A Comprehensive Literature Review on Stakeholder Engagement

Chalkboard with word 'stakeholder' written on it
(Photo: Nick Youngson/CC BY-SA 3.0/Alpha Stock Images)

Stakeholder engagement has become a popular term in management literature and practice. In their comprehensive review, “Stakeholder Engagement: Past, Present, and Future” published in Business & SocietyJohanna Kujala, Sybille Sachs, Heta Leinonen, Anna Heikkinen, and Daniel Laude offer an inclusive stakeholder engagement definition and provide a guide to organize the research.  

Johanna Kujala, Sybille Sachs, Heta Leinonen, Anna Heikkinen, and Daniel Laude (left to right)

What motivated you to pursue this research?

We have worked with stakeholder theory for over two decades. Recently, the idea of stakeholder engagement has become widely popular across business and society, management and strategy, as well as environmental management and policy literatures. However, there is no shared understanding of what stakeholder engagement entails. This has resulted in a fragmented understanding, which inevitably risks the legitimacy and practical relevance of the construct. Thus, inspired by the Business & Society 60th anniversary special issue call for literature reviews, we set out to review stakeholder engagement research.

What was challenging in the research process and were there any surprising findings?

Our aim – to clarify the construct of stakeholder engagement to unfold the full potential of stakeholder engagement research and inspire its further development – was ambitious and challenging. Due to the widespread use of the construct, we had a vast number of articles and journals to explore – while keeping in mind the special issue deadline. Fortunately, we were able to proceed in an organized way throughout the writing process and due to the high engagement, our teamwork flourished. In addition, we received plenty of support from the editorial team of the special issue.

We reviewed 90 stakeholder engagement articles with the systematic, interpretive, and problematizing literature review procedures. With the systematic approach, we were able to provide a description of the past and current state of stakeholder engagement research. The interpretive literature review enabled us to specify the construct of stakeholder engagement, organize the current state of the research, and identify the overlooked areas. Interestingly, it was apparent that stakeholder engagement research has over-emphasized positive issues and forms of engagement. Thus, we proceeded with the problematizing approach (Alvesson & Sandberg, 2020) to address the previously overlooked dark side of stakeholder engagement. Finally, we conclude that an integrated view combining the bright and dark sides of stakeholder engagement is necessary to further develop the research.

In what ways is your research innovative, and how do you think it will impact the field?

We believe that our findings are widely applicable to stakeholder engagement scholarship across disciplinary boundaries, since we have integrated insights and development of research in business and society, management and strategy, as well as environmental management and policy fields.

We provide an inclusive definition of stakeholder engagement referring to the aims, activities, and impacts of stakeholder relations in a moral, strategic, and/or pragmatic manner. Moreover, we provide a guide to organize the stakeholder engagement research and offer enlightened insights on how to develop the research further. We hope that our article inspires scholars from different fields to engage in this exciting research area.


Alvesson, M., & Sandberg, J. (2020). The problematizing review: A counterpoint to Elsbach and Van Knippenberg’s argument for integrative reviews. Journal of Management Studies, 57, 1290–1304.

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