Not so long ago, an engineering company that specialised in bridge building would base a tender around their core credentials in engineering and bridge building expertise.

These days, the world of engineering and infrastructure projects requires additional skill sets, often far removed from a bridge builder’s core competencies. Major infrastructure tenders require community consultation and proof of local job creation. Grassroots or industrial action can destabilise projects, resulting in damaged reputations and reduced margins.

Over the last decade, even the most lauded examples of community engagement have become redundant. Former New York Major Rudy Giuliani received international acclaim for the process in which he engaged the local community in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

HT @ Victorian Government Solicitors Office

Compare this approach to a revitalised Giuliani model using social media. There are a number of key differences;

  • Today’s tools allow an engagement approach which creates two-way conversation allowing for feedback and refinement/improvement of processes
  • The ability to share information (both good and bad) is cheap, easy and pervasive

While community engagement during times of crisis has a heightened sense of urgency, the relevance for all community engagement strategies is the same. Today’s communities expect to be engaged, informed and have their feedback acknowledged in the form and the frequency they require: via phone, email or social networks.

This level of complexity may seem daunting, however using social media for community engagement can deliver a number of benefits that often go unrealised.

Using a multi channel engagement strategy with both online and traditional channels allows a much broader range of people to participate.

Often those involved in shift work, or who have day jobs and/or young children, are less able to participate in face-to-face discussions during the consultation processes. The use of social media as a consultation channel can increase their feeling of inclusion, and reduce the risk of policy failures and legal action where some audiences claim they were not consulted.

An advanced approach to community engagement can also be a cost-effective way to provide documents and discussions during a consultation process in an accessible manner (allowing use of screen readers and braille printers), avoiding the legal risk of breaching the Disabilities Act.

The lines between employee, customer and stakeholder (government and community) have blurred as social networking has become a more dominant platform for both conversation and consultation. Being part of the conversation means understanding perceptions and responding effectively.

Both state and federal government are committed to using social tools in both community engagement and consultation (commonly referred to as Gov 2.0). The Gov 2.0 action plan for the State Government can be accessed here.

For the bridge building company, how do they take all this in, win the tender and keep doing what they are best at?

Strategic engagement manages risk, capitalises on opportunities and drives business growth. All engagement activity should be measureable, driving broader business initiatives. The engagement process must be efficient, ensuring tasks are not duplicated and all activity is visible to communication and project management personnel.

Ellis Jones have now packaged a model of engagement that marries stakeholder consultation and engagement strategy with readily deployable web-based tools to manage communication and monitor risk.

Called Centrifuge, the model helps to win business based on sophisticated commitment to consultation.

  • Control information flow in one moderated and interactive location.
  • Achieve optimised communication at minimum cost.
  • Build a trusted brand associated with a commitment to open engagement, and the dissemination of useful and credible information.
  • Maintain compliance with the conditions of alliance agreements.
  • Use reporting insight to cut costs, increase margins and grow revenue.
  • Demonstrate achievement of corporate social responsibility goals with detailed reporting.
  • Become a trusted source of comment and data for local and mainstream media.
  • Identify risks and mitigate public relations issues before they escalate and impact the project or company brand.
  • Attract and retain a strong local workforce.
  • Develop a valuable segmented stakeholder database.

Further information on Centrifuge can be found here.

Ellis Jones applies over a decade of experience in community engagement and consultation on major projects and the development of online engagement methods using website and social media technology.

image credit: Rod Hunt