Introducing the new ITK Stakeholder Power Categories tool!

Introducing the new ITK Stakeholder Power Categories tool!

Today’s blog is from Jonathan Rotner

Learn more about ITK’s newest tool and the equity lens embedded in it.

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On first glance, this new tool might look like yet another 2×2 grid that helps your team prioritize its outcomes and actions. But this one comes from Team Toolkit, in collaboration with MITRE Social Justice Platform, so you know it drives outcomes and actions towards impact and equity.

Giving voice and a vote to those who are affected by an effort leads to more impact.

The ITK Stakeholder Power Categories tool prompts you to consider which stakeholder groups to prioritize, and it explores ways for you to integrate them into your teams. Using this tool can help your team adjust its goals, so they reflect the needs of those who will be most affected by the effort. It’s not walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, it’s walking that mile together!

Or, restating the goals of this tool in a more systems-engineering way, stakeholder engagement can be time-intensive, and this tool helps your team quickly categorize and assess which ones to engage, based on power and impact. For this activity, power over the effort refers to the ability to influence or control the behavior of people. Power comes in many forms: individuals have power, history has power, systems and the status quo have power, laws and norms have power, ideas and values have power, money has power. Impacted by the effort refers to the many ways that outcomes can affect an individual or group’s first-hand experiences.

Another goal of this tool is to highlight impacted stakeholders and to ideate on how to elevate their roles on your effort. Oftentimes, collaborating with those that are impacted will result in their endorsement of your effort and better outcomes for all. Deferring to those that are impacted may be the best way to ensure that the work continues and transitions to an engaged and invested community after your team moves on.

Direct participation from those who are overlooked or excluded leads to more equity.

A team’s assumptions about data, people’s behavior, potential uses, and the environment all shape an effort’s outcomes. These assumptions stem from team members’ own, often subconscious, social values, and they can be replicated and encoded into what the team designs. Unfortunately and unintentionally, those with the greatest need (i.e., those groups at the margins) often aren’t part of the design team; and so the final solution mimics the design team’s experience, rather than the lived experience of those with the greatest need. Therefore, the Stakeholder Power Categories tool asks how your team might increase participation, ownership, and self-governance of those who are highly impacted by the effort.

Direct participation by those at the margins is critical to reducing gaps in equity. These stakeholders can provide real context and experience in the domain where the effort will operate, and they can share information about how previous attempts to address their issues fared. These stakeholders can also help your team understand the different needs of different communities and how different approaches might distribute harm.[1]

Education and exposure are powerful tools. Sharing decision-making power has powerful outcomes. Equity-driven design thinking shows that when teams design for those at the margins, everyone benefits.[2]

So how might your team use the tool?

Start with the “when.” This tool is best used after you have identified a comprehensive and representative set of stakeholders that are relevant to the effort. (Or revisit this tool as the effort evolves, to ensure that the right set of stakeholders are still involved.)

The activity starts by helping your team get a better a sense of what the stakeholder landscape looks like, through the lenses of power and impact. The instructions first ask you to consider how much each stakeholder will be impacted by the effort. This section is intended to expand collaboration beyond the usual players.

Next, the instructions ask your team to consider the amount of power each stakeholder has over the effort. This part of the exercise helps your team think through the many ways in which inequality and internal assumptions can creep into the design, despite everyone’s best intent.

The “Notice and reflect” section promotes equitable outcomes. Before grappling with changing course or shuffling priorities, look at the 2×2 grid you just filled in. Read the quadrant descriptions and notice the patterns that have emerged: Are there any quadrants that are over- or under- represented? Did the team miss anyone?

The ITK Stakeholder Power Categories tool offers four questions that prompt your team towards different ways to make change. These questions suggest that those with lived experience (having personal knowledge or first-hand experience of the problem) are key contributors to a proposed solution. Answering these questions will not only help your team assess who should join the effort, but also help your team start to think through how you’ll invite them to do so.

And like all ITK tools, the final part of the tool reemphasizes that you act on your insights. What did your team discover after going through the exercise, and what will it do next?

Seriously, tell us! Team Toolkit can’t wait to hear about it.

Interested in learning more about other ITK tools with an embedded equity lens?

[1] “The Spectrum of Community Engagement to Ownership.” Facilitating Power Engagement approaches. Community Commons. Accessed June 29, 2021. [Online]. Available:

[2] “Design for the Margins: City Accelerator Guest Commentary.” YouTube, July 16, 2014. [Online]. Available:




Introducing the new ITK Quickstart Stakeholder Engagement Canvas!

Introducing the new ITK Quickstart Stakeholder Engagement Canvas!

Learn more about ITK’s newest tool and the equity lens embedded in it.

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As part of Team Toolkit’s collaboration with the MITRE Social Justice Platform, we are excited to announce the addition of a new tool – the ITK Quickstart Stakeholder Engagement Canvas!

The ITK Quickstart Stakeholder Engagement canvas is a quick way to begin developing a plan for effectively engaging a stakeholder. This tool is best used early in the process, but it’s an important step whenever you need to interact or collaborate with the people involved, interested, or impacted by your project.

This canvas is divided into two complementary sides – “Analysis” and “Engagement”. The “Analysis” side of the canvas helps your team identify and assess a stakeholder’s needs, wants, and influence. It also helps your team get clear on their wants and needs, which will help identify where the team’s priorities do or do not match with the stakeholder.

The “Engagement” side of the canvas helps your team consider how to approach the first (or next) engagement with the stakeholder. It asks your team to consider the context surrounding this stakeholder so that your team can work to avoid any missteps. It also encourages your team to consider two notional scenarios: A wildly successful engagement or a bad engagement. Similar to the Premortem, the practice of imagining these future scenarios will help your team identify potential problems, risks, or blind spots before they occur.

In addition, the embedded equity lens helps your team explore four additional considerations beyond the default to help create more equity-informed engagements. This helps broaden your team’s thinking and raise their collective awareness, both of which can help inspire new thinking and opportunities for innovation.

The first equity-minded consideration asks your team to identify relevant historical events that may continue to impact the stakeholder today, rather than focusing only on present-day conditions. The embedded equity lens asks about past disappointments and historical harms that the stakeholder may have experienced. It prompts your team to consider how they might be more mindful of these occurrences when engaging with the stakeholder.

Another equity-minded consideration that this tool asks about is lived experience (a.k.a. relevant first-hand experience) that the stakeholder may have. This is often an overlooked, but critically important, type of expertise.

The third equity-minded consideration is the explicit discussion of power, which is often imbalanced in inequitable situations. It’s also often uncomfortable to name or discuss. By including power questions on the canvas, it allows for a more open and direct conversation with your team rather than relying on someone to bring it up on their own.

Lastly, the fourth equity-minded consideration is to prompt your team to examine their own biases and assumptions that they may be bringing to this engagement. The ability to notice and reflect are critical to equity driven design thinking, which encourages us to create not just inclusive and diverse solutions, but to create equitable solutions.

While there are many stakeholder-related methods and tools on the market, our goal with this new ITK tool is to help teams quickly get started or get unstuck when thinking through how to engage a stakeholder. We encourage teams to use the ITK Quickstart Stakeholder Engagement in combination with the ITK Stakeholder Identification Canvas or other market tools to begin developing your stakeholder engagement strategy. Revisiting your engagement strategy throughout your effort will ensure that the right set of people, groups, and organizations are involved at the right time.

We hope you find the ITK Quickstart Stakeholder Engagement canvas useful, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Interested in learning more about other ITK tools with an embedded equity lens?

The ITK Tool Development Process

The ITK Tool Development Process

As MITRE’s Innovation Toolkit continues to evolve and mature, we’ve been reflecting on how we create new tools (and update existing tools). The short version is we do it iteratively. For the longer version… read on!

Most of the tools you see on our website are actually version 7 or version 15 or version 382. The point is pretty much all of them went through considerable modifications on their way to the version you see on the website.

Except maybe the Lotus Blossom. Pretty sure that one popped up fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus.

Aside from that single exception, all the other tools are the result of an ongoing series of prototypes and experiments. Sometimes we’ve even used one tool to develop another tool… then updated the first tool based on our experience developing the second one. It gets pretty meta around here sometimes. While that may sound a bit convoluted, we actually have a pretty straightforward way of describing the tool development process. It’s built around a theater / tv show metaphor, and it goes something like this:

An idea for a new tool starts in the Café, where one or two people begin sketching out a rough idea and produce an initial incomplete draft. Maybe they have a casual chat with someone at the next table over, or maybe they have their headphones on as they draw and sketch and write. In Broadway terms, this is where Lin-Manuel composes that first rap and starts laying out the overall structure of Hamilton.


Alexander Hamilton

Next, we move to the Writer’s Room. This is where a group gathers to co-create the tool and further develop it from the Café version. They play with phrases and formats, identify and address gaps in the tool. The idea is for the initial instigator to bring in some collaborators who help transform the incomplete idea into the first complete draft. In the world of musical theater, this might be where a lyricist brings in a composer (or vice versa), or a writer brings in a co-author.

Next is a special type of casual rehearsal called a Table Read, where we test a basic version of the tool with people who weren’t involved in creating it. The point here is to invite new perspectives & contributors. To use Hamilton terms again, this is where Leslie Odom Jr shows up and the writers get to see how the lines actually sound when the actor says them (and continue to rewrite the lines based on that observation & discussion).

Eventually we get to the Dress Rehearsal, where a complete version of the tool is used in a closed environment, to really put it through its paces… without an audience. Unlike the table read, in our dress rehearsal our focus goes beyond the tool itself and now includes facilitation techniques and logistics. In our theater metaphor, this is where the script is basically locked down and the director confirms the lighting, blocking, and choreography.

Then we come to Opening Night, the first time the tool is used with an external group, sponsor, etc. This is still an opportunity to test & evaluate & modify the tool, so we’re all watching and taking notes about changes to make in the next version.

The Full Run means the tool is field-tested, polished, and proven. We might make some small tweaks at this point, adjust the choreography slightly or make little tweaks to the dialogue, but by now the thing is pretty much solid & we can do 8 shows a week. As an added bonus, the understudies get opportunities step on stage… and the writer goes back to the café.

As you see, like a Broadway show, developing a new ITK tool is generally an iterative, collaborative process. One person can instigate and take a certain degree of ownership for a tool, one person can shepherd it through the whole process, pick co-authors and hold own auditions, etc. But nobody has to write / produce / sing / dance / etc in a one-person performance. There are plenty of people available to lend a hand and help transform the spark of an idea into a big hit…

The Barriers Petal

The Barriers Petal

No two Lotus Blossoms sessions are alike, because that particular tool is designed for maximum flexibility and broad applicability. You can do a Lotus Blossom around a problem statement or to explore solutions. You can use it to design an organization, outline a research paper, or define a business process. I’ve even been known to plan out my New Year’s Resolutions in a Lotus Blossom. The options truly are endless, and so is the variety.

But for all the different ways to use a Lotus Blossom, there is one consistent practice I apply almost every time. It’s a particular petal that seems to fit every situation, regardless of topic or situation. I call it… the Barriers Petal.

It’s a pretty simple concept – just write the word Barriers in one of the petals around the central blossom. I tend to use the lower-left petal of the central blossom, for no particular reason other than that box tends to be available. Plus, having a consistent location helps me remember to do it.

Oddly, one of the things I like about this is the way this brings a slightly negative tone to the conversation, an off note to the composition. While the rest of the blossoms are typically full of possibilities and sparkly ideas, the Barriers blossom helps us anticipate the things that might undermine our plans or interfere with our goals.

This contrast sends a subtle signal to go beyond the obvious, front-of-mind ideas, and to dig a little deeper. Plus, virtually every topic has some sort of barriers associated with it, and it’s better to think about them and anticipate them in advance than to be surprised when one smacks us in the face.

Introducing the new ITK Stakeholder Identification Canvas!

Introducing the new ITK Stakeholder Identification Canvas!

Learn more about ITK’s newest tool and the equity lens embedded in it.

– – –

As part of Team Toolkit’s collaboration with the MITRE Social Justice Platform, we are excited to announce the addition of a new tool – the ITK Stakeholder Identification Canvas!

The ITK Stakeholder Identification canvas helps your team ideate a more comprehensive & representative set of relevant stakeholders to your project. In addition, this tool embeds an equity lens to help your team be mindful of the needs and priorities of the larger community, which may not be immediately apparent.

As a refresher, recall that equity-driven design thinking encourages us to create not just inclusive and diverse solutions, but to create equitable solutions. Equitable solutions are available to all (e.g., equal access), and they also help equalize who benefits from the solution (e.g., many groups benefit, not just one).

Equity-driven design thinking helps ensure we design at the margins or at the “edge,” where those with the greatest need exist. These are the groups who are left out because they don’t have a seat the table, a voice, and/or the means to advocate for themselves.

For example, edge groups may not have power or resources; they may represent only a small portion of the overall set and are not included in the “average audience”; and/or the project doesn’t engage with them because the project team believes there isn’t enough time if they want to meet project deadlines. It’s critical to include these edge groups because not only does their inclusion often yield a better solution for many, it’s also often the case that these edge groups are the ones most likely to suffer the greatest burden or consequences of inequitable design.

So, what happens if your team is looking at the wrong “edge”? What if your team thinks they’re designing at the margin, but there’s actually more groups they should be considering?

That’s where the ITK Stakeholder Identification canvas comes in!

The ITK Stakeholder Identification canvas encourages teams to broaden their thinking by asking not only about primary stakeholders, but also about secondary and tertiary stakeholders. This helps teams build a more comprehensive set of groups to consider.

Potential secondary stakeholders could be groups that play a connector role. These stakeholders could be gate keepers, or they might provide permission, resources, or access to enable (or block) your project’s success. And of course, it’s critical for the team to identify the actual audience of focus that will receive the outcome or benefit that your project seeks to create, which may be a different group than your primary stakeholders.

In addition, the embedded equity lens asks teams to consider potential tertiary stakeholders that may be even less visible. In the “Build Empathy” section, teams are asked to consider who or what will be benefitted or burdened. This section also asks teams to consider who or what may be missing, with a sub-prompt to also consider historical actions. By asking about “what,” rather than only “who,” this expands the set of potential stakeholders to include organizations, communities, ecosystems, the environment, and more. Oftentimes, answering these questions will further broaden your team’s thinking to consider systemic and intergenerational impacts.

Lastly, it wouldn’t be an equity-centered tool if there wasn’t at least one question about biases. Fortunately, this tool has 3!

The “Notice Bias & Assumptions” section includes three prompts to encourage honest self-awareness on the team about how their perspectives may be limited or non-representative of the audience of focus. Answering these questions will also help identify if there are gaps in the stakeholder set, which means there is further information gathering or research that needs to be completed by the team.

The ITK Stakeholder Identification canvas is best used early in the process, but it’s an important step whenever you need to consider who or what is involved, interested, or impacted by your project. For true project success, it’s essential to consider and involve not only those who are actively involved in your project, but also those whose interests may be positively or negatively affected by your effort.

Get your copy of the ITK Stakeholder Identification canvas here. We hope you find it useful, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Interested in learning more about other ITK tools with an embedded equity lens?