Water Journal : Water Journal September 2014
WATER SEPTEMBER 2014 28 Opinion Understanding your audience and their perceptions is key to any successful stakeholder engagement. However, communicating with a local community about changes to their water or wastewater services can take senior managers right out of their comfort zone. While your engineers are solving the technical elements, you need to get up to speed with the local community and learn how they are feeling about your project and its potential impact on them. Usually the biggest questions for the community will revolve around the ‘WIIFM’ factor: What’s In It For Me? Or, how will this project affect me, my family, my property, or my business personally? Once you have communicated the key facts about the project – who, what, where, when, why and how – all the easy answers – what is the best approach to community engagement? Community responses will naturally fall into a spectrum ranging from positive to negative, or somewhere in the middle (a ‘watch-and-see’ mentality). So how do you know who to spend your time on? Interestingly, social science research1 has found people’s response to change means they will always fall into five segments across a bell curve as shown in the chart below right. With a little research via surveys, interviews, focus groups or even via social media, you can divide the community into the following five groups and plan your approach and communications plan accordingly. Pioneers On the far right are those who will get on board. Although there are not many of them, these are your pioneers – those community members who can see the long-term benefits of the project. They understand the change and (usually) they are important influencers who can help persuade others. This group is vital to the success of your project, so find these trailblazers and hold on to them. Empower them with up-to-date information about the project and enable them to share this content through their own channels – particularly social media, which is an incredibly fast way of pushing out your message. oPtimists Just behind the pioneers is a larger group who understand the reasoning for the project and tend to feel optimistic or hopeful about it and the future. Keep this group on side with open and transparent communications throughout the project’s life cycle. Fence-sitters In the middle of the bell curve are your fence- sitters. They will remain undecided and prefer to wait and see what impact your project may have on them before they commit. This is your largest group and the pioneers can sway them; however, those on the left side of the bell curve can also drag them into negative thoughts. This is a group you can and should be working on. What will shift them one way or the other? concerned To the left of the fence-sitters are a group who are concerned or worried. They are more negative than positive about the project. With this group it could simply be a matter of taking a Senior Project COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT – WHAT’S THE BEST APPROACH? Managing water or wastewater infrastructure projects that impact on local communities can be a challenge, writes Rachael de Zylva. But using a little bit of social science and the right communications channel could make it a whole lot easier.
Water Journal November 2014
Water Journal August 2014