Roadmap to panels



This tool is a practical step-by-step guide to develop an effective stakeholder panel tailored to a company's particular context.The recommendations throughout are based on the main two success factors identified through the case studies:
  • Rooting the panel in stakeholder engagement, so that it reflects their concerns and
  • Connecting it to corporate decision-making, so that it is able to influence action.

Step 1: Plan

The aim of this stage is to start develop a panel that is fit-for-purpose and that can influence decisions at the appropriate level within the company.

1.1 Make your company's motivations clear

First consider your organization's motivations for setting up a stakeholder panel. This will help you determine whether a panel is a suitable approach for you and what shape and form it should take:

1.2 Define the focus

The panels studied focus on different things and many companies studied have several panels. The chart below highlights the strengths and weaknesses of each type of panel.

1.3 Consider the balance of factors that will attract or 'put off' potential panelists:

The ability to attract panelists depends on whether they see this as a useful opportunity to drive changes. This will depend in part on their assessment of your company and industry's track record.

If you only have answers in this category, your panel is likely to be viewed sceptically as a talking shop or attempt to placate critics
If you only have answers in this category, your panel will be seen as an opportunity to promote significant change. Panelists are likely to be keen to join your panel.
If you have mixed answers, you will need to offer panelists a good deal to recruit them.

1.4 Define the extent to which you are ready to involve stakeholders in decision-making

The level of ambition of your panel will be determined by the particular questions you are seeking to answer. Underpinning this is your company's appetite for risk, its level of discom- fort in engaging in a challenging process with stakeholders, and conversely, the risk you face in not being able to recruit and motivate panelists

1.5 Secure internal support

It is essential to clearly establish and communicate high level support for the panel if it is to be credible and effective.
  • Be clear about how the panel's remit fits with in existing decision-making process.
  • Get clear support from senior executives as well as relevant operational or functional managers.
  • Secure specific commitments for responding to the panel (for example publishing their recommendations, acting on their decisions in particular areas, explaining why an action was taken or progress achieved).
  • Develop and secure the budget needed to support the panel, including time inputs from the implementing team and senior managers.

OUTPUT: Description of the panel purpose, remit and connection with corporate decision-making process, signed off by the top executives and supported by a budget.

Step 2: Set the rules

The aim of this stage is to set the rules to enable a fair and effective process that is able to contribute to sound decision-making both inside and outside of the company.
Decisions about the panel's mandate, facilitation, transparency, confidentiality, outputs and links to governance need to reflect both the company's purpose in setting it up (as defined in step 1), as well as the needs of panel members ( ̄ step 3 for details). The rules need to enable a panel to:
  • Operate effectively – panelists are well informed, able to speak freely and autonomously and are focused on discussing issues that are relevant to stakeholders and the company.
  • Influence decisions – the panel is able to make timely and useful inputs into decision-making and the company responds to them.
  • Communicate more broadly – the panel's activities and outputs influence wider debates, perceptions and stakeholder decisions and actions.
The panel needs its own agreed purpose and ground rules clearly set out in Terms of Reference that are agreed by panelists. There is no standard set of ground rules that will work for all panels. Key issues may need to be debated by the panel itself – such as the right balance between the desire to communicate externally and the ability to share confidential information. The Terms of Reference drafted by the company or other facilitator should be subject to discussion between the company and panelists before agreeing a final version at the outset of the panel. Ground rules may also need to be revised as the panel develops over time. For instance, confidentiality about panel membership might be useful at the beginning of a dialogue, but might be less important in later rounds. Key design issues that should be covered in the Terms of Reference are highlighted below. In each case the options to the right give the panel greater autonomy and ability to impact on decisions, but also involve a greater loss of control and more risk for the company.

OUTPUT: Draft Terms of Reference ready for submission to people invited to join the panel.

Step 3: Recruit members

The aim of this stage is to recruit a panel able to reflect the concerns of your major stakeholder groups (or represent them directly, if that is your aim) and that is willing to provide constructive inputs.

3.1 Map your stakeholders

  • Supported by the AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard and the UNEP Stakeholder34 Engagement Manual35 identify your material issues and your stakeholder groups
  • List your stakeholder groups, using the criteria of the chart below
  • In general, 'representable' stakeholder groups (red zone) should be given the opportunity to sit on the panel or be indirectly connected to it through information sharing with other existing stakeholder engagement processes. Being already involved in decision-making through others channels, the control-holders (green zone) do not necessarily have to sit on the panel. However it can be useful to have minority views represented through socially res- ponsible investors for instance.
  • The fragmented and informal stakeholder groups (orange zone) can only have their concerns voiced through experts (vs. representation). Make sure that the expertise of your panelists match with all major material issues identified: to do so some companies directly ask them to select issues for which they feel informed enough to challenge the group.
3.2 Map the context of stakeholder engagement and governance

To avoid opposition from stakeholders, the panel should not be seen as a competitor to established or developing engagement channels. To be credible in the eyes of some stakeholder groups already engaged, it should 'add value' by broadening the scope of
dialogue and/or reducing the distance to decision-making. Some companies address these challenges by making connections between the panel and other channels, though cross-membership and information sharing.

3.3 Draw up criteria for panel membership
  • Based on the purpose of your panel (column 1 in the table below) determine the skills, expertise and representation required across the panel as a whole (column 2). Then, based on these priorities regarding the panelists' profile, understand the effort that needs to be reflected in the Terms of Reference to attract and retain these people (next section).
  • Once you have a draft list of panelists, identify any relevant groups that are excluded from the panel or who are likely to exclude themselves because of the Terms of Reference offered. Where particular stakeholder groups are difficult to recruit, consider other engagement modes, in combination with the panel, or drawing on experts rather than stakeholder representatives to reflect their concerns (for example Camelot invited individual players to join its 'players forum' but recruited a consumer opinion pollster from MORI to represent players' concerns more generally on its corporate level panel). Support the panel to strengthen its expertise and enable it to fulfill its evolving mandate.
  • Carefully consider the balance and dynamics of the overall panel: will these people be able to work together? Will critics feel out-numbered and backed into a corner? Will they feel safe to learn from other perspectives?
3.4 Make sure the deal offered matches with the people you want to recruit

  • Consider the 'deal' you are offering to panelists: you are asking for the benefit of their exper- tise and reputation (as well as their time and goodwill) in return for a chance to influence corporate decision-making. Panelists with the most to lose in terms of their own reputation can be the most valuable in offering challenge and credibility, but they will be most careful about the terms on which they join the panel. Those who already work with you as service providers or partners, or who depend on your patronage may be easy to recruit as panelists but are likely to be too compromised by their own motivations to offer a critical or credible independent voice.
To be attractive, the company needs to offer panelists reasonable opportunities to drive changes, judged against their own priorities:
  • Corporate responsibility or sustainable development advocates are likely to look for a good track record on stakeholder engagement, leadership on CR issues, and the potential to drive changes that will have wider impacts in a high-profile, high-impact industry.
  • Stakeholder representatives will consider the opportunity to make specific gains for the people or organizations they represent. They are also likely to be thinking about how involvement in the panel might effect other engagement with the company such as campaigns, partnerships or direct negotiations, and the way the panel will be viewed by their members or networks.
  • Consider whether an external facilitator and process designer would be helpful to reassure potential panelists that the panel will be run fairly and to assist the panel in reaching successful outcomes. External facilitators can be particularly useful in the case of:
    • Assurance panels where the panelists are being asked to comment on the quality of the company's sustainability report in relation to particular standards.
    • Sensitive issues and new or difficult relationships where panel members are worried that the panel is an attempt at manipulation rather than dialogue.
  • Companies with little experience of stakeholder engagement in this area. In some cases companies first recruit a panelist to chair the panel. This then enables them to take over the facilitation role from the outset, select further panel members and negotiate the initial ground rules for the panel.
3.5 Recruit panel members
  • Invite people to join the panel, providing a clear outline of why they have been invited to join and the draft Terms of Reference (including both parties commitments).
    • Be clear as to whether you are inviting named individuals to participate on a personal basis, or asking organizations or constituencies to nominate or elect people to participate
in an official capacity.
    • Be transparent about who else you are talking to and why, and allow and encourage recommendations.
    • Work on 'Plan Bs' for panelists who are likely to refuse.
OUTPUT: The list of panelists and the invitation letter.

Step 4: Support the panel's work

The aim of this stage is to provide the ongoing support needed for the panel to develop and fulfill its mandate.

Build panel competencies

Regularly update members on what is happening in the company. As the panel develops help panelists to gain a better understanding of corporate strategies and operations as well as the related social and environmental issues for example through:
  • timely and useful background materials;
  • meetings with relevant people within the company to investigate particular issues, projects or functional areas;
  • evidence from experts, site visits etc.;
  • formal training, for example on standards used;
  • feedback from wider stakeholder engagement; and
  • support to organize or attend wider stakeholder consultations. Ongoing education and support should be responsive to panelist's own identified needs as well as corporate priorities. Some companies have provided independent funds to enable panels to commission their own research. Enable panel members to identify gaps in the panel's expertise and representation and to recommend new members.
Enable relationships

Provide for informal as well as formal meetings such as meals and joint sites visits.
Foster bilateral collaboration between the company and panelists and between panelists where relevant.
Give public recognition of panelists' involvement, commitment and expertise. Reflect their role and involvement accurately and agree it with them in advance.

Support trust
  • Encourage members to feedback on practice at any time and respond to any suggestions.
  • Always inform members of any significant changes in relation to commitments you have made or issues discussed. Make sure they hear it from you before they read it in the newspaper or hear it on the grapevine.
OUTCOME: Mutual trust and empowerment of panel members.

Step 5: Measure success

The aim of this stage is to regularly review the panel's progress, to make changes to its makeup and operation and to ensure that it is able to deliver against its evolving purpose.

Review panel practice: is it operating effectively

Let panelists assess the process, for example through:
  • ongoing informal review through feedback after meetings to identify process changes that could be made, expertise gaps that need to be filled as well as substantive issues for discussion in future rounds;
  • a questionnaire, or telephone interview exploring panel members' assessment of the process so far and expectations and recommendations for its future development;
  • a public briefing prepared by panel members themselves on the experience and effectiveness of the panel;
  • external independent assessment of the panel's practice
Review panel outcomes: is it able to influence decisions internally and externally?

Review the effectiveness of the panel internally to evaluate how it has influenced learning and decision-making by:
  • the team responsible for organizing the panel;
  • other managers present at meetings; and
  • senior executives to whom the panel has formally reported.
If appropriate, assess the impact of the panel externally. This is particularly relevant where panels have been convened to provide or strengthen assurance.
Do report users and other stakeholders say that the panel's work is useful to them?
Are the panel's commentaries and recommendations cited or drawn on by others in the public debate?
Has the panel resulted in better working partnerships between member organizations and the company?
Has the panel helped to initiate wider stakeholder engagement?

Plan for further cycles of dialogue

Together with panel members and the internal audience for the panel decide whether to continue the panel's mandate, change it or dissolve the panel.

OUTPUT: Regular evaluation of the panel effectiveness and update of the mandate.

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