“Let’s Move Forward” – Relationship and Consensus Building in the Pre-Permitting Phase

Engaging stakeholders early in the process with open and trustworthy communication will help a project succeed.

Over our four part Building Consensus blog series, we will explore the unique requirements of consensus building in initial project planning, siting, permitting, and construction phases of a project.

In this post, we reiterate the importance communicating with your stakeholders in the planning and siting phase, if not earlier.

A project requiring public permits is by definition going to be public, and without talking to the public, it is impossible to anticipate all of the concerns of the community that will “host” the project. By seeking and obtaining stakeholder input early in the planning process, project developers will gain an understanding of community questions, concerns and suggestions and help avoid surprises and major opposition during the permitting phase. True stakeholder involvement at the outset also helps build a positive, transparent and mutually respectful working relationship.

1. Ask, “Who are the stakeholders?”

The stakeholders are the people who are invested or impacted by the project. Reach out to and engage in two-way communication with a diverse group of interested parties to understand anti-development concerns and to educate stakeholders about the benefits.

If unfamiliar with the city or town in which the proposed project would be sited, reach out to the leaders, influencers and others that work and live in the community, including:

  • Town officials
  • Local law firms
  • Engineering firm
  • Business and civic organizations
  • Community leaders

2. Listen up

Giving stakeholders everything they ask for may very well not be possible, but actively listening to them is of vital importance. Respect and acknowledge their concerns, even if you disagree, and when appropriate, go back and study the situation further. Provide stakeholders with information that helps them understand your decisions, especially when they are contrary to the wishes of our stakeholders. Acknowledge where the project will or may have negative impacts and when possible, make an adjustment or accommodation to the plan. It’s human nature to focus on the negatives more than the positives, so be ready to address them head on and offer the community tangible benefits that they will value.

3. Use available tools for two-way communication and education

A dedicated website, web-based applications and social media presence can help project planners and managers communicate important information about the benefits of proposed project (e.g., jobs and taxes) and, equally important, the negative impacts (e.g., construction noise and traffic). Remember, information flows two-ways. Educate stakeholders, learn from them and post the information in places that are convenient to your stakeholders.

4. Meet with working groups

Regular meetings with representatives from your stakeholder groups will give you consistent and effective updates through the planning, siting, permitting and building phases. They can act as a sounding board and help the developers learn about each constituency’s issues.

5. Gain trust

Transparency and openness build trust. Developers must engage the community early and often, and have the patience when neighbors need to vent about previous negative experiences with your company or other developers before moving forward with the project at hand. A bad process not only detracts from the project, but once accused of a lack of transparency, the opposition circles and getting that first shovel in the ground becomes much more difficult.

Read further examples on these steps in  Building Consensus for Your Project, Part 2.