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)?
1. Areas of influence of the projectThis 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: MajorThis 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: ModerateZone 2 stakeholders deal frequently with the project (interactions/impacts). Impacts are not as significant as in Zone 1, but still important.
Zone 3: MinorThese 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: NegligibleInteractions 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.
Also, you don’t want to open yourself to people using your online engagement platform to troll your key messages and sowing confusion about your project. In that case, it is important to consider to dedicate someone to moderate the information people are sharing online to avoid this risk.
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
- 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:
- Local authorities
- Public advisory bodies
Civil Society & Development Agencies
- Development agencies
- Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
- Religious authorities
- Academic and research centers
- Inhabitants of areas affected by the project
- Representatives of affected people
- Job seekers
- Local businesses
- Local providers (services and products)
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.