The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) defines best practice community engagement as “shaping decisions and actions of organisations”.
This presents a challenge for major construction, infrastructure and resources projects that are already shaped by commercial considerations long before the community even finds out about them. Proponents are primarily motivated to deliver a healthy margin for shareholders, clients, or value for money for taxpayers.
When working within these commercial constraints, few community relations practitioners get the chance to deliver campaigns where communities’ decisions are always implemented.
So how can we find a happy medium – an engagement program that reflects commercial realities, but also gives communities some skin in the game? Achieving this requires careful planning.
Defining the negotiables and non-negotiables of a project early in the planning process is a critical first step. Communities need to know from the outset:
- what elements of the project are set in stone
- what’s on the table for negotiation
- how and when a decision will be made
- how input will be taken into consideration
This helps to build trust and separate constructive critics from outright opponents.
Importantly, if there is no room for manoeuvre, be up front about it. Don’t dress up a one-way public information exercise as genuine consultation.
Politics has been famously described as “the art of the possible”. It’s not about what’s right or what’s best. It’s about what you can actually get done. Effective stakeholder engagement is very similar.
But being open and transparent with communities from the outset is key to managing expectations and avoiding unexpected or unwanted outcomes.
If you would like to learn more about stakeholder and community engagement, and how it can be used to achieve best for project and best for community outcomes, please contact PPR Director Stakeholder and Community Engagement Louise Richardson on (08) 9388 0944, or via email firstname.lastname@example.org