uusix Workshops has prepared a new questionnaire for its stakeholder analysis for the year 2007 (see enclosed ‘Questionnaire to co-operation partners of U6 Workshops’). This questionnaire has the following themes:

  • General image of the organisation
  • Forms of models and functioning of co-operation
  • Results achieved

Experiences of stakeholder interview and survey by using a questionnare

  • Neither of the methods of stakeholder analysis produced any great surprises, but rather confirmed the existing assumptions. The methods provided the information needed in social accounts and useful material for communications purposes.
  • In some organisations, the stakeholder interview led to immediate development actions and to more efficient information exchange. Such results are important in motivating the stakeholders to take part in the interviews also in the future. For example, as agreed in the stakeholder interview, the Meriko Project started to send the information gathered by the final assessment forms of its trainees to the labour administration, with each individual’s consent.
  • The interview revealed the faces behind the voices previously only heard over the phone and brought the relations to a more personal level.
  • A straightforward, fairly unedited depiction of the interview, showing the answers by each respondent, was found to be the most useful form of presenting the results for the Organisation.
  • The survey questionnaire produced the information in a shorter period of time than the interview.

Development ideas

For further development, the following questions are being considered:

  • Is the selection of stakeholders appropriate? Should there be more stakeholders under review?
  • Is the result trustworthy if the Organisation makes the selection of respondents?
  • Should the objectives of the stakeholder analysis be considered in more detail and should the questions be more closely connected to these more precise objectives?
  • Is the survey questionnaire used by Kontti units in 2006 only producing good results?
  • Should the questions be rather presented as statements and divided into more concrete subitems?

Enclosure: Examples of questionnaires for stakeholder surveys/interviews (PDF)

For more information: www.redcross.fi/response, Regional Co-ordinator Kirsi Timonen, kirsi.timonen(at)redcross.fi