Engaging communities: common and evolving practices in stakeholder engagement

BITCI News - Members News - Uncategorized - Nov 05, 2013

Over the last number of years, corporate stakeholder engagement has evolved considerably. More than ever, communities and individuals expect to be involved and consulted in developments in their area. Companies that are involved, particularly in major infrastructure projects, are learning both from their mistakes and successes.

The recently published Stakeholder Engagement Report is the output of a Working Group on Stakeholder Engagement convened by Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI). The Group explored both common and evolving practices in stakeholder engagement in Ireland and the report documents key considerations and practices for developing constructive engagements with stakeholders and a set of commitments for how engagement should be conducted.

While many different practices around stakeholder engagement were explored e.g. the use of Community Liaison Officers, local media, landowner engagement etc., the fundamental approach to stakeholder engagement was seen by the Group to be as important as the various practices and tools that are employed. In exploring this fundamental approach the following learnings came to the fore:

  • Respect for stakeholders and a willingness to listen are vital
  • Early engagement, while there is scope for stakeholders’ inputs to contribute to the shape of the project, supports meaningful relationships with stakeholders
  • Describing the scope of engagement for stakeholders at the outset of a relationship is a developing trend that has benefits for business and stakeholder alike
  • No one size fits all and that while it is imperative to transfer learnings from one project to another, it is equally important to get to know each community and find what’s relevant in each area
  • Building an understanding of the community makes it possible to identify the things that are important to people and to implement simple touches that demonstrate respect
  • It is important that the culture within a company allows for fundamental questions to be asked and allows for the genuine exploration of other options which may often also involve organisational learning and change

Building on these learnings, the Group made six commitments to stakeholder engagement:

1. Encouraging active involvement of stakeholders

2. Ensuring stakeholders have the opportunity to have a say

3. Explaining at the outset what elements of the project can be influenced, when and in what way

4. Understanding and responding to stakeholder needs and concerns with considered and timely responses

5. Engaging respectfully with stakeholders and expecting the same in return

6. Evaluating and improving engagement with stakeholders on an ongoing basis

It is hoped that this report will prompt further discussion and aid other companies in developing and evolving stakeholder engagement in Ireland. The report can be downloaded here.

The Stakeholder Engagement Working Group was convened by Business in the Community Ireland (BITCI) and included Bord Gáis Networks, Bord na Móna, Chambers Ireland, the County and City Managers Association, EirGrid, ESB Networks, the Irish Planning Institute and Shell E&P Ireland Ltd. It was chaired on behalf of BITCI, by former KPMG Managing Partner, Terence O’Rourke.