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People resources, including local community link
A key success factor in healthy community relationships is ensuring the appropriately skilled people resources are appointed and empowered. The professional background of these resources is usually in public affairs, ensuring the skills of listening and attention to reputation risk are met. These roles are much more about community engagement (what we do/listening) than they are about public relations (what we say).
There are a variety of ways in which projects can find success with their team, but here are some elements that help. Resources are:
- Experienced public affairs professionals attuned to emerging reputation risks who can alert project leaders early about approach risks in order to understand community need and respond appropriately before concern or irritation becomes outrage
- Based locally, or close to the local area, with a good working knowledge of the established community networks and issues. Good community relationships are about being good neighbours with the local community. Having a visible local office or shop front can also send a positive message that the project proponents are present and available
- Accountable to the project leader, who is then ultimately responsible to company or joint venture leadership for healthy community relationships. Outsourcing such outcomes to a centralised communications or corporate function does not encourage those locally responsible for development and operation of the asset(s) to take an active role in good neighbour strategies
- Not seen as having vested interest areas (outside the project). Appointing a local person whose affiliations lean too far towards any one group can build mistrust and a perception of unfairness
- Identifiable as the local community link or ‘go to’ person for the community when they have concerns, ideas or issues. They should be empowered to make a range of clearly outlined decisions on behalf of developers to save local people from having to ‘jump through hoops’ for an outcome
- Able to identify gaps in the community’s capacity to work in partnership with developers, and provide training or resources for them to be able to do so.
The Tenaska Trailblazer Energy Center is a cutting-edge coal-fueled electric generating plant currently under development just east of Sweetwater, Texas, USA. Read their report ‘The Management of Public Engagement at the Local, State and Federal Levels for the Tenaska Trailblazer Energy Center Project’ and skip to p17 to see how their choice of local representation in people resources impacted the project.