External stakeholder engagement in complex projects

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles


Engaging external stakeholders, like authorities, communities, and non-governmental organizations, is an essential part of complex project management. The objective of this dissertation is to examine how project organizations engage external stakeholders in complex projects. The objective is approached with three research questions. (1) How do project organizations organize external stakeholder engagement in complex projects? (2) How do project organizations engage and disengage external stakeholders over project's lifecycle, and why? (3) How do project organizations communicate effectively in social media to engage external stakeholders? The overall research strategy is case research, and each research question is addressed with an empirical case study. The first study is a qualitative, multiple-case study, the second study is a qualitative, longitudinal single-case study, and the third study is a quantitative, embedded single-case study. Each case study forms an individual and original research article. The empirical data includes semi-structured interviews, project and organization reports, public documents, news articles, and social media messages from three infrastructure projects. The findings of this dissertation provide new understanding regarding stakeholder engagement in the following three ways. First, the findings indicate that three organizing solutions, governance-based, value-based, and dynamism-based solutions, facilitate organizing external stakeholder engagement. The three solutions divide external stakeholder engagement into appropriate activities, allocate the activities to relevant project personnel, and offer the required information and motivation to execute the activities. Second, the findings show that a project organization manages the interaction with external stakeholders based on four rationales: framing the project, legitimizing governance, maintaining interaction, and expanding governance, bound to project lifecycle phases and changing stakeholder environment. The rationales highlight the essential role of disengagement in value creation as the project organization constantly balances between activities to engage external stakeholders and activities to disengage external stakeholders over the project lifecycle. Third, the findings demonstrate that engagement effectiveness depends on a project organization's understanding of the target stakeholder, suitable discussion topics, and communication modes. A project organization's communication that offers information about sustainability issues, or is cooperative or entertaining, engages external stakeholders effectively in social media. Overall, the above-described findings offer novel insights into how project organizations engage external stakeholders in complex projects, contributing to stakeholder theory and complex project management research.
Translated title of the contributionUlkoisten sidosryhmien sitouttaminen monimutkaisissa projekteissa
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Artto, Karlos, Supervising Professor
  • Rajala, Risto, Thesis Advisor
Print ISBNs978-952-64-0296-3
Electronic ISBNs978-952-64-0297-0
Publication statusPublished - 2021
MoE publication typeG5 Doctoral dissertation (article)


  • stakeholder engagement
  • complex projects
  • external stakeholders
  • stakeholder theory
  • project management


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