Stakeholder lead development

A solution without a problem

Developments are often tasked with improving something, or fixing a problem. They expend resources to generate more resources or to make an overall saving by creating efficiency. A stakeholder lead development is the logical method of asking the individuals that have direct experience of the problem you are trying to overcome what their thoughts are. Using their insights of the problem, simpler, more effective and closer to completion solutions can be found.

The hurdle with this method, is that the individuals/stakeholders with experience of the problem don’t usually have experience of the solutions. As a result, the first stage is to build up a mutual understanding and trust before you can progress further towards the solution.

These initiatives often fail, however, because this all-important trust-building stage is rushed.

It’s a known cost for an unknown reward, so people try to minimise it. The discussion stage, after all, is the stage where progress is made. It’s where key performance indicators can be measured and the technically minded people can discuss and iterate towards the best solution. The problem is that if you haven’t invested in the first stage then it isn’t really a co-development project and that matters.

I’m just coming to the end of a 3-year longitudinal study on co-creating technology with farmers. The first stage took us a year. Initially, I thought that this was too long. Surely we could get it done in 6 months or less. Having now been through it I can see why. We needed to have the discussions about technology, our backgrounds, our commonality and shared frustrations. To do that properly and genuinely took time.

When we got to phase two, which was the actual discussion of solution problem fits and iterations, we were a cohesive team. They brought up valid points as to why solutions wouldn’t work. Voiced alternatives solutions allowing for easier tech solutions. Most importantly, however, they truly understood what it was we were building. They could explain what it did and why, eloquently. As they were farmers, the solutions were able to borrow their credibility, giving them far more traction with others. People who weren’t even directly involved in the project.

This level of personal buy-in is one of the valuable outcomes of this method and is in part why it often generates original solutions.

If you need a quick solution, or an iteration of something that you are already doing then stakeholder lead development likely won’t be the method for you. If you have the time, however, building a bridge simultaneously from the technical and user sides can lead to true innovation and give you unique PR advocates in the sector. After all, you will have built something actually designed by them.

I will link up the work and primary information sources when we publish our findings in due course. For the meantime, this was one of the learning points of this 3-year journey.

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