Here are four common ways of talking about who should be engaged in decision-making or collective work. Each approach has significant drawbacks.
|Definition||Who decides who they are?||Drawbacks|
|Stakeholders||People with specific, identifiable, relevant knowledge, power, commitment or vulnerability.||The organizers of a process identify the stakeholders.||The organizers retain power and discretion. The process favors people with special “stakes,” who may not represent everyone.|
|Citizens||All adults who are recognized by the authorities as full members of the jurisdiction, e.g., a country.||Normatively, all adult residents have claims to be citizens. In practice, the definition reflects power.||One person/one vote does not reflect the real distribution of influence and interests. Realistically, specific stakeholders will set the agenda. Also, people who are not citizens may have valid stakes.|
|Activists||Members of social movements who have obtained visibility and influence through their struggles.||Activists identify themselves. However, an individual may not be accepted by a given group and may not then be heard.||Since a movement is usually defined by its stance, it cannot represent people with alternative views or those who are neutral or agnostic.|
|The community||Members of an affected group who are outside of the system that organizes the process. For instance, the police consider civilians to be the community. Professors consider non-academics to be the community. For the state, the police and the university might be parts of the community.||Usually, someone with authority defines the community as an “other.”||The abstract idea of a community often devolves to leaders and staff of NGOs or social-movement activists. People who have formal titles may define themselves out of the community, which is a mistake.|
|The oppressed or marginalized, sometimes named “The People” in left-wing discourse.||Members of social groups who are and have been subject to violence, discrimination, dispossession, etc.||People with influence over the discourse–perhaps including those who are themselves oppressed. (But usually, powerful people do most of the talking.)||A negative definition can be patronizing. Defining someone else as oppressed does not empower them.|
See also: citizens, stakeholders, publics, interest groups?; problems with “stakeholders”; and Levine P. (2022), Social Movements and Stakeholder Engagement. In: Lerner D., Palm M.E., Concannon T.W. (eds) Broadly Engaged Team Science in Clinical and Translational Research. Springer