What Does it Mean?
To create a good relationship of trust, mutual respect, and support, it is necessary to initiate communication and establish a commitment between the parties (engagement.) Engagement should start at the early stages, be it the pre-feasibility studies stage or the preliminary prospecting. This shows the stakeholders that both their opinion, as well as their best interests are priority issues and important to the company. This two entry article will cover contact with communities, clarity, transparency, benefits of good communication and tools to communicate clearer and more transparent information.
Companies have tried to delay dialogue on several occasions, as they did not want to create expectations in the communities, or out of fear of generating uncertainty by not having all the answers. Seeing different activities and people working in their environment usually already creates expectations in the communities. A clear dialogue explaining that there are several uncertainties is better not only for the stakeholders, but also for the company. This situation may be an opportunity to establish a rapport and mutually helpful relationships, to identify potential negative impacts, and to jointly propose ideas and solutions in the design of the project.
First Contact and Technical Language
Companies sometimes communicate incomprehensible messages to communities. Using overly technical terms, not communicating in the native language of the communities, or even not using appropriate didactic means are just a few examples. The community relations staff rarely makes the first contact with communities. Rather, it is the technical and engineering staff, and they tend to use technical concepts to communicate. Technical language may be confusing or not explanatory enough to answer questions that the stakeholders might have. This leads to an implicit degree of “risk,” as confusing information may involve some negative implications.
Companies must try to be clear in the message they want to convey and transparent about the information they present. Uncertainties for the company and changes in the communications means or tools can occur and should be mentioned.
Being transparent and clear applies to companies communicating to stakeholders, and also to all the interested parties. When governments develop a clear legal framework, for instance, this helps clarify the rights and obligations of all parties involved. Expectations and the potential for conflict are reduced, thus contributing to the project’s success.
What Is Clarity?
Being clear means encoding the message in a language that is simple. Adapted to the group of stakeholders to which the message is to be conveyed, it should be easy to understand. Information provided should allow the actors to understand the activities and how they could be affected in the future. It should allow the actors to build an opinion based on concrete facts.
Clarity is the crucial element of understanding. The message should be carefully generated in a simple, easy to understand manner. Also, the different ways in which it could be interpreted should also be evaluated.
The communities should attend meetings knowing the topics that will be addressed. The company is responsible for providing timely information and for delivering it in a way that is understandable to the community.
Being transparent means making information continuously known/accessible, whenever possible. The communities and all the actors should be kept informed about the future plans or prospects of the companies.
Transparency is intended to generate an atmosphere of trust, empathy, safety and openness between the company and the stakeholders, so that they are informed and know from the start the potential direct and indirect impacts, their rights and their obligations.
Open dialogue is necessary, especially on issues that are sensitive to the community, such as access to water, potential contamination and different mitigation options, job opportunities and anything else that creates uncertainty and expectations.
It’s worth mentioning that the dialogue should be a two-way communication process. That is, the process should not be limited to simply informing communities, but rather listening, discussing the various issues that affect them, and taking their comments into account.
In the next entry, benefits and tools for clear and transparent communications will be discussed.