Leading organizations use strong relationships and reputations to create great outcomes for all rightsholders, stakeholders, and shareholders. The foundation of these strong relationships is created through thoughtful, consistent engagement with all parties. Unfortunately, without a structured approach, engaging with stakeholders and rightsholders can be a confusing and challenging process. To structure an engagement strategy, a great place to start is with the AA1000 Stakeholder Engagement Standard (AA100SES) framework written by AccountAbility, a global standards firm.

The AA1000SES framework helps assess, design, implement, and communicate an approach to stakeholder engagement for any organization. Since first publication in 1999, it has become a global benchmark, recognized by leaders in the field. The framework can be used as a best practice, or with the intention of meeting requirements for other standards. These standards include the Global Reporting Initiative G4 or ISO 26000: Guidance on Social Responsibility. Thoroughly understanding the standard is a perfect first step for any organization that requires strong relationships to be successful.

Building the Foundation

A new framework can be daunting, but the AA1000SES holds your hand throughout by providing first steps, must-dos, and clear actionable items. For example, as a first step, the framework stresses the need to formally embody three main principles that build off each other:

  • Inclusivity: Organizations must accept accountability for the lives that they are impacting. By embodying an open and inclusive culture, firms can better understand stakeholder expectations, leading to project success.
  • Materiality: Embodying Inclusivity allows organizations to determine a projects’ material issues (issues that will influence performance), and their level of significance to stakeholders.
  • Responsiveness: Teams need to commit to consistency, and prioritise decisions, actions, performance, and communications related to material issues. For example, commitment to making timely decisions or following through on actions.

Committing to these principles builds the necessary foundation for a successful stakeholder engagement strategy. With these principles in place, the AA1000SES framework then provides guidance to define the scope and purpose of engagement before identifying rightsholders and stakeholders.

Making a Plan 

With the foundation laid for organizational strategy, the AA1000SES framework then provides steps to create an engagement plan. During the planning stage, the previously established values, purpose, and scope will turn into an actionable plan.

This will include mapping stakeholders based on level of importance. Using specified guidelines, organizations can ensure that all stakeholders are included, and the appropriate methods are used. Based on defined needs, engagement approaches can vary between remaining passive to collaborating and empowering.

AA1000SES- Different levels and approach to stakeholder engagement

With an engagement plan laid out, the framework will identify potential risks, and establish metrics to measure progress. A key aspect of preparation is to list the items that need to be documented, tracked, and shared with stakeholders. Without this step, organizations may find themselves wishing that they started differently several months down the road.

Making it Happen

Next, the AA1000SES framework rounds out with steps to take that will help an organization smoothly implement their engagement plan. A core piece of this involves continuous improvement. The first approach will never be perfect. As engagement moves forward, a lot can be learned from stakeholders and the data that’s being tracked.

Monitoring the Stakeholder Engagement

Whether you’ve been working closely with stakeholders for years, or are just getting started, understanding the AA1000SES framework will be helpful. Regardless of the engagement strategy that an organization elects to use, efficiently tracking engagement and making data-driven decisions will improve performance. Purpose-built tools, such at the NetBenefit Platform, exist to make data tracking, decision making and collaboration much easier. If you’re interested in learning more about NetBenefit and how it may help your engagement strategy, feel free to get in touch.


  • Sarah Mathews is a Sales and Marketing Representative at NetBenefit. Sarah has a deep understanding of engagement best practices through dozens of conversations with companies in different industries. Sarah’s spends her free time doing yoga and snuggling with her dog, Ziggy.