sharing in governance of extractive industries
Working with clients both on-site and remotely over the past 10 years has taught me many lessons, and I must say one of the most valuable ones to this day is that planning, as exhausting (or even overrated!) it may seem, can make the difference between a project’s success or failure. Especially when your project has several impacts – good and/or bad – on communities. That’s exactly why stakeholder engagement activities must be planned. And not just Let’s scribble an approximate plan on a napkin kind of planning. More like good old let’s sit down for a while (probably several times too), assess the situation trying to think about every individual, organization, business, family, governmental institution, indigenous group, piece of land, tree, crop, animal, (you get the idea) that will be affected by the scope of this project. Ok, ok, I might be getting a little carried away here, but for some projects it does go down to that level of detail.
While communities are different everywhere, there’s one thing that’s common to all: if you voluntarily keep them out of the decision process, refuse to inform them of plans, and let misinformation lurk around, it’s only a matter of time until social acceptance goes out the window. By the way, here’s an interesting interview of Ed O’Keefe sharing tips on improving community relations. Planning stakeholder engagement won’t guarantee your social license to operate, but it’ll give you a tremendous head start. Of course, you can’t plan it all. Incidents occur. And so do natural disasters. The economy can crash. But if you have a good stakeholder engagement plan, going through unplanned crisis and events will be a lot easier.
Plans are tools that help us organize activities the best we can with the knowledge we have. So really, the elements to bear in mind are structure, clarity and timeliness. Oh, and remember, SEPs are not cast in concrete! Your initial plan will help you start, but it will evolve as the project does. Our experience has proven that a good stakeholder engagement plan should be divided into 12 sections.
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