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Stories with an unhappy ending do not always have to be unhappy stories. A perfect example is the ScottishPower Consortium CCS demonstration project at Longannet Power Station. Since 2007, plans had been developed to retrofit a CCS demonstration project onto the existing coal-fired power station. However, by the end of 2011 the project was cancelled. The project consortium (made up of ScottishPower, National Grid and Shell) was not able to reach a financial agreement with the UK Government to proceed to construction.
Nevertheless, the communication and engagement strategies implemented between 2007 and 2011 are worth looking at and learning from!
Kirsty Anderson, currently working at the Global CCS Institute, but previously involved in the Longannet Project, looks back: "Longannet was by no means perfect. It had many communication and engagement challenges. But across its four-year life span I think it had strong evidence of successful engagement across all key stakeholder communities." And indeed when comparing the engagement activities of the Longannet Project with several studies on other projects, it seems that Longannet implemented most of the good practices at once.
One of the key characteristics of the engagement and communication strategy of the Longannet Project was its flexibility. The strategies were adapted multiple times to changing circumstances and phases of the project. Kirsty highlights two specific adaptations: “We made a real change of strategy when we started working on the Front End Engineer Design (FEED) study for the Project. From this point, we started to reign in a lot of the general awareness raising and media activity, focusing our efforts on lower profile, targeted stakeholder management and achieving consents. Also, when the cancellation of the project was to be announced, we of course had to adapt our strategies. We wanted to end the project professionally and reach agreement on messaging and communication responsibilities between the Consortium and the Government. This asked for an intense effort, which is not easy when you are working with people who know that their project is ending.”
Most studies on public and stakeholder engagement best practice recommend thorough research into the social context of a project, especially the communities closest to the project, as a crucial first step to build a communication and engagement strategy on. Kirsty fully agrees: “The time we spent upfront really getting to understand who it is was we were trying to engage and communicate with really paid back in spades later on.”
The Longannet Project actually used the stakeholder mapping process as the start of their stakeholder consultation. To get to know the stakeholders well, very early on Kirsty and her colleagues consulted with representatives from their key stakeholder groups. Aim was to get insights into their expectations for interaction with the project team and stakeholder’s appetite to be involved. By establishing strong, trusting relationships with key stakeholders early on, the team created a group of project advocates. “We used the stakeholder mapping process to actually start pro-actively engaging at high level.”
However, Kirsty also points out the downside of such an intensive approach. “You need to be prepared to take on board the advice of stakeholders and put in the hours to maintain the relationships.” To reach and engage more challenging stakeholders, the Longannet team would seek advice and introductions from their more supportive stakeholder relationships. But Kirsty is realistic about their ability to influence such stakeholders, “You should not ignore challenging stakeholders, but also accept that there are some groups who will just not ever want to engage in CCS.”
Looking back on the early communication and engagement work undertaken at Longannet Kirsty reflects: “The stakeholder mapping and early consultation work is probably the most vital part of the public engagement process, there really can be no shortcuts with this work.”
The above is related to another key element of the Longannet engagement strategy: building trust. The Longannet Team worked hard to keep key stakeholders informed of any progress or announcements before they were made public, and to cultivate an influential group of independent third party advocates for the project. Kirsty also believes that providing communication training for the project experts and encouraging stakeholders to meet and question members of the project team onsite at Longannet was a powerful tool to help build trusting relations between project staff and stakeholders. “After some training or 'de-engineering' our project experts became fantastic, genuine spokespeople for the project. It was really powerful for us to be able to introduce our stakeholders to the actual engineers and scientists that were developing the CCS project. It was very reassuring for stakeholders to put a human face on such modern technology.” A final important characteristic of the public engagement process in the Longannet Project was the ‘CCS story’. All the ScottishPower Consortium partners worked hard to agree common messaging and ways of describing the project. “Although our Consortium was made up of three separate organisations, each responsible for different parts of the CCS chain, in our communication we knew it was important to present the project as a full chain solution.”
So, even though the Longannet Project has been cancelled, it still offers the CCS community a great deal of good practice and project experience, particularly in the field of communication and engagement. The full ScottishPower Consortium Front-End Engineering Design study, including a lessons learned document, can be downloaded from the UK Government’s website.
This post expresses the views of this author and not necessarily of their organisation or the Global CCS Institute.