Have you ever been in a situation where you have a solid consultation plan for a project, put a lot of effort into getting it going, but you can't seem to get people interested, or can't keep them engaged half way through the process?
What drives people away?
Here are some lessons that I have picked up over the years:
- Consultation on issues that are not relevant to the stakeholders
- Lack of coordination – People expect that you are aware of all conversations you and your colleagues have with them and and not ask the same question again and again
- Consultation fatigue – too many meetings, questionnaires, one big consultation event after another
- Lack of feedback on consultation outcome and how stakeholder participation has influenced the decision
- Failure to deliver on commitments made with stakeholders in the earlier stage
- “Parachute consultation” – lack of continuous presence in the community
- Lack of follow-up to let people know what has happened and what the next steps will be
- Consultation timeframe, context and design do not take into account the local culture and customs.
How to keep people engaged?
Identify reasons that may keep people away and avoid them definitely helps. Below are some points to consider while implementing a stakeholder engagement plan.
Planning is necessary to identify strategies, resources and timelines so the consultation objectives are met.
Before beginning a consultation process ask yourself: what are the strategic reasons for consulting with stakeholders? Who needs to be consulted? what are their priority issues? Who is responsible for each activity? What is the best way to communicate with stakeholders? What are other engagement activities that will occur in the proposed timeframe? How will the results be captured, tracked, reported and disseminated?
A Stakeholder Engagement Plan that clearly outlines answers to these key questions not only address some issues listed above but also helps save time, reduce costs, and keep expectations in check.
Incorporate Stakeholder Feedback
Consulting people entails a promise that at a minimum their views will be considered in the project’s decision making process. It does not mean that every issue must be acted upon but the company makes the best efforts to address key issues through changes in the project design and decisions.
Be upfront and honest about the limitations, challenges, and barriers in meeting stakeholder demands. It is part of managing stakeholder expectations and building trust.
Incorporating feedback in terms of community development needs, benefits and opportunities not only increases the success rate of the impact mitigation plans but also demonstrate the company’s commitments, or simply, act of good faith.
(Tip: have a look at some of the case studies for tips on how other organisations manage this.)
Report back – Closing the loop in community engagement is a key part of building trust with stakeholders. The process of reporting back to stakeholders about how their concerns or suggestions have influenced the project decisions can help establish credibility, manage expectations and reduce consultation fatigue or cynicism.
Overall, in my opinion, key elements of keeping people engaged center around the words 'trust' and 'genuine'. People need to trust that your engagement process is genuine, that you listen to their views and opinions and that their participation contributes to the decision-making process.
For more information about how to plan and deliver a successful stakeholder engagement process, download my free ebook "Seven Steps to Successful Consultation"