Creating a User-centered Stakeholder Map

A Tool for Policymakers

The Delivering Better Outcomes Working Group aims to design an easy, step-by-step guide directed at policymakers and public servants to help them better understand how their projects impact different actors and organizations in a policy ecosystem.
We developed a stakeholder mapping tool to help public service teams focus on the people the policy is serving. By using the stakeholder mapping template and prompts, teams develop shared understanding by creating a visualization of the different relations among stakeholders.

Why stakeholder maps?

Service designers use stakeholder maps to create visual representations of all the possible actors that can influence a particular project. Product teams in the business and financial sectors use stakeholder maps as tools to ensure that projects are successful by preparing thorough strategies to engage the stakeholders and understand their needs. If you’re a designer on a policy implementation team, you probably already create some version of a stakeholder map to identify the core user. But you might not think about the power that each of the stakeholders may hold and the political acceptability of the policy proposal or the solution you’re helping to implement.


More resources:


If you’re a policy analyst, you probably already do some version of stakeholder mapping. You probably have a list of stakeholders, in order of priority or the amount of power they have in the problem space, but you may not create a visual map of stakeholders. In the policy world, any person or organization can represent difficult obstacles or powerful allies. A stakeholder map is an easy tool that has the potential to bring the user to the center of focus. At the same time, by looking at the political acceptability and power in the ecosystem, it helps policy projects and processes be more successful.

By pulling these ideas together into one visualization, a cross-functional team now has a clearer understanding of the relationships among the actors in the problem space, as well as the dependencies among them. In addition, we can anticipate second-order effects by examining the impact not only on the core user but on all of the stakeholders in the map.

Running Your Policy Stakeholder Workshop

Whether you’re a policy analyst, a design researcher, or someone else on a cross-functional team practicing user-centered policy design, the best way to create a robust stakeholder map is collaboratively. We recommend a workshop, which you can do in person or remotely. What follows is a quick guide to help you and your team identify all the stakeholders in a policy problem space and analyze the underlying questions needed to understand their stakeholders.

The workshop is divided into two sessions of 50 min, and includes these activities:

Session 1 – 50 min

Goal Setting (5 min)

Setting a central goal of the policy or program. This could be the mandate for the project or the general change you want to create with the policy intended.

  • Guiding Questions:
    • What is the goal of your policy or program?
    • What is it that you want to achieve?

Goal: Anchor the activity on a common goal.

List All of the Stakeholders (10 min)

Identify all of the organizations and actors (or individuals) that are related to the policy project in a list. The list should focus on identifying 2 types of stakeholders: those directly affected by the policy or program and those indirectly affected by them. List the stakeholders in order of priority.

  • Guiding Questions:
    • Who are all of the types of individuals or organizations who have a stake in the problem you want to solve?
    • Who is directly affected if your policy is successful?
    • Who is indirectly affected if it is successful?

Goal: Identify all stakeholders relevant to the policy or program.

Identify the Core User (5 min)

As you list your stakeholders in order of priority, put the key person or actor who you want to solve the problem for at the top. This is your core user.

For example, in a policy project around student loan debt forgiveness, your policy might make the borrower the core user, or the lender may be the core user in your policy design. Depending on who you choose to serve as the core user with the policy solution, you’re going to propose very different goals and objectives. (Ultimately, you may end up with multiple stakeholder maps for multiple policy proposals.)

Place and Cluster (10-15 min)

Using the first list, place each stakeholder on a Ripple map with the core user in the center. The closer to that user, the more affected by the policy or program they are. Document the answers to these questions.

  • Guiding Questions:
    • If this policy is successful, who is it successful for?
    • Who is directly affected by the policy being successful for the central user / beneficiary?
    • If the policy is successful for the core user, how does the problem space change for the other stakeholders in the map?

Goal: Identify the actors that need direct and indirect engagement.

circular target-chart for stakeholder map

Categorize (10-15 min)

To understand the relationships among the stakeholders, cluster them in the map according to some affiliation, such as whether they’re private or public, what part of government they might be, topics, nature, and so on. Non-profit organizations tend to have similar characteristics and having similar engagement strategies is easier for the general project.
In a map for student loan debt forgiveness, for example, there will be multiple federal agencies. You might want to cluster those together. There will also be multiple financial institutions. You might want to cluster those together, too.

Goal: Identify the main characteristics of the relationship between the team and the relevant stakeholders.

Session 2 – 30 min

Catch-up (5 min)

Brief summary of the last session’s insights.

Goal: Making sure the participants are comfortable with the upcoming process.

Political Analysis (15-20 min)

Answer the following questions to assess the capacity and “weight” of your stakeholders clusters. You can answer the questions for each stakeholder or for each cluster depending on how you want to engage them. Document your answers.

  • Guiding Questions:
    • How trusted by the public is this stakeholder?
    • How much power do they have in the policy process?
    • What expertise do they have?
    • What is their capability to mobilize?

Goal: Understand how to prioritize engagement with key stakeholders.

Setting Actions (10 min)

After the map is done, and you’ve assessed each stakeholder, the next step is to use it! Start with the stakeholders that directly affect or will be directly affected by a change that benefits the core user and set an action.

At this stage, you may only have guesses – then you can investigate your guesses and assumptions during the project and update this to reflect what you’ve learned.

Your New Stakeholder Map Informs Policy Design

At the end of the workshop, the stakeholder map can be a great foundation to mount any strategy for a new program or policy. However this map will change as you advance with your process. And as we said, you may end up with multiple stakeholder maps for multiple policy proposals. We recommend that your team periodically check back on it, and update accordingly.

Connect with Us

Join us! Keep up on the latest news, events, and career opportunities.