Many infrastructural projects fail to get planning permission due to objections, primarily because of lack of real, empathetic, stakeholder engagement. Our thoughts on stakeholder engagement are simple – stakeholder engagement means really engaging, really communicating – not just going through a tick box exercise. It is very much two way, where each party, when communicating, imparts information and also, listens and hears. After many years advising and working with clients, the greatest piece of advice that we can give to our clients, is that communication and stakeholder engagement is more than just a giving of facts, figures and information.
Effective stakeholder engagement can be summarised into 4 topics; (1) communications, (2) empathy, defining the true (3) need for a project and thus considering it as a (4) journey rather than a project.
The word “communication” has many definitions – the one we like is “the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings”.
This really defines communications, in that it states that communications is about sharing, and sharing is two way. It outlines also that communication is about conveying ideas, but most importantly of all, the definition describes the fact that communication is about feelings – the sharing of ideas and feelings. This is where a lot of stakeholder engagement and stakeholder communications fall down.
When planning any project, there are multiple boxes that must be ticked as regards relevant statutory legislation and guidelines. When working on projects, we are constantly assessing whether or not a team holds and shows empathy for the stakeholders involved. If a team has empathy while engaging with stakeholders, they are far more likely to be successful. Communications with stakeholders must involve feelings. A successful engagement is as much about understanding your stakeholder’s feelings and thoughts, as it is getting your ideas across to them. Without empathy, real two-way communication is not possible.
- Need for a Project
When helping our clients engage with stakeholders on any project, if it is possible, we start at the “need”. Is your project really required and why might it be needed? What might happen if this project is not developed. Do we need this project? What happens if we do nothing, and if so, what would be the consequences? If you can establish a real need for a project, it focuses stakeholders to look at the consequences of both what would happen without the development and what would happen with the development. If they realise the need, realise that the development is required they will also realise it needs their support.
- The Journey
We advise our clients to take their stakeholders on the journey as much as they can. As you make decisions – tell your stakeholders why those decisions were made. Bring your stakeholders with you and with each step you take, tell your stakeholders how and why that decision was made and ask them what they think. This may sound like opening yourself up, but you would be amazed what you might learn from your stakeholders that might influence the project as you take each step. By listening to the people and their wishes, a project can gain real credibility and the stakeholders can see that you are willing to act on their suggestions, proving that this stakeholder engagement is “real” and not just an exercise.
Real stakeholder engagement can really help a project, especially an infrastructural project. Not truly engaging with your stakeholders can hinder, delay or stop a project. Stakeholder engagement is not just a tick box exercise but rather is a real listening and sharing of information. If it is, and you establish the need for your project and bring your stakeholders along with you on your journey, you should expect that you should find a majority of your stakeholders are willing to help and get the project over the line.