When you think of projects or developments that have failed in the past, images of placard-waving protesters or outraged locals likely come to mind as the ultimate cause of their downfall.
Scenes like this are why the community engagement process is so important, and why significant amounts of planning time and effort are spent identifying and engaging with external stakeholders, ranging from local residents through to businesses, community groups and government officials.
But it’s equally important for project proponents to identify and engage with internal stakeholders to ensure everyone completely understands – and supports – the community engagement strategy.
Engagement strategies can be as simple as a one-way delivery of information from the organisation to the community to a more collaborative approach where the community is given the opportunity to offer feedback, provide solutions or even make decisions.
But with any level of engagement, it only works if internal decision makers, such as senior executives and directors, trust the process and abide by the outcomes of community engagement.
There’s nothing more likely to turn a community against a project than to undertake engagement and then completely ignore the results.
Trying to engage without the backing of key internal stakeholders is like trying to play basketball with one hand tied behind your back – it can be done, but it makes it much harder than it needs to be.
So, what can be done to avoid this?
Just as with external engagement, getting in early is the key to managing internal stakeholders.
Before any decisions around process are made, it’s important to seek out internal decision-makers and establish the overarching purpose of the engagement, identify clear goals, and agree on what elements of the project the community can truly influence.
Take the time to carefully consider engagement design and methods with internal stakeholders, with a particular focus on the risks and why handing some power to the community to influence project outcomes might be worth it.
It will help if you stick to the principles of openness, accessibility and respect when dealing with internal stakeholders, just as you would with the public.
It can be threatening to members of the business to execute community engagement that give the community significant influence on project decisions, so it is crucial to ensure all internal stakeholders are on board in these instances or the entire project could suffer.
If you take the time to secure internal support for the specifics of the process before commencing external engagement, you can do so with the confidence that any outcomes from the process will be welcomed and incorporated by decision makers.