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What Are Primary, Secondary & Tertiary Stakeholders?

Updated February 21, 2017

No matter what the industry, sector, business or project, there are often more than one group or level of parties involved. In business and in government, these groups are often referred to as "stakeholders." Since outcomes and projects affect different groups differently, there are, usually, three levels of stakeholders defined: primary, secondary and tertiary.

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What is a "Stakeholder?"

The exact definition of a stakeholder might change a bit depending on the context in which the term is used. Most of the time, however, stakeholders are those who have some particular direct or indirect interest in a project or outcome. These projects or outcomes might be related to either the public or private sector. But not all stakeholders are the same.

Primary Stakeholders

Primary stakeholders are sometimes also referred to as "key stakeholders." That group is the central unit of analysis for most project or outcomes, since they are the most likely to be directly affected by the project or outcome at hand. Accordingly, primary stakeholders often wield the most authority or influence over a given endeavour. However, they are often not alone; secondary and even tertiary stakeholders might have rights, authority, and influence, too, since they might also be affected. For instance, if a park is to be built in a neighbourhood, local residents would be referred to as primary stakeholders.

Secondary Stakeholders

While primary stakeholders are those most directly affected by a project or outcome, secondary stakeholders are also involved in the process or project. Secondary stakeholders are intermediaries who have an interest in the project or outcome, although it is less significant and directly related than that of the primary stakeholders. We can say that these secondary stakeholders are "indirectly affected" by outcomes. In the park example, if a park is being built in a neighbourhood, local construction companies and conservation groups might be secondary stakeholders.

Tertiary Stakeholders

Tertiary stakeholders are not always included in analyses and discussions of projects or outcomes since they are usually fairly far removed from the process. However, if they are included, they are often referred to as "external" and can play an advisory or advocacy role. Again, in our example of the park being built, there may be no tertiary stakeholders. In some cases, however, groups such as mental health professionals and fitness groups may be considered tertiary stakeholders, since they could argue that public parks are good for mental and physical health.

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About the Author

Harrison Pennybaker began writing in 2004. He has written as a student and a journalist, specializing in politics, travel, arts and culture and current affairs. He holds a Master of Arts in political science and is currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in political science.

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