Maintain an On-the-Ground, Local Presence

August 3, 2013

Relationships with local/ad hoc stakeholder groups and individuals must be nurtured, not assumed.

The way to stand up to criticism from “jet-setting celebrity” environmentalists is to maintain an on-the-ground presence, close to the project, in order to remain accessible and available to any and all stakeholders.  

And because it is true that all politics is local, it‘s important to be sensitive to local political preferences, which means that project proponents must be creative and proactive with their media relations and stakeholder outreach to ensure that they are moving opinion despite attempts – no matter how well-intentioned – to stifle it.


Accept the Presence of Permanent Opposition

August 2, 2013

The first step in managing opposition is to acknowledge that it is real, and a permanent feature of every public affairs campaign. However, the “opponents” who fill the community hall during the early public meetings are not the same as the “zealots” who will work against the project at all costs for the entire duration.

The former typically arrive with some skepticism and curiosity, and will see the merits of the project once presented with sensible, fact-based arguments; their numbers will decline in direct proportion to the transparency of the outreach and information.  The latter, which can be usually counted on one or two hands, come to the process with an ideological position and will not acknowledge the positive benefits of the project under any circumstances.  

Opposition is the first rule of politics; accepting the impossibility of convincing the zealots on the merits of a winning project should come as a relief.  These folks represent the “long tail of the bell curve,” so their strident position should actually free-up resources that can be invested in genuine, honest communications with the vast majority of citizens and taxpayers who want plain answers, to understand.


Appreciate the Limits of Social Media

August 1, 2013

Despite the pervasiveness of social media, it is important to understand that it is still not treated as a legitimate measure of public input, a format given equal weight with traditional forms of outreach.

Although social media provides direct access to public opinion, in too many jurisdictions it is not treated with the same validity as public meetings. Polling informs election strategy everywhere, but is seldom used as a primary means of informing policy formation and development.  Maybe the Internet is still too new.  It exists out of political control.  Or maybe the technology is still just too easily manipulated – after all, the value of public opinion polls depends entirely on who controls “the ask” and how the question is presented.  

Politicians still fear the angry few, even when the data shows that the loud voice of hysteria represents a tiny minority.