Stakeholder Mapping

From Sustainability Methods
Type Team Size
Me, Myself and I Group Collaboration The Academic System Software 1 2-10 11-30 30+

Why & When

Sustainability Research is a research field that aims at tackling societal problems by developing systemic understandings of these problems and oftentimes collaboratively solving them through transdisciplinary research designs. In this context, the concept of stakeholders is a crucial component. Stakeholders are people that are directly affected by sustainability problems and can contribute to their solution. Mapping-out these stakeholders is a common entry-point to gaining an understanding of the system and problem at hand, and is further important to gather an overview of the relevant stakeholders in this context.


  • Gain an overview of relevant stakeholders and their positionality towards a real-world problem
  • Get a methodological starting point for subsequent transdisciplinary research
  • Enable the development of strategies for jointly developing solutions

Getting started

Stakeholder Mapping is a part of stakeholder analysis, which are often used as interchangeable terms. While stakeholder analysis is also relevant in business contexts, for our purpose, we will refer to its usage in transdisciplinary research.

'Transdisciplinary research' refers to a research mode that is common in sustainability science, focusing on the collaboration of academic and non-academic actors with a solution-oriented perspective towards real-world problems. Please refer to the entry on transdisciplinarity for more details.

'Stakeholders' are individuals, groups of individuals or institutions that have an interest in, or are affected by, decision-making related to a specific issue or problem. The stakeholders' interest in the respective decision-making may stem from being affected by the problem itself and thus the consequences of potential solutions to it, or from the intention of influencing the decision for any other reason. The relevant stakeholders in transdisciplinary projects are typically non-academic actors, such as NGOs, citizens, politicians, economic actors. However, academic actors may also be identified as stakeholders. Stakeholders can be distinguished more broadly, e.g. when everyone in a region is a potential stakeholder, or more narrowly, depending on the issue (Lelea et al. 2014). An example is the installation of wind turbines in a village. Researchers may be interested in investigating success criteria for social acceptance of renewable energies and therefore accompany this process. In this example, relevant stakeholders would likely be the local administration, citizens, farmers, the energy company and environmentalists.

The initial collection of relevant stakeholders can be based on a mere brainstorming by the research team. These individuals may be further investigated, e.g. through questionnaires or interviews, or based on available external information. In this snowball-sampling approach, more and more actors are identified that are related to the initial actors. However, '[g]oing beyond the ‘usual suspects’ to find stakeholders that you had not already thought about, or stakeholders who are further removed from your research can seem like an impossible task.' (Research to Action 2015). A systematic approach to an initial identification of actors based on a questionnaire is provided by Leventon et al. (2016, see References).

'Mapping' refers to the visual representation and structured arrangement of the identified actors in preparation to a transdisciplinary research project. Such a 'map' can take various forms. One approach is to categorize all relevant stakeholders according to their position towards the researched problem, or towards solutions to this problem. For example, in the Conviva project in Brazil, stakeholders were mapped in a 2x2 matrix according to their support or resistance towards nature conservation efforts.

A template for stakeholder mapping. Source: Conviva

Further types of matrices are possible. It can be helpful to compile a mere list of stakeholders, with information on their influence, needs and interests, potential contributions and possible strategies for engagement (tools4dev 2021). Another form of visually representing stakeholder positionality is a Venn Diagram, which shows overlapping interests between stakeholders. Net-Map is a form of positioning, defining and linking stakeholders in a network structure. Ultimately, the visual form depends on the research project at hand. Maybe the connection between actors is of utmost interest, maybe their influence and power, maybe their interests and needs.

Through the process of stakeholder mapping, the research team is enabled to identify all relevant actors for the given issue. This helps plan next steps, i.e. the conduction of interviews to gather further insights, or provides an overview on which individuals to invite to workshop formats or further methods of transdisciplinary research. This way, all important actors are involved in the process, which is important for the success of the envisioned solutions. A Leventon et al. (2016) highlight: "Researchers in natural resource management consistently find that stakeholders should be included in solution-finding in order to facilitate negotiation and mutual learning; reduce conflict; and increase support and actor buy-in for decisions made." Apart from these advantages, stakeholder mapping also ensures that all relevant knowledge and perspectives are included and no key aspects of the topic at hand are neglected. Especially the perspectives of marginalised groups are important to this end (Leventon et al. 2016).

Further, the mapping already includes an initial analysis of the stakeholders position. Therefore, it helps assess their existent roles, interests and needs. Based on this, the research design and the process of jointly developing solutions can be adapted to the specific context (Learning for Sustainability 2021). Not all stakeholders will share the same aims and target the same outcomes from the getgo. Through mapping, strategies may be identified to bring actors together towards a common goal (Research to Action 2012) and "create an environment for good decision-making" (Conviva 2021). Stakeholder Mapping / Analysis should be done at the start of the research project, but can also be done continuously to track developments of the relevant stakeholders and their positions.

Links & Further reading


  • Lelea et al. 2014. Methodologies for stakehoklder analysis. RELOAD project. Deutsches institut für Tropische und Subtropische Landwirtschaft (DITSL). Online available here.
  • Learning for Sustainability. Stakeholder mapping and analysis. Last accessed 20.12.2021. Available here.
  • Research To Action. 01.05.2012. Stakeholder Analysis: a basic introduction. Available here.
  • Leventon et al. 2016. An applied methodology for stakeholder identification in transdisciplinary research. Sustainability Science 11. 763-775.
  • Research to Action. 07.09.2015. Problems encountered Mapping Stakeholders... and some suggested solutions. Available here.
  • tools4dev. Stakeholder Analysis Matrix Template. Last accessed 20.12.2021. Available here.
  • Research To Action provides an overview on detailed resources for Stakeholder Mapping on this website.
  • Net-Map, a low-tech approach for linking actors visually in a network structure, can be found here.

The author of this entry is Christopher Franz.