5 Ways to Leverage Stakeholders in the Instructional Design Process

When it comes to stakeholders in the instructional design process, many learning professionals consider the needs of only two groups: subject matter experts and themselves. There are many others involved in the learning project development process whose input is equally vital.

Clearly it makes sense to focus intensely on the subject matter experts (SMEs) since these individuals within your organization hold the expertise and specific knowledge which your learners will be tapping into via your course.

However, there are other stakeholders you need to consider. These include the department managers of the employees needing the training, or the managers or peers of the SMEs you’ve identified for assistance in building your courses.

Additional stakeholders may include others on the learning and development team, as well as contractors and others in support roles who are instrumental in developing and delivering a world-class learning experience.

In many ways, as we’ve discussed previously in this blog, instructional designers act as project managers — identifying needs, developing a plan, seeking out the relevant participants, and overseeing the project to successful completion. Instructional designers must essentially take raw knowledge from SMEs, structure it, and distribute it to learners.

Here are five steps for leveraging your stakeholders in a learning project:

1. Identify strategic areas of expertise.

Building courses is a team effort. You may have identified the single SME in your organization whom you feel is the most knowledgeable professional in the topic on which your course will be based, and who is best suited to assist you in building your course.

However, as you create a learning blueprint design and begin to consider what the course will look like by the end, you may discover that additional experts covering other topic areas may be needed. It’s best to devise a contingency plan should the course take on different dimensions.

Further, as you perform the initial analysis and design work, you may find that additional instructional designers will be needed for backup. You may also need to tap additional writers, editors, designers, developers, animators, and videographers to create a more specific, compelling user experience.  Identifying any and all of such stakeholders during the initial stages of the learning design process is key.

2. Engage your experts.

SMEs are often the linchpin of a successful learning project. This blog has covered strategies on how best to work with and leverage subject matter experts to create learning that resonates with employees and most importantly, leads to measurable outcomes. With so much of a project’s success hinging on the relationship you build with experts, it is imperative that you engage your experts from the onset, giving them the authority and autonomy they need to deliver the content on which your courses depend.

Apart from the SMEs, you will need to engage all of the experts involved in the project, ensuring that they are fully committed to a successful outcome.

3. Define a system to authorize, recognize and reward experts.

The best courses are engaging because they are authentic. Experts often enjoy the opportunity to share what they know — since this is what they are passionate about — with people who are truly interested. Expertise is earned through extensive experience, and its value and depth is enhanced by sharing it with others.

In order to capture these genuine perspectives, define and develop a system that encourages and even rewards your stakeholders for their contributions. More than a simple ‘Good job!’, provide simple, professional feedback, since you are an outsider. They will be grateful and will enjoy working with you on the project.

4. Communicate often, but appropriately.

As a learning project relies heavily on creativity, creative people need their space and time to perform their best work. Engage your experts fully by knowing when to follow up and when to let go. Use your project management skills to devise a meeting plan that works for everyone.

As you continue to work more closely with your stakeholders, you will begin to understand the nuances of each role and responsibility, sharpening your own people management skills.

5. Measure activity and impact, and create a mechanism for feedback.

Provide a system for regular feedback — experts not only need this, they enjoy it. True professionals a seek response from others, as they rely on this to hone their craft. You will fully engage the members of your team by seeking evaluation regularly throughout the lifecycle of the project. 

For maximum impact, you can chart the changes in feedback throughout the entire course development process, and demonstrate to your experts how the feedback loop has had  a measurable, meaningful impact on the outcome of the learning project.

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