There you were during the pre-project planning, identifying costs and timescales, manpower requirements and scheduling activities that would lead to the successful and timely completion of the project. Sure, there were some conflicts and some areas of discomfort while scenario planning, forecasting and the economic evaluation and trying to identify risks. Somebody asked about an engagement strategy as a guide to working with a variety of stakeholders and at the time it wasn’t a priority, the public consultation and disclosure plan was enough but with hindsight in a culture that was quite alien to you know now that building relationships takes time. Finally the project plan was produced; there was a lot of back slapping as you all celebrated your efforts.
Your risk assessment is comprehensive and obviously doesn’t cover every eventuality. You expect delays and unexpected events at this dynamic stage of the project. Despite following guidelines it may be that risks associated with poor stakeholder relations were understated now faced with many conflicts, delays, and misunderstanding you realise that the procedure to support stakeholder engagement should be inclusive and continuous.
Your approach doesn’t seem to be working. People, the government, the communities, suppliers, employees have raised expectations and rumours and misunderstandings about the company’s intentions are beginning to circulate. People are emotional you simply haven’t built sufficient relationship capital with these groups so there is a lack of trust and respect and low literacy levels place limits on methods of communication. Community relations staff actively visit and consult with communities and several unofficial parties seem to have become involved in liaising with communities, farmers, landowners and other stakeholders affected by the business of your company compensation is being discussed by those not authorized to have those conversations and grievances are coming at you from many directions.
Now forced to react and defend your company’s reputation is an uphill battle, perception has become reality and field based staff are having an increasing problem when trying to engage allies and intermediaries who do not wish to damage their credibility by associating with your company.
Organisations who avoid the scenario described above realise that stakeholder engagement must be closely managed at each stage of the project; they take a long-term view with a strategy that includes allocation of resources and responsibilities supported by clear objectives. The “stake” that individuals or groups has in a project or investment will vary and of course the scale of activity is in direct correlation to the size and potential impact of your project, whether you are liaising with a small rural community, government representatives, tribal or religious leaders, remember stakeholders are people who are both directly and indirectly affected by your activities and who have the ability to influence outcomes both positively and negatively.
The IFC have a comprehensive good practice handbook to enable you to plan your stakeholder engagement strategy the handbook describes the components of eight essential activities described below:
- Stakeholder identification and analysis – remember some stakeholders are determined by regulatory requirements, others are indirectly affected, and because your project is evolving, stakeholders and their interests will change over time.
- Information disclosure – ensuring transparency and making information accessible to affected groups and individuals is essential. Ask stakeholders what information they need and want and how that information should be delivered before making assumptions.
- Stakeholder Consultation – Consultation is a two-way process and therefore an opportunity for you to learn, listening to stakeholders can provide valuable information, clarify issues and help to avoid expensive mistakes and misunderstandings. Think about who needs to be consulted, over what topics, and for what purpose? Getting clear answers for these questions up front will save you time, reduce costs, and help keep expectations in check.
- Negotiate – while consultation is about the exchange of views, negotiation is about agreeing on specifics. Negotiation reduces risk by providing parties with the additional clarity, predictability, and security of a signed agreement.
- Manage Grievances – it is essential to ensure your grievance procedure is fair, accessible and transparent. The procedure must encompass the end to end process from how the grievance was received to what steps were taken to investigate and review, through to available appeal mechanisms. Put the procedure in writing and make sure it is followed for each grievance.
- Stakeholder Involvement in Monitoring – the participation of project-affected stakeholders in monitoring environmental and social impacts and mitigation can be a regulatory requirement. It is also good practice. Participatory activities could involve stakeholders in accompanying experts during observations, or scientific samplings
- Reporting to Stakeholders – An effective feedback mechanism is essential Determine what information needs to be reported to which stakeholders, by what method and how frequently
- Management Functions – The article above describes the consequences of failing to incorporate stakeholder engagement activities into each phase of the project cycle. This is usually best achieved by giving a senior manager overall responsibility for stakeholder engagement and identifying the specific competencies required of those involved in stakeholder engagement.