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Stakeholder defined

Stephen Keith McGrath (Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts, University of Southern Queensland, Springfield, Australia)
Stephen Jonathan Whitty (Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts, University of Southern Queensland, Springfield, Australia)

International Journal of Managing Projects in Business

ISSN: 1753-8378

Article publication date: 5 September 2017




The purpose of this paper is to create a “refined” (with unnecessary elements removed) definition of the term stakeholder, thereby removing confusion surrounding the use of this term from the general and project management arenas.


A method of deriving refined definitions for a group of terms by ensuring there are no unnecessary elements causing internal conflict or overlap is adopted and applied to resolve the confusion.


The refined definitions of stake and stakeholder are in terms of an interest and activity. This avoids all extensions of meaning introduced by defining particular types of stakeholders and/ or their degrees of impact. It also resolves the multiplicity of conflicting meanings possible when silent or assumed qualifiers of a word are ignored, restricting definition to, for example, project stakeholders or stakeholders of a firm. These definitions are carried forward into a mapping of the stakeholder locus of interest on an activity rather than a company base, enabling generic categorisation of stakeholders to be proposed for use in both private and public sectors. A governance difficulty with the term customer also emerged and a resolution to this is proposed.

Research limitations/implications

Resolution of the academic contention around the definition of stakeholders will facilitate future research endeavours by removing confusion surrounding the term. It can also provide clarity in governance arrangements in public and private sectors. Verification of the method used through its success in deriving this “refined” definition suggests its suitability for application to other contested terms.

Practical implications

Projects and businesses alike can benefit from removal of confusion around the definition of stakeholder in the academic research they fund and attempt to apply.

Social implications

A refined definition of the stakeholder concept will facilitate building social and physical systems and infrastructure, benefitting organisations, whether public, charitable or private.


Clarity results in the avoidance of confusion and misunderstanding together with their consequent waste of time, resources and money.



McGrath, S.K. and Whitty, S.J. (2017), "Stakeholder defined", International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 721-748.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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