Categorizing stakeholders’ practices with repertory grids for sustainable development
With the increasing culture of participative democracy, tackling sustainability issues involves an ever more diverse range of stakeholders, while participants’ disparate backgrounds, representations and aims lead them to develop distinct understandings of the same situation, resulting in ambiguity and frequent conflicts. Decision-makers involved in sustainable development thus need to ascertain who is affected by their decisions and who has the power to influence the outcome of those decisions, i.e. the stakeholders. Although much research has focused on stakeholder analysis (SA), such studies have mainly focused on stakeholders’ heterogeneity regarding firm objectives, and have neglected the necessary explorative nature of participatory decisionmaking for sustainability. Methodologies for carrying out SA in organizational contexts like those found in sustainable development, where neither the organization nor its stakeholders have any clear idea of the problems involved or the most appropriate means of tackling them, are still lacking. In this paper, we put forward a method for categorizing stakeholder diversity as a means to facilitate managers’ discussions of sustainability issues. Our general contribution is to conduct a SA based on the stakeholders’ practices instead of their power and interests, the latter being a more usual focus. Our mapping method consists in codifying stakeholders’ practices within an inductive procedure that is deeply rooted in what they currently do rather than literature-driven categories. More specifically, we adapt the well-known repertory-grid technique to represent practices on qualitative scales. Using several working groups dealing with rural sustainability issues, this method has proved effective in collectively building repertories of practices and stakeholder categories. We show that the method is helpful to participants in that it extends their representations of stakeholders and helps them to reframe sustainability. While contributing to practice-based studies, this paper also contributes methodologically to empirical studies on collective problem structuring concerning sustainability issues.