Accountability of organisations undertaking work that impacts surrounding communities has steadily risen in recent times. Whether it be regional or urban work taking place, stringent planning guidelines and a strong community relations presence is the new normal. The difference between well planned and poorly planned communications programs can be the difference between a project meeting budget and timeframes, and a project being derailed by influencers and decision makers holding up progress due to a lack of confidence or fear of community backlash. Below are some considerations to ensure that your organisation’s actions demonstrate that of a modern, professional and socially responsible business.
It is important to assess the project requirements from a contractual point of view. Is the licence to operate owned by local government, state government, a private organisation? Is it a Public Private Partnership? Discuss these details with the client and where appropriate ask to review the contract to ensure that what is being suggested aligns with the expectations of any binding documents. This will inform the role that is expected from your community liaison officer and should give an indication of resourcing allocation for the project.
Struber’s critical start up model is a tried and tested formula to put planning tools in place early in the project’s lifecycle, leaving nothing to chance when the time comes for on the ground work to commence. Have you considered mapping the stakeholder network and contacting directly affected stakeholders? Are there any previous issues surrounding new development or environmental decisions in the region? Do you have a forward schedule of works to help identify any work that may impact stakeholders. Have you contacted and engaged all the necessary authorities and elected representatives prior to construction starting? These are the types of things that need to be considered through the critical start up process, so when boots hit the ground the community liaison officer can sleep at night knowing their rigorous planning has paid off.
When drafting outward facing documents that will be sent to politicians, the media or the community, it is best to err on the side of caution. Despite a construction program having firm end dates, these milestones and deadlines may change due to issues with supply, site conditions or just plain bad weather. When sending a message to the community, it’s best to be upfront that timeframes could be subject to change by quantifying milestone dates with those magic five words – weather and site conditions permitting.
During the budget and planning stage, an approximation was made regarding the hours required for the community liaison officer to be working on this job. Now that the critical start up has been completed and the wheels are in motion (literally) consider how effectively the community liaison officer is spending their time on site. Can travel to site now be scaled back as the relationships have been established and contact details have been exchanged. It is a modern digital age – can we use skype or conference calls to have meetings to save time and money? Or when critical milestones are approaching and there is a requirement to engage a wide range of stakeholders, will you need to temporarily scale up hours or bring in extra consultants?
Alternatively are the community liaison tasks not generating enough hours and is there a requirement to scale back hours in the contract, which in turn demonstrates efficiency to the client and cuts their costs. Being a community liaison officer requires flexibility and it is important to demonstrate the ability to plan and react accordingly.
Sometimes our clients may not be taking advantage of the range of new products and technologies that can make everyone’s job that little bit easier. Our approach at Struber is to recommend engagement methods such as EDMs, mail chimp, social media and planning programs such as HootSuite and online induction portals.
Additionally, our suite of services does not just start and finish with the role of a community liaison officer. Struber’s creative and marketing teams can also contribute to designing project materials or implementing campaigns.
Last but certainly not least is a simple one – treat your client well! Foster a positive relationship, go the extra mile, check in with them regularly, make them feel like the only client and ensure that you are doing everything you can to give them the Struber experience and retain their business for future opportunities.