I'm trying to start a list workflow from a user with edit permissions on the list itself, but no access to the site that contains the list. Is there a way to do this? Right now the workflow gets suspended with an access denied error, but if I grant the user access to the site the workflow works.

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If its a Designer workflow, Write your workflow logic inside AppStep block. This will elevate the privilege and user will be able to run the workflow. Check below link on how to activate Appstep. https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/office/jj822159.aspx

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