Community Policing Nugget
Partners vs. Stakeholders
In talking about the importance of partnerships in effective community policing, the words “partner” and “stakeholder” are often used interchangeably. While the two are similar, they are not true synonyms. Partners and stakeholders serve different purposes and make different contributions. Before beginning any new project, it is important to be clear on who your agency’s partners are, who the project’s stakeholders are, what each can bring to a project, and how the project is going to make the most effective use of both.
A partner is a person or organization associated with another in some action or endeavor and who shares in both the risks and rewards of the joint effort. It is possible for partners to have different levels of investment in a project and, therefore, a proportional share of the risk. The key is that a partner brings something to the table—knowledge, skills, and/or resources—and stands to benefit in some way from the success of the project. For example, a police department looking to address citizen complaints about chronic speeding in residential neighborhoods can determine if the problem really exists and may quickly reach the conclusion that increased enforcement alone will not solve the problem permanently. Alternative measures, such as the creation of bypasses, enhanced signage, and traffic-calming measures are not the purview of a law enforcement agency, however. Partnering with the government agencies responsible for sign and road building and maintenance is necessary to achieve those goals. It may take not just their knowledge and skills to find the best solution to the problem, but also their budgets. A united front of agencies interested in working together to address the speeding problem may be more likely to secure the funds necessary than any one agency seeking funding alone.
A stakeholder is a person or group having an investment or interest in an enterprise. They may share in some risk or reward, particularly if their investment is monetary, but what they stand to gain may not be tied directly to their contribution in the same way as that of the project partners. Stakeholders are often those who are vested in how a project is designed and whether it is successful, but they may not have direct responsibilities and tasks that influence project completion. The primary stakeholders in a police-led project are the citizens who are affected by the problem or issue being addressed and who will benefit from the solution. The voice of those residents is most often provided through organizations and community groups. To return to the example of the problem of speeding in a residential neighborhood, knowing what residents think of the problem is not enough; it is also important to know what these stakeholders who have a vested interest in the solution think of the possible responses. Convening groups of residents, or organizations representing their interests, would be a valuable tool in planning which traffic-calming devices to implement. Traffic engineers might recommend speed humps or tables, but they also pose a potential burden on the residents. Establishing whether it is a burden residents are willing to accept in exchange for slower moving traffic in their neighborhood is important to the long-term success of the project, and the only way to determine that is to talk with the stakeholders before the work in rectifying the problem begins.
The Importance of Knowing the Difference
At times, participants in police-led public safety efforts can be both partners and stakeholders simultaneously and sometimes the dividing line may be subtle. The difference between a partner and a stakeholder is more than semantics and must be understood. Stakeholders who are treated as partners may find themselves at regular project meetings wondering why the demand is being placed on their time when they have nothing to offer on the details of implementation. Partners misidentified as stakeholders might be missing from those meetings, leading to significant delays in implementation simply because they are not there with their needed expertise at the time a decision is made. They may not understand why the response is necessary or say why the issue is important and initially lack commitment.
When partners’ and stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities in a project are clearly defined and understood, you can be sure that each will be integrated into the project’s activities and decisions in ways that are appropriate to their levels of investment, risk, and reward.