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With Kaixi Yang and Christian Dion Brandt Sims

Effective Stakeholder Mapping for Climate Tech

When you’re developing a climate solution, understanding your many stakeholders is an essential step and can shine a light on your blind spots. Undoubtedly, your product will impact people whose perspectives you might not have been able to fully appreciate initially. Stakeholder mapping is a stage in the design process that can help you build a solution that meets everyone’s needs, and minimize the risk of your company causing inadvertent harm.

Kaixi Yang and Christian Dion Brandt Sims are co-founders at the sustainable design studio ENTITY. We sat down with the pair to discuss how stakeholder mapping in product design can give everyone, including nature itself, a seat at the table, and help founders see the bigger picture.

The role of stakeholder mapping in product design

Stakeholder mapping is an approach to contextualizing the relationships and dynamics of the solution space you’re entering. You should seek to identify what’s missing from the conversation, and where you can look deeper. It involves creating space for everyone who will be impacted by your product to have their concerns heard. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as taking everyone’s input at face value and adjusting your vision accordingly - it’s simply a way of learning who and what is already out there.

By doing so, you’ll be better placed to find your own place in the ecosystem, and ensure you don’t conflict with other solutions, stakeholders, or community efforts.

One often overlooked potential outcome could be that you discover existing systems and institutions, and establish productive connections with them. You might also uncover perspectives that are being completely ignored –say, those of indigenous peoples or well-established locals. If you work to incorporate their needs and insights into your design, you will likely elevate your product, resulting in it working better for all of your users.

Where to start?

The goal of stakeholder mapping is to capture a representative sample of all of the many stakeholders you could impact with your product. To begin, you’ll need to have a clear understanding of what problem you’re hoping to solve, who you’ll need to make it happen, as well as who will benefit and who won’t. Think of the different groups who’ll be involved at every stage of the process - your customers, suppliers, employees, communities, investors– all the way to the end of the product’s life.

Explore all of these groups and identify specific representatives in each of these categories; these are the folks you’ll need to engage. This process should be as inclusive and thorough as it can be within the confines of your available time and resources. You might not be able to meet with everyone face to face, but you should do so where possible in order to establish a more authentic connection. Try not to think of it as a box ticking exercise - approach the process with humanity. Your aim is to develop tangible insights into the relationships that these individuals have with the problem and solution space through genuine empathy for their lived experiences.

The benefits of stakeholder mapping

1. You’ll gain new insights from other perspectives

The stakeholders you speak to will be well aware of the problem you’re tackling - in fact, they might have more knowledge and insight than you do. Engaging with them first will give you a head start towards designing an effective solution, and prevent you from wasting time trying to reinvent the wheel. The return on investment from taking the time to listen to their perspectives is high, while showing that you respect their expertise will help you build an authentic, reciprocal relationship with the other actors in your space.

2. It highlights overlooked obstacles

Engaging with stakeholders will equip you with information that you wouldn’t otherwise encounter in market research or conversations with customers. It’ll point you towards the unknown unknowns - the things that, even as an expert, you don't know that you don't know. Missing these details can have catastrophic implications for your product - how it’s built and how well it sells - as well as long-term implications for your company’s ability to grow, sell, and fundraise. By having these conversations, you can hedge against these future risks.

3. It lets you validate your assumptions

Even if you’ve been active in the space for a long time, and think of yourself as a market expert, it’s possible that some of what you believe or take for granted is in fact incorrect. Stakeholder mapping gives you the chance to test your assumptions, and will save you from making preventable mistakes before you go full steam ahead with your product.

4. It helps you do more good in the world

If part of your mission as a climate entrepreneur is to foster social benefits and run a morally responsible business, investing in stakeholder mapping can boost your ability to do so. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the deeper implications of your business, and uncover potential avenues for greater impact.

Three common mistakes to avoid when stakeholder mapping

1. Not doing it at all

The most damaging mistake you can make is skipping stakeholder mapping altogether. Although it takes time and resources, and the payoff might not be immediately apparent, it’s a necessary part of the process - even doing it quickly is far better than not doing it at all. Disregarding it could mean you overlook critical details with disastrous consequences, and ignoring stakeholders might drive them to reject your solution, which could mean your product is dead in the water.

2. Not taking nature into account

Think of nature itself as a stakeholder. Inform yourself as well as you can about how your product will impact the natural world by seeking out experts - for example, environmental scientists or indigenous ecologists - as representatives and taking what they say on board.

3. Not recognizing stakeholders’ potential biases

Everyone you speak to has their own agenda and prejudices, and when you forget this, you run the risk of coming away with conclusions that are problematic. Don’t assume that everyone you interact with is a perfect representative of the group they’re a part of. Use your judgment, and take everything with a grain of salt.

Kaixi and Dion cofounded ENTITY to put into practice paradigms that are necessary to herald a sustainable world. They have worked with heavy industry to reform and communicate, and have worked on R&D for biomaterials and immersive experiences for climate grief.

Dion Brandt Sims is a spatial thinker with a kinetic body and spirit. He is a restless dreamer that seeks to challenge our understanding of the power we hold. Dion possesses a divine affinity for strategic solutions that revere form and respect simplicity. During his time at Stanford and since, he has polished his craft for well-considered organization of systems that meet people where they are.

Kaixi Yang is a being that radiates possibility. She hopes to make meaningful reinventions to our material & cultural landscapes to alter our trajectory for global survival. As a prolific artist, Stanford Product Design engineer, & WEF Global Shaper, her practice is deep & far ranging; discovering how the needs of self, society, and ecospheres can all harmonize.

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