The best engagement happens when you get into meaningful conversations with your stakeholders, and when they feel comfortable reciprocating. E=MC2.
When you're trying to introduce a new infrastructure development into a community, the people that live there are going to be:
a) surprised, potentially
b) wary of the change it will introduce
c) eager to know more
So talk to them. Start a conversation. Invite them to give you an early steer on how your plans could be improved and made more acceptable.
Really good dialogue can facilitate trust, avoid conflict and reduce levels of objection - all of which can improve your chances of securing local approval to proceed.
Once you start a conversation, it's important to keep it going. If you don't, two things are guaranteed to happen:
Firstly, people will quickly feel disenfranchised and as though your early efforts were insincere; and, secondly, it will create an information void that objectors will seek to fill with speculation.
Done right, good stakeholder engagement should start before you submit any formal development plans and give people a genuine say on them. It should continue throughout the planning process, where those most likely to be affected by them are kept in-the-loop and always first to know what's going on. It should continue, albeit in a slightly different manner once your project moves into its operational phase. And it should carry on consistently until all work has been completed.
As well as giving people access to timely information and updates, and involving them in decision-making where that's possible, it's also a good idea to regularly check how stakeholders are viewing your communication efforts.
So, sent an email in response to a request for information? Ask for feedback on whether you satisfied their query and if there's anything you could have done better. Held a public event? Ask attendees to rate it (venue, ease of access, clarity of information etc). Every time you interact with your stakeholders, there's an opportunity to gather really useful feedback that will enable you to continually revise your methods and overall approach so that you can get better and better at engaging with your relevant audiences.
This is all the more important in the case of infrastructure that's likely to be contentious or 'controversial'.
Tempting though it might be to try and avoid the public glare until it can't be avoided anymore, it's a mistake.
If left too late, engagement comes to be seen as a reaction to opposition rather than a genuine attempt at dialogue. Positions become entrenched to the point where it becomes impossible to engage meaningfully with some sections of the community, and where every effort to communicate will be derided as PR 'spin' which then harms the way others in the community perceive you and your plans.
• Start a conversation early
• Keep it going
• Ask for and respond to feedback
Want expert help with stakeholder engagement to advance your controversial yet critical infrastructure plans? Email theteam [at] 52Mconsulting.com