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What is stakeholder engagement and why is it important?

Identifying shared challenges

There are a number of policy issues that can arise for pharmaceutical products, medicines and medical devices that can stop patients getting timely access to them. Building relationships with stakeholders across a wide range of fields can help break down those barriers and accelerate the patient’s access to new products.

Aryan Asaadi, Associate Consultant at MAP BioPharma, has been speaking about stakeholder engagement with our Policy and Public Affairs team.

What is ‘stakeholder engagement’ and why is it crucial for accelerating patient access to medicines, medical devices and diagnostics?

Put simply, stakeholders are those who have a stake in the relevant policy environment or outcome. There are a number of roadblocks and policy issues that can arise for pharmaceutical products, medicines and medical devices that can stop patients getting the access they need. Building relationships with stakeholders across a wide range of fields can help break down those barriers and accelerate patient access. 

There are several stakeholders you might need to engage with but we’re going to focus on two specific groups: policymakers and patient engagement. How do the two approaches differ and what typical challenges do the team face?

Interestingly enough, the main engagement principals are the same. Consistent evidence-based messages are needed to build relationships between both groups. With patient groups, it’s often about listening carefully and asking questions. It’s important for both us and our clients to understand the patient experience and to feed that back to make policymakers understand the importance of these groups having access to new products. Policymakers are at the other end, a group of people who can influence the policy, who put the roadblocks in place and can help to remove them. They need to understand what the patient groups are feeling and what is preventing pharmaceutical companies getting their product to market. Hopefully, with the help of the P&PA team, we can break down those barriers and get patients the access they need.

Presumably there are strategies or blueprints that the P&PA team employ to help structure stakeholder engagement. Can you briefly describe what these are?

Firstly, we help formulate the strategy. It can be very different depending on where the product is in the process, what kind of information is already available, and what they want to accomplish. The most important thing is to clarify what the client is trying to achieve. Are they trying to push for a long-term change in policy, similar to our orphan medicines project that Dan is going to discuss later, or are they trying to solve a short-term issue and understand the particular roadblocks that are already in place? In many cases, these companies will have existing relationships with their local MP, or there may be existing relationships within NHS England or NICE. We need to know what the relationships are so that we can build on them. The important thing at the beginning is to identify clear and achievable objectives. We’re probably not going to succeed in changing the entire funding system of the NHS overnight but what we can do is achieve real goals for both our clients and patient groups.

It’s really interesting that you mentioned process – on the back of that, when would be the best time for drug manufacturers to address market access challenges?

When you are trying to shape an environment, the important time is right at the beginning. The earlier you can get involved in trying to change the minds of stakeholders, the better.

Now let’s turn our focus onto rare diseases. There are an estimated 7,000 orphan diseases. How do MAP’s P&PA team research key targets for developing stakeholder engagement strategy?

When starting research, it’s key to discover who has an existing interest. We find out if an MP or peer has asked a question or spoken in Parliament on the issue or if a patient group has published a press release or report on the relevant topic. We would then develop a long list of stakeholders and indicate what engagement approach might be appropriate.

Data has become increasingly important in supporting evidence-based medicines. What role does data play in achieving effective stakeholder engagement?

As you are probably aware, evidence plays an incredibly important role in policy development and having a strong evidence base in your proposal for a policy change makes it a lot more effective when talking to people within Parliament. Also, data plays a role in informing an MP that they should be taking an interest in this area because they should have a constituency interest.

What are some of the most obvious things that companies perhaps underappreciate when it comes to stakeholder engagement?

An interesting point is preparation. It’s really important that you’re speaking to the right person in the right way, and at the right time. Consider who the best person in your company is to engage with the stakeholder. Research the stakeholder to make sure that your representative is fully briefed, ensure engagement is consistently followed up and use this to fine tune future engagement, drawing on your company’s experience and resources. Internal expertise can support your public affairs activities and identify existing information and data that can be translated within your public affairs programme. You should also inform and educate colleagues about your public affairs activities. Consider areas of joint working across media activities and create an understanding that undertaking early-stage public affairs engagement can be a long-term investment.

There seems to be a clear method behind stakeholder engagement. What is unique about the way MAP BioPharma achieves effective stakeholder engagement?

MAP’s P&PA team works across MAP’s wider team to provide a seamless service. We work alongside market access and health economics and outcomes research experts. A great example of this is MAP’s ‘Access to Orphan Medicines: A Case for Change’ report which was informed by internal expertise and then used by the P&PA team to create meaningful engagement within Parliament.

It’s great that we have an internal team within MAP. How do you measure success in stakeholder engagement, and can you quantify that?

We help clients save time and over the long-term provide them with support to achieve their goals. This is anything from the very beginning of identifying stakeholders, to facilitating engagement and achieving their goals through policy changes or through increasing the focus on issues within Parliament but with relevant people. It’s hard to put a number on it but long-term our clients really do benefit from this P&PA support.

More useful content on stakeholder engagement is available on MAP Online.

If you aren’t a MAP Online member and would like to find out more about the benefits of membership please do get in touch, phone us on +44 (0) 1480 276443 or email us on 


Tessa Hughes

Associate Director
Head of Policy and Public Affairs


Aryan Asaadi

Associate Consultant
MAP Online & Health Economics and Outcomes Research

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