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Are communication and engagement tools useful?
Social acceptance is the biggest challenge for CCS.
Several tools exist to help CCS project implementers improve social acceptance of their project. These tools focus on communication and engagement. They are developed by (groups of) researchers, NGOs, policy makers or others involved in CCS projects. I also was involved in the development of several of them. The tools are based on both research and practical experience.
But are these tools known by project implementers and used in a way the makers intended them to be used? And if not, should we stop making them?
Although I was initially disappointed to notice that tools are not used from A to Z, I now have changed my mind.
First a bit more about these tools. The tools are presented as a toolkit, instrument, guideline or checklist that a CCS project team can use to design and implement a communication and engagement strategy. The tools differ in format, content, approach and level of detail.
Some, like the WRI Guidelines are static printable handbooks. Others, like ESTEEM are more interactive which you can navigate through in a website format. Looking at the content we see that the NETL outreach guidelines, for example, have a clear focus and only discuss public outreach and education. Other tools are broader and include instructions for communication in a broad sense including stakeholder engagement in the design and implementation phase of the project. The approach and level of detail also varies. Toolkits like ESTEEM and the CSIRO Toolkit contain detailed practical tips and advices for project managers including checklists, tables to fill in, examples, lists of questions for interviews and questionnaires. While documents like the WRI Guidelines more focus on what should be done by different stakeholders, but less on how this should be done.
Are the tools used?
I know that in most CCS projects the communication and engagement strategies are designed by the project team itself (either with or without assistance from external consultants). If tools are used, it’s as a kind of check for missing elements or as a source of inspiration. Except for a couple of projects that were involved in the testing of tools (e.g. a Dutch CCS project where ESTEEM was tested), no project seems to have followed a tool from A to Z to build up their communication or engagement strategy. My observations are in line with outcomes of research by Breukers et al (2011) on communication and engagement practices. The authors have interviewed 15 people involved in CCS projects in different countries and conclude that the tools "are not actively used to design engagement and communication processes, but rather as a tacit background checklist" (p.30). This proves that the tools do find their way to the CCS project implementers but are not used from A to Z as most tool-developers, including myself, intended.
Is this a problem or a reason to stop developing them?
Although I was initially disappointed to notice that tools are not used from A to Z, I now have changed my mind. To develop these tools a great deal of research and practical experiences are collected, discussed and analysed. This process leads to new and more knowledge among a bigger group of people about communication, engagement and acceptance. The development of tools thus facilitates the creation of knowledge and networks of people involved in the development of communication and engagement strategies. When finalised, the tools are easy to find and use databases of facts, figures, tips, advices, checklists and examples. A great resource for all parties involved in CCS project development. As long as new knowledge and experiences are created on a regular basis, the development of new or updates of the tools is useful! I now realise that tools should not be seen as a holy grail that should be followed from A to Z by project implementers. We must see them as an effective way to collect, create, integrate, link, present and store all knowledge and experiences about communication, engagement and social acceptance of CCS projects.
As long as parties and people involved in the design of the toolkit and implementation of CCS projects look at and use the tools in this way, they are very useful!
This post expresses the views of this author and not necessarily of their organisation or the Global CCS Institute.