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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Identifying Project Stakeholders

Rafael Guerrero

Before proceeding with the capstone project, you and your team must understand the broader implications of your design solution. Engineers are responsible for considering each variable in the engineering design process that could potentially compromise the effectiveness, appropriateness, and safety of the design. As engineering is a people’s service, it is crucial for your team to begin the design process with a full understanding of the people, communities, businesses, and environments that could be affected by the building, testing, and implementation of your design.

Analysis of the possible outcomes of your design is crucial in determining the “scope” of your project, or the scale of which the positive and negative effects of your design project will be experienced. While a custom-made sewage system may not necessarily be a project that can be implemented across multiple communities, products like the EpiPen, pepper spray, and even the flashlight have applications in different environments, countries, and demographics. The scope of your project can be thought of as a product of two considerations regarding the impact of your design solution: identification of the project stakeholders and the inherent risks that could be experienced by these stakeholders as a result of implementing your design solution.

Who and what are the project stakeholders?

Stakeholders are the people, communities, businesses, and environments that experience the direct or indirect effects from the implementation of a decision. From a senior design project perspective, project stakeholders are defined in a similar way. These are entities that have a “stake” in design changes and the implementation of your engineering solution, whose needs, wants, and concerns influence the design. What makes the role of the project stakeholder prevalent in engineering ethics, however, is that the stakeholder or stakeholders can change as your design team continues to iterate upon your design.

Designating Project Stakeholders

What may seem as a simple designer/customer interaction within engineering design can carry with it a deep, interconnected web of stakeholders that will experience the effects of design decisions-- both good and bad. For example the implementation of a new vaccine carries with it a long list of people who may be considered project stakeholders: the patients who may or may not react poorly to the vaccine, medical staff who have to be trained in how to deliver the vaccine, the health insurance providers that people must go through to access the vaccine, the animals that would have the vaccine tested on them, and concerned citizens who would not want to see the new vaccine become required of them or their families.

Even with projects as relatively small as your senior design project, many project stakeholders may be considered directly or indirectly affected by the choices your team makes with your design. It is definitely not possible to know at the onset of the design process all the stakeholders that will be affected by your project. At the very least, you and your team should take the time to consider the more immediate network of stakeholders that would experience the benefits and possible harms of implementing your project. Specific demographics, communities, business competitors, and ecosystems are types of stakeholders that can be considered in determining an ethical scope of your design project.

Some questions that can help you identify project stakeholders are:

  • Demographics:
    • Who is your design intended for? How many people is it intended for?
    • How will your design be used on a daily basis? By whom?
    • Who will directly purchase your design? Is that your final customer?
    • Does your design complete jobs that are currently done by people? How will these people’s livelihoods be affected?
  • Communities:
    • Does a specific social/economic/racial/age/gender/religious group benefit more than others with the implementation of your design? Does it harm a certain group of people more than others?
    • Does your design respect legal codes, or can it potentially pose a legal risk to the people that own or operate it?
    • What benefits or harms that did not previously exist in this community might result from implementing your design? Are these long or short term effects?
  • Business competitors:
    • Does your design fairly compete with other existing products and businesses?
    • Can your design be the center of a new business? How will this new business compete with an existing product or business?
    • Does your design require trade secrets that are meant to be kept within the design team? Who will have access to this “proprietary information”?
    • Will your design threaten local businesses and the local economy?
  • Environments/key ecosystems:
    • How will your design be properly repurposed or disposed of at the end of its life?
    • What resources does your design expend in fabrication, operation, and testing, and who will be responsible for providing those resources?
    • Does your design necessitate animal testing? If so, how is the ethical care of these animals accounted for?
Jun 29, 2018