The Crystal Ball Series: Issue 3 – The Spooky Invisible

You’ll soon be surprised by these invisible things your stakeholders want from you. My crystal ball wants to get down to brass tacks today. 

This is the third issue of the five-part Crystal Ball series.

Both of these things are true:

  • Stakeholders are now more involved than ever in every aspect of your project approvals and execution. Social media, transparency, accessibility, and influence have changed the expectations that community members have of you forever.
  • Your stakeholders may not know exactly what they want from you, but you will have to be ready to engage and respond before they figure it out.

The problem crystal ball reveals

You’ll soon be surprised by these invisible things your stakeholders, especially community and neighbors, want from you—and how not delivering them could scuttle your project.

  • Direct access to your decision makers. At community informational sessions, open houses, and permit hearings, community members and neighbors want to meet someone with operational responsibility and power. This work can no longer be outsourced to consultants or left solely to your community relations team. Your company’s project engineers and managers did not expect to be on the front line – but they have to be – so your community knows that you take them seriously.
  • Your authentic empathy. How would you feel about your project by your kids’ school, next to your house, or on your daily commute? Community members don’t want to hear just your mitigation measures, they need to know that you hear, respect, and empathize with their concerns. You have to be ready to deliver those qualities in ways that they experience as authentic to them.
  • Property rights are so 2009. Companies need to lose the “we’ve got property rights” schtick – same goes for eminent domain. You may in fact have the legal rights to pursue your project without their support, but communities expect you to be an engaged, good neighbor. After all, most people didn’t know anything about mineral rights or eminent domain until you showed up. (Most people don’t know they bought a house on an active oilfield, and they honestly shouldn’t be expected to.)
  • Project-specific response. Nearly all communities are now communicating among neighbors on a NextDoor or Facebook site with questions such as, “What’s that truck doing?” and “License 432 578 was speeding.” At Adamantine, we recommend that you do three things. (1) Create a project-specific frequently asked questions (FAQ) document addressing project details and timelines, (2) set up a community response line and text message service, and (3) if you see misinformation on the community platform, respond with friendly, “Thank you for your comment. We are looking into the issue, and you will receive a private message from us to learn more. You can also contact us at (email) and (phone).”
  • Leave real room in project plans. When you go into a community to seek public comment, you must be prepared to make changes in the project that they request. Public comment is no longer a waiting period between you and executing your original plans. Communities have come to expect – and they deserve – a voice in your development. Elected officials and other decision makers like to see community input being incorporated into your project plans; it can help your company secure approvals.
  • Bonus. Show up again and again and again – long before you move equipment in and long after you move equipment out. Your project’s neighbors expect development and execution partners, not project ninjas. Join them for the long haul.

It matters because

Thinking of community engagement as a discrete step along the project schedule (usually during a permit’s public comment period) instead of an ongoing strategy. Operations and management critique the Stakeholder Engagement team rather than re-think their role with the community as comprehensive and intrinsic to every aspect of project development, permitting, construction, and operation.

Seize the day.   Let’s see what the Magic 8 Ball now has to say about community engagement.

  • YES – DEFINITELY. Meet the expectations of your community members by rethinking community engagement throughout the project. Don’t wait until an $100M project delay resets your game plan. Need help anticipating and incorporating social risk into your project? Reach out to us.
  • MY SOURCES SAY NO. You cannot continue business-as-usual community engagement. Stakeholder communication happens on the community’s turf and in their language – this means that it needs to be customized by community and project location not by company. Some communities gather at the farmer’s market, others communicate primarily in Spanish, and most engage with each other online on Facebook. Get to know your communities and let their needs drive your engagement strategy.
  • AS I SEE IT – YES. Millennials are growing in economic and political relevance as they reach family and career milestones. Their expectations further require adaption on their terms.

More about millennials in our next edition. Adamantine Energy’s team cut its teeth on contentious community engagement – we are here to help if you need us, just reply.

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