Community consultations are a crucial component of any large infrastructure project, especially those that might seem controversial at first. Engaging with local groups and councillors can help ensure that projects are supported by the community and are successful in achieving their goals. Here are seven tips to help.
1. Start early
Engaging with local groups and councillors should begin as early as possible in the planning process. This provides ample time to identify potential concerns and to address them before they become major issues. Early engagement also helps build trust with the community and shows that their input is valued.
2. Identify key stakeholders
As well as statutory consultees, it's important to identify the key informal stakeholders in the community and engage with them directly. This could include community groups, business owners, as well as elected officials down to the parish level. These stakeholders can help spread the word about the project and provide valuable feedback on how it can be improved.
3. Be transparent
Transparency is key to building trust with the community. Be upfront about the project's goals, potential benefits and drawbacks, and how it will impact the community. Provide clear and concise information that is easily accessible to everyone. Fly through videos of major infrastructure projects, and maps showing support / impact of schemes can really help as well as the more traditional newsletters and public meetings.
4. Listen to feedback
Listen to feedback from the community and take it into account when making decisions. Be open to suggestions and consider alternative viewpoints. This helps build trust and ensures that the project is aligned with the needs and desires of the community. Tell people how the scheme and plans have changed, for the better with their input. You may not convince everyone to support, but you will show you have engaged effectively.
5. Address concerns
Address any concerns raised by the community as soon as possible. This can help prevent issues from escalating and shows that their input is valued. Be prepared to explain why certain decisions were made and how they will benefit the community in the long run.
6. Involve the community in decision-making
Involve the community in decision-making and co-designschemes whenever possible. This can include community surveys, public meetings, and workshops. This helps ensure that the project is aligned with the needs and desires of the community and can help build support for the project.
7. Maintain ongoing communication
Maintain ongoing communication with the community throughout the project. This can include regular updates, newsletters, and public meetings. This helps keep the community informed and engaged, and helps build trust over time. No-one will criticise you for communicating too much.
Starting early, identifying key stakeholders, being transparent, listening to feedback, addressing concerns, involving the community in decision-making, and maintaining ongoing communication are all key components of a successful community consultation process.