Stakeholder engagement - say what you mean and mean what you say

People appreciate straight talking, it invokes trust. Be more successful at stakeholder engagement by saying what you mean and meaning what you say.


If it looks like you're sugar-coating the risks associated with your development proposals, people will smell a rat and could easily conclude that you've got something to hide. Likewise, if you don't explain industry-specific language, they might feel you're trying to bamboozle them with jargon.

In general, people just want to know what your proposal entails, if and how it might affect them (warts and all) and what benefits they'll feel personally, if any, phrased in accessible language.

So be prepared to tell them.

Be honest and upfront about risks, and explain how you will reduce them and what mitigation you will put in place just in case something does go wrong. For those that aren't familar with the concepts of managing risks, explain it to them or signpost them to credible resources that will help them to understand it.

Set out the steps that will be involved in making your development a reality, because not everyone will know. Explain what happens at each stage and what it involves (for instance, you could feature an FAQ section on your website). In particular, highlight all the opportunities to contribute to statutory consultations.

And summarise the benefits that will accrue - use a simple matrix like the one we discuss here so people can *SEE* the social, environmental and economic benefits for themselves.

Play it straight. Use plain language (this is a really useful list of alternative words you can use to make it easier for people to understand you, without 'dumbing down' at all).

Where you make predictions, be clear that's all they are. If you express an opinion, make sure you state that's what it is. And if you refer to facts, support them with links so that people can explore the background for themselves. This way, you can avoid any accusation that you're using 'weasel words' or engaging in 'spin'.

Don't say you'll do something if you won't, don't promise you won't do something if you will. And, if you do ever find yourself in the position of having made an honest mistake and broken a commitment you've made - flag it up quickly, say sorry (and mean it) and don't do it again.