By Tatiana Shumilina, Program Coordinator
Stakeholder engagement is defined as the process of involving "any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization's objectives" (E. Freeman).
It is a key component in the practice of Public Relations (PR), so much so that we offer a new PR elective course, Community and Stakeholder Relations, dedicated to it.
At the root, PR is about communicating. When we think of PR, we often tend to think of news releases and public spokespeople, but PR is about so much more than simply delivering a carefully crafted message. A good PR practitioner will also be an engaged listener, seeking to understand the needs, concerns or feelings of its audiences and responding accordingly, not just with words, but with actions.
At Continuing Studies at UVic, this kind of stakeholder engagement is built into program development and planning initiatives, including the development process of new courses. For instance, we recently did a needs assessment for our Diploma in Public Relations Program that went to employers, employees, alumni, instructors, students and working professionals in the PR industry to determine emerging industry trends. Being aware of, and understanding, these trends enables us to ensure that our program is in a position to respond to these needs. The feedback that we received from these varying audiences identified over 10 different topics or trends in the industry, from digital media to reputation management. But the topic that really stood out was stakeholder engagement.
Performing that needs assessment was just the first step in the process of stakeholder engagement for the development of this new course. Over the next several months, we continued to work with our key stakeholders to ensure that the development of this course met industry needs and the needs of our various audiences, specifically our students, PR employers, instructors, and our program Steering Committee.
Through conversations with potential and current students, we were able to an understanding of who our students are, how they learn, what their motivations are for taking the program, and why flexibility is important for these adult learners.
We are also in regular communication with our instructors, the industry experts who teach our PR courses. While supporting them during the course term, we ask questions and engage with them as they help shape the future of this program. Their feedback provides a wealth of knowledge that we can incorporate into future courses.
Another key stakeholder group is the Public Relations Program Steering Committee. Consisting of PR employers from different industries and sectors, as well as program alumni, the committee’s contribution is essential as it guides and directs the program curriculum. Their presence at the table helps us to truly grasp the essence of the PR industry, to learn about current topics or trends, and to determine what skillsets these employers would like graduates to have when they finish our program. By consulting with this group, we are aiming to set our graduates up for future job success.
Once we have a concept for a new course, we take the feedback from these three key groups and consult with instructional designers, content experts, and other members of our administrative team to begin the course content development. In the case of the Community and Stakeholder Engagement course, this process took about eight months. The course has since been offered twice and is scheduled to run again in January 2018. The success of this course would not have been possible if we didn’t listen to our various stakeholders throughout the development process.
As a program coordinator, I am responsible for the planning and development stages of a course or program, through to the marketing and delivery. To do all of this effectively, it is obvious to me that listening is one of the most important aspects of my job. Listening to and engaging with our stakeholders— our students, instructors, employers, and advisors—makes all the difference in the success of a program.