The evolving appreciation of projects – a study of stakeholder dynamics
Even though many project management techniques and methods have been developed and established, project managers and practitioners still find themselves unprepared and overwhelmed by the complexity and changing nature of stakeholder thinking and behaviour. The literature of stakeholder management and stakeholders in projects indicates that this complexity can be explained by the dynamics, complex interactions, and individual differences of project stakeholders. Thus, stakeholder perception and their social networks are dynamic and influence each other during project implementation. Both of them are also affected by the individual characteristics of stakeholders, which are linked to their past experience and background. However, while studies have focused on stakeholder dynamics as influenced by their social networks, very few of them focus on these dynamics as influenced by both the social networks and individual characteristics of stakeholders. This research addresses this gap by considering both aspects in the analysis of stakeholder dynamics or in other words, stakeholder dynamics at individual levels. The research follows the social constructionist paradigm and uses Vickers’ concept of appreciative systems as the theoretical lens. Through this lens, the above dynamics of stakeholder perception are described as the dynamics of their appreciation of projects as influenced by their standards and perceptions of events and ideas. The Repertory Grid Technique was the main data collection and analysis method. Data were collected from 47 interviews with ten participants who were each involved with one of three university accreditation projects, two in Vietnam and one in New Zealand. Data analysis consisted of the principal component analysis of repertory grids to identify the changes in standards and appreciation, the integration of these changes with the participants’ perceptions of events and ideas through the lens of Vickers’ concept, and the identification of the common themes.
The research found that stakeholders may change the interactions that they focus on and their levels of concern about these interactions during project implementation. The drivers of these dynamics are the changes in the standards and social networks of stakeholders. A framework is proposed to summarise these dynamics and drivers. Overall, the research provides further understanding of the complex dynamics of stakeholders as influenced by their individual characteristics. Based on this understanding, the research identifies empirical strategies for project managers to understand and address stakeholders at individual levels. Finally, the research suggests potential directions for future research of stakeholder dynamics in projects.