Working with colleagues who deal with our clients’ realities both on-site and remotely has brought to my attention many lessons learned, and I must say one of the most valuable ones to this day is that planning, as exhausting (or even overrated!) it may seem, can make the difference between a project’s success or failure. Especially when your project has several impacts – good and/or bad – on communities. That’s exactly why stakeholder engagement activities must be planned. And not just Let’s scribble an approximate plan on a napkin kind of planning. More like good old let’s sit down for a while (probably several times too), assess the situation trying to think about every individual, organization, business, family, governmental institution, indigenous group, piece of land, tree, crop, animal, (you get the idea) that will be affected by the scope of this project. Ok, ok, I might be getting a little carried away here, but for some projects it does go down to that level of detail.
While communities are different everywhere, there’s one thing that’s common to all: if you voluntarily keep them out of the decision process, refuse to inform them of plans, and let misinformation lurk around, it’s only a matter of time until social acceptance goes out the window. By the way, here’s an interesting interview of Ed O’Keefe sharing tips on improving community relations. Planning stakeholder engagement won’t guarantee your social license to operate, but it’ll give you a tremendous head start. Of course, you can’t plan it all. Incidents occur. And so do natural disasters. The economy can crash. But if you have a good stakeholder engagement plan, going through unplanned crisis and events will be a lot easier.
So, how does one prepare a good Stakeholder Engagement Plan (SEP)?
Plans are tools that help us organize activities the best we can with the knowledge we have. So really, the elements to bear in mind are structure, clarity and timeliness. Oh, and remember, SEPs are not cast in concrete! Your initial plan will help you start, but it will evolve as the project does. Our experience has proven that a good stakeholder engagement plan should be divided into 12 sections.
1. Areas of influence of the project
This first section provides a geospatial understanding of areas impacted by the project and it also determines the level of engagement according to each zone. For the sake of this article, let’s say that our project has 4 zones, which you’ll find on the following map:
Zone 1: Major
This zone is the closest to the project site and interactions/impacts on stakeholders will be on a very frequent basis (let’s say daily).
Zone 2: Moderate
Zone 2 stakeholders deal frequently with the project (interactions/impacts). Impacts are not as significant as in Zone 1, but still important.
Zone 3: Minor
These stakeholders’ interactions with the project are limited in time, or can also be restricted to a given phase of the project. Same applies to impacts.
Zone 4: Negligible
Interactions could occur on incidental or occasional basis with stakeholders in this zone, and impacts are either very limited or inexistent.
Here’s how one could map the zones:
Now remember that a first version of this map will be prepared before the engagement plan’s implementation. Like many aspects of your stakeholder engagement plan, zones will change and be readjusted as the project evolves through its lifecycle.
2. Regulations and requirements
There are several regulations and requirements to respect when developing a project. Organizations must ensure their compliance and conformity at various levels, and the stakeholder plan is a great place to gather this information. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of requirements and regulations that could be integrated to your plan:
- Code of business conduct and ethics
- Anti-bribery and corruption policies
- Risk management
- Local, regional and national regulations
- International standards
- World Bank (IFC)
- Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC)
- Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
- International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM)
- Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI)
The methodology is quite important, as it is the foundation of your plan. This is where you detail the criteria for the identification and categorization of stakeholders for your engagement strategy. Every organization has its own matrix to categorize stakeholders. At Boréalis, we like to divide them into 4 broader groups. I’ve added a couple example for each to clarify the table:
Public advisory bodies
Inhabitants of areas affected by the project
Representatives of affected people
|Civil Society & Development Agencies|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
Academic and research centers
Local providers (services and products)
Stakeholder identification doesn’t limit itself to this though! Further analysis is key to ensure your plan is as complete as possible. It’s very important to identify vulnerable people (ethnic minorities, old, disabled, poor, women, etc.)
Another important step of the methodology is the identification of issues categories. Not all stakeholders will be affected by the same impacts, and classifying them according to subject will make it a lot easier to handle the various issues. Plus, you’ll be able to identify which issues your team spends the most time working on. Categories can include: social, health and safety, environment, economic, security, and so on. Categories can also be divided into sub-categories should there be an extra level of clarification. For example, the environment category could include air quality and waste management sub-categories.
4. Project stakeholders
This section is an exhaustive list of every group and sub-group that you identified in the methodology. You’ll include details such as traditional and customary authorities, villages, etc. For longer lists like Project Affected People (PAP), you can add them in annex – as they will be quite long.
Did somebody say stakeholder mapping?
It’s one thing to identify and categorize your stakeholders, but it’s a different one to understand them. Stakeholder mapping helps you understand each stakeholder according to several parameters like influence/power capacity, network capacity and interest level. Sometimes, stakeholders with high interest have little to no influence among their pairs. Of course, you need to engage with them, but you’ll spend much more time engaging with the stakeholders who have a lot of influence and are interested in your project. Other times, you’ll try to spark the interest of stakeholders with power capacity. I know I’ve said this earlier in the article (but I can’t stress it enough), the initial mapping of stakeholder is based on what you know at the time being. It will change and evolve as you learn more and as the situation changes.
Example of power/interest chart:
Here’s an example of stakeholder mapping:
5. Stakeholder Engagement activities
The stakeholder engagement activities section contains your strategies according to each group and to stakeholder mapping. In other words, this section is your communication strategy/plan. This is where you’ll plan public consultations, identify communications methods, your audience for each engagement, frequency, and the tools you will use to efficiently implement your strategy. It’s important to keep in mind the project lifecycle as you plan communications, as some steps require more engagement than others. For example you could say that during the construction phase, you’ll have monthly focus groups with stakeholders from village A and B.
6. Stakeholder Engagement plan matrix
Ready for something exciting? This will be the biggest chunk of your plan! Now that we’ve set the table by establishing who your stakeholders are and how you’ll reach them, this section will cover how you’ll implement your strategy. To understand the following example of stakeholder engagement plan matrix, please refer to the stakeholder map from the methodology section. Once again, this section should separate each stakeholder group (Authorities, Affected communities, etc.). For the sake of this blog entry, I’ve added a stakeholder for each quadrant in the following chart:
The timetable section is… a timetable! But more seriously, this section will provide an overview of your communication strategy over time, according to each project phase. You don’t need to go into too much detail, I recommend going to monthly detail.
8. Resources and responsibilities
This section will help your team members coordinate their activities. It’s the internal structure of the team containing each member’s responsibility. Who’s in charge of what, who do you escalate grievances to, who’s the boss, and so on. You should have a detailed job description for each position, with the name(s) of the individual(s) in charge. You can even add an organizational chart to offer a visual overview of roles. If your project has both expats and local staff, make sure you indicate for each role if it’s either or both.
9. Grievance management
According to the IFC’s Stakeholder Engagement: A Good Practice Handbook for Companies Doing Business in Emerging Markets, companies should not only have a grievance mechanism process, they should: write it and publicize it, respond in a transparent and timely manner, and keep good records and report back. This means that stakeholders should be able to access a clear definition of what is a grievance, as well as the grievance management process including an estimated resolution time. If you’d like to know more about grievance mechanism, I’m sure you’ll find this article very interesting.
10. Monitoring and reporting
Congrats, your plan is almost complete! In order to ensure that you are actually implementing your plan, you’ll have to monitor and report on your engagement activities. There are many options to achieve this: Excel spread sheets, email, shared documents, etc. But we found the best way to do it is with an information management system. There are many advantages to using such a system. First, all your data is centralized in the same place. That makes you save a lot of time when you’re looking for a particular engagement that took place 2 years ago with a specific group of stakeholders. Plus, some tools offer you tremendous analysis potential, giving even more meaning to your data. What if in addition to knowing how many grievances you’ve had over the past 18 months you could access more details like areas, subject, and resolution time in just a few clicks? What if you could get a monthly report of your team’s engagements with trends? Well, you can do all that with the proper system. And that’s exactly what we offer you at Boréalis: 15+ years of social and environmental data management is built into our application. If you’d like to know more about our system and how it eases the monitoring and reporting on your stakeholder engagement activities, make sure to give us a shout and we’ll be happy to learn about how we can assist you with your project!
This section contains the budget of your stakeholder engagement activities. Make sure to enter as much detail as you can. You should also be advised that the budget should be reviewed frequently.
The Annex is where you’ll include any documents, like for instance your full list of PAP, your grievance form templates, your public consultation attendance sheet template, etc. It will also contain any document that is pertinent to the project and stakeholder engagement plan.
Well, that’s it! In a nutshell, this is how you prepare a stakeholder engagement plan (please trust me on this, the last stakeholder engagement plan I reviewed had nearly 35,000 words). I really hope these tips will facilitate your work and provide a useful framework to help you build a good stakeholder engagement plan!
Header image credit: Freepik.com
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