Consultation and Stakeholder Engagement for Infrastructure
Andy Wright, Senior Associate at The Consultation Institute provides his thoughts on the biggest challenges to stakeholder engagement, returning to in-person engagement, and key considerations when designing an effective consultation strategy.
What are currently the biggest challenges to stakeholder engagement and successful consultation delivery?
The challenges to stakeholder engagement, to a large extent, remain as they always have been, ensuring the mechanisms used are lawful, proportionate, and fair.
The unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public engagement has presented unique challenges that with the easing of social distancing measures change the way we think about dialogue with the public on infrastructure matters.
The pressures of no-contact contact during the pandemic have seen us move increasingly to online methods, with a corresponding reporting of decline in the numbers traditionally viewed as digitally excluded. The rapid adoption of ‘digital by default’ brings unique challenges for the future, online engagement is here to stay, and we need to adapt. One of the biggest challenges is, therefore, ensuring no views are left out in this digital world, and that those who are responsible for engaging are not open to challenge on equalities or other fairness grounds.
I’ll look at these challenges in more depth at the Consultation and Stakeholder Engagement for Infrastructure virtual conference and look forward to hearing the views of colleagues.
How do you think a return to in person engagement will work with digital consultation?
The pandemic has taught us many lessons about engagement. Firstly, we can effectively engage with audience at times to suit them, the convenience of being able to participate from anywhere is bringing new participants to the discussions.
Secondly, we are social beings and the lack of contact throughout lockdown has had a damaging impact on individuals.
Bringing these two factors together the need and desire for in person engagement is very strong and we know that in many ways face-to-face discussions provide nuances and interactions that can be missed in online approaches. However, online participation engages people we would traditionally find hard to engage with, which we will find hard to replace solely through face-to-face methods.
The pandemic has changed the paradigm, and the way we engage has forever changed, we will increasingly see effective engagement as a blend of online and face-to-face.
What are the key considerations when designing an effective consultation strategy and engagement plan?
When designing a consultation strategy and engagement plan, despite the radical shift in the way we work wrought by our collective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, the basics remain the same. Planning must start with robust stakeholder mapping, ensuring engagement is with the right people, at the right time and using the right methods. Equally, this must be supported by a correspondingly robust equalities impact assessment making sure the voices of all are heard and efforts are not open to challenge on fairness grounds.
Getting the basics right must be the key consideration. This will allow the consultor the opportunity to ensure their activities are lawful, proportionate, and fair, allowing consideration of the extent to which blended online/face-to-face mechanisms are used, when and for whom.
Hear more from Andy Wright at Consultation and Stakeholder Engagement for Infrastructure on 9th November, where he’ll expand on these ideas.