Stakeholder Dynamics During the Project Front-End

The Case of Nuclear Waste Repository Projects


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Kirsi Aaltonen | Jaakko Kujala | Laura Havela
Department of Industrial Engineering and Management, University of Oulu, Finland

Grant Savage
Department of Management, Information Systems and Quantitative Methods, University of Alabama at Birmingham, USA



Stakeholder Management
Project front-end

This study examines stakeholder dynamics during the project front-end stage using two case studies related to nuclear waste repository projects in Finland and the US. The study explains how stakeholder dynamics are influenced by the interaction of stakeholders' behaviors, stakeholder management activities, and the project's contextual conditions. The research proposes a new conceptual framework called “stakeholder salience-position matrix” that has practical benefits.


“The majority of stakeholder management tools and frameworks provide only a static perspective of the project and are focused primarily on the project execution.”

Prior project stakeholder research has focused primarily on the conceptual development of stakeholder management tools and frameworks in order to better manage stakeholders. The majority of stakeholder management tools and frameworks provide only a static perspective of the project and are focused, for the most part, on the project execution.

The aim of this research is to improve our understanding of stakeholder dynamics during the project's front-end stage. The study suggests that project stakeholder dynamics can be analyzed by examining the changes in the degree of stakeholders' salience attributes (power, legitimacy, urgency) and in stakeholders' stance toward the project (i.e., the degree of supportiveness toward the project). It also presents a conceptual framework to plot these changes. Figure 1 illustrates the degree of salience/position–matrix.


Figure 1. The three logics of legitimacy developed by stakeholder in breakthrough R&D projects


The study is based on two multi-stakeholder case projects: Onkalo is a successful nuclear repository project in Finland, and Yucca Mountain is a fiercely debated nuclear repository project in Nevada, USA. The empirical data come from publicly available electronic information on the two projects including: event and stakeholder databases (including their goals, degree of supportiveness toward the project, degree of salience); and management strategies. This information was used to write descriptions covering the key events of both cases, and plot stakeholder maps displaying the changes in their degrees of salience (power, legitimacy and urgency) and support, as well as the reasons for these changes.


“Stakeholder' salience and support evolved over time.”

“The influence strategies used by stakeholders have direct impact on the stakeholder's dynamics.”

“Stakeholder management strategies have direct impact on stakeholder's dynamics.”

“Contextual conditions have direct impact on stakeholder's dynamics.”

Stakeholder salience and support evolved over time. Both cases demonstrate the different types of stakeholder dynamics during the early phases of a large and complex project. From the two cases, Yucca Mountain clearly featured more dramatic changes in the positions of salient stakeholders.

The influence strategies used by stakeholders have direct impact on the stakeholder dynamics. In both cases, the stakeholders used various influence strategies to increase salience attributes and overcome stakeholders' positions (e.g. forming nongovernmental organizations, demonstrations, etc.).

Likewise, stakeholder management strategies have direct impact on stakeholder dynamics. Onkalo case showed that early and proactive engagement by the project owner into stakeholder's management pays dividends. Being open, flexible and sensitive toward the varying opinions and signals from the environment is crucial. On the other hand, Yucca Mountain case showed that procrastination in stakeholder management is very harmful.

Finally, contextual conditions have both indirect and direct impacts on stakeholder dynamics. Although contextual conditions can moderate the ways stakeholders and project managers use their respective influences, they may also directly induce stakeholder dynamics. In Onkalo case, the context enabled a much more open and transparent policy, which resulted in a benefit for the project owner in dealing with opposing stakeholders. The Yucca Mountain case was restricted to a more closed and fixed process, which increased the fears and consequently the degree of reaction from opposing stakeholders


Understanding stakeholder dynamics and their impact on project management is extremely important in order to evaluate the viability of large and complex projects.

The stakeholder salience-position matrix offers a very useful analytical framework for stakeholder analysis and management.

The results from this study support prior research describing the front-end phase as an iterative and drifting process heavily characterized by power game among stakeholders. Both cases show that in scenarios with multiple and contradictory goals, it is critical that all interests and claims are taken into account by a flexible stakeholder management process.

Governance structures contribute to success by keeping decision-makers primarily focused on the success and effectiveness of the project. Otherwise, political pressures may cause the project to drift from its goals.


Kirsi Aaltonen, Jaakko Kujala, Laura Havela, Grant Savage. Stakeholder Dynamics During the Project Front-End: The Case of Nuclear Waste Repository Projects. Project Management Journal, December 2015/January 2016. Volume 46, Number 6.


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