T2-2 Mapping Interests and Power Relations among Stakeholders

KM for development-oriented organizations (government agencies, non-government organizations or civil society organizations, non-profit foundations, aid or donor agencies, social enterprises, etc.) is more complex than KM for private corporations. In development-oriented organizations, external KM (or KM to serve stakeholders) must consider the multiplicity of stakeholders and external actors, each with their own different or sometimes conflicting interests and agendas, complex power relations, differences in cultural background, different “knowledges” or epistemological assumptions, etc.

A simple way of quickly grasping the differences in interests and power relations among a group is through a sociogram. Below is a sociogram drawn for the members of the Executive Committee of an ad hoc network consisting of local and national government, non-government, private and academic members.

execom sociogram

The sociogram was constructed after interviewing and iterative discussion/refinement of the diagram with a knowledgeable informant who knows and have worked with everybody in the Executive Committee. The sociogram has two dimensions: extent of informal power/influence and position along an issue or policy dimension, in this case environmental beliefs or ideology. Note the following:

  • The members are generally clumped at the high-power, right-leaning end of the diagram. This means somewhat general agreement and power equality.
  • The widest gaps between any two members show the potential conflicts. An actual conflict can be depicted in red. In the figure the widest gap is more horizontal then vertical, which means that the conflict is more along beliefs than along power differentials.
  • The Chairperson (Person #1) and Vice-Chairperson (Person #2) are more-or-less ideologically at the center of the group, which means that they are in a position to mediate or balance the groups “to the left” and “to the right”. The vertical position is informal power. Note that the Chairperson is at the top: he has both formal and informal power. However, there are two members (Persons #6 and #7) who exert slightly more power than the Vice-Chairman, and they are both “rightists”. Hence, if the Vice-Chairman takes over, he may not be able to play the balancing role because two “rightists” may tend to overpower him.
  • The person with the most extreme position in the group, or the farthest away of everybody else is Person #4. She is the head of a network of local civil society organizations. She is somewhat aligned with Person #3. She is always at odds with Person #7 who is represents a private corporation. The power of Person #7 comes from the fact that this corporation is a major funder of the operations of this group.

Can you see now that a simple sociogram can give you that much insight?

In fact, an ordinary organizational chart tells you very little, namely, only the formal reporting relationships. It shows vice presidents at the same level but we know that in reality, vice presidents are never equally close to the president, and they often have unequal informal power or influence. In fact, it can happen that the secretary to the president is more powerful than any of the vice presidents! Ha ha!

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