Cheryl Stenström and Maria Otero-Boisvert on Influence in Funding Decisions

In my posting “Yes! – Influence, Persuasion and Libraries” I mentioned the doctoral work of two of my colleagues from the SJSU-QUT Gateway PhD program: Cheryl Stenström and Maria Otero-Boisvert. This post will provide an introduction to their research findings which are relevant to librarians any anyone else who has to influence senior decision makers in order to obtain funding and approval for programs.

Dr. Stenström’s thesis was entitled “Factors Influencing Funding Decisions by Elected Politicians at the State/Provincial Level: A Case Study of Public Libraries in Canada” and is available at Dr. Otero-Boisvert’s thesis was entitled “Funding the Academic Library: An Ethnographic Study” and is available at Both of these studies used Cialdini’s work on influence as their theoretical frameworks and examined what influence strategies library administrators employed in order to obtain funding for their institutions.

Cialdini presented six principles of influence which are as follows:

  1. Reciprocity: The principle that people feel indebted when they receive something from someone else and this increases their likelihood of complying with requests
  2. Liking: The principle that people are more likely to comply with requests from people they like
  3. Commitment & Consistency: The principle that people tend to want to appear consistent in their actions are a likely to stick with something that they have supported in the past
  4. Social Proof: The principle that people are more likely to trust and accept things that are popular or endorsed by people they trust, particularly people who are similar to them
  5. Authority: The principle that people are more likely to comply with people they view as having authority over a given topic which can be demonstrated by titles/hierarchical position, experience, or other signals
  6. Scarcity: The principle that people believe that things that are difficult to get or are exclusive are better than things that are quickly, easily, and cheaply available

Both of these researchers found that the influence factors in Cialdini’s framework were relevant in funding decisions in libraries, but they found that liking related to interpersonal relationships was the most important factor for funding decisions:

“Beyond the Cialdini themes, this study found other prevalent themes impacting decision making which revolved around both interpersonal and inter-institutional relationships. These include relationship management, communication, socializing, negotiation and change. Interviews emphasized the importance of being seen as a “team player,” of “supporting the mission of the university,” and of the intangible yet crucial concept of “getting it” ” (Otero-Boisvert, 2015, ii)

“Findings show the principles of “authority”, “consistency and commitment” and “liking” were relevant, and that “liking” were especially important to these decisions. When these decision makers were considering funding for public libraries, they most often used three distinct lenses: the consistency lens (what are my values? what would my party do?), the authority lens (is someone with hierarchical power telling me to do this? are the requests legitimate?), and most importantly, the liking lens (how much do I like and know about the requester?). These findings are consistent with Cialdini’s theory, which suggests the quality of some relationships is one of six factors that can most influence a decision maker.” (Stenström, 2012)

These theses and the authors’ other publications provide interesting examples of how library administrators and funding decision makers think and work and are worth reading in full. There are a few key lessons that can be taken from their work which we should all consider when we are trying to campaign on behalf of our libraries, teams, or projects in the workplace:

  • Don’t just interact with decision makers when you want something from them and expect them to be sympathetic to your cause. Take the time to build a relationship with them so that when you come with a request they know who you are and why you are there. If you are working toward a vote, take the time to meet with those who are voting first and seek informal support. Build networks over time.


  • Get to know what is important to the decision makers. Understand and communicate how what you are offering in your library service / project / program can help support their goals.


  • Try to make sure that more than one member of your library team has the opportunity to build relationships with decision makers. If the relationship that has been built is with a single staff person and that person leaves the organization, then their successor will have to work to build the relationship up from scratch.


  • You can take examples of successful programs from other comparable institutions or organizations to provide proof in support of your proposals. The more similar the sample organization is to your own, the more powerful the evidence will be.


  • Scarcity was not found to be an effective influence technique in the case of library funding.


  • Don’t always campaign for your cause at the expense of others. Within organizations there is a limited budgetary pie to be divided and if you are seen as going after more than your team’s “fair share”, then you won’t find any allies in future decision making sessions. Being willing to sacrifice on occasion for the good of the whole organization can help you be seen as a team player which will increase your influence in terms of both liking and reciprocity.


These studies both focused on library funding decisions, but their findings are clearly applicable to any situation in which one needs to advocate for a given cause, group, or institution. Stenström’s research involved interviews with elected officials, so their responses would be of interest to community organizers, advocates, and lobbyists as well as librarians.

Featured image by waferboard


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