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Building for tomorrow, engaging today – community relations for fast-tracked infrastructure

For the McGowan State Government, WA’s economic recovery from COVID-19 is all about infrastructure.

Accelerated programs to build roads, rail and bridges are expected to bring about jobs and assets for the future. But what will these expedited projects mean for the communities where they will be built?

 

Our stakeholder engagement experts explain why avoiding tick-box engagement, and developing a strong consultation program, is more important than ever when timeframes for delivery are crunched.

How many projects have been fast tracked?

  • More than 80 major rail, road, coastal and cycling projects over the next two years.
  • A streamlined process for contract awards for projects valued up to $20 million.
  • $2.5 billion worth of fast-tracked large-scale road projects through Main Roads WA.
  • 18 new rail stations

The stimulus is expected to generate thousands of jobs across the State and support the creation of more opportunities for local businesses, according to the WA Government’s Building for Tomorrow website.

While the investment into our State’s economy is necessary, stakeholder and community engagement will be even more important to ensure the best outcomes for the Government, contractors and the community.

What it means for communities

While the community appears supportive of the economic benefits and the principles behind the drive to get these projects delivered, individuals may feel differently when they are confronted with major disruptions in their own neighbourhood.

Why engagement will be important

Engagement is always important, but even more so during fact-tracked projects.

Communities are already feeling the strain of a difficult year and a lack of consultation may result in increased tension between the delivery team and their stakeholders.

Building positive relationships with community early, even if there is little scope for input or collaboration. Project teams should also focus on supporting local businesses as much as possible.

COVID-19 may influence the types of communication and consultation that can be offered. Engagement practitioners need to tailor their approach and consider the frequency and types of updates they provide to community

Heightened awareness of projects in this environment may also lead to higher than usual interest, making early and transparent engagement all the more important.

What might happen for projects that sideline engagement?

There is significant risk for project teams who try to sideline engagement or conduct “tick-box” programs.

We can expect to see an elevated risk around the social and political environment of major projects. An awareness of how these issues play out at the project level will be essential to managing stakeholder expectations regarding consultation and maintaining positive project relationships.

Projects that fail to adequately manage these risks may face increased activism, or project opposition. In worst case scenarios antagonistic stakeholder relationships may lead to project delays as teams work to resolve issues with adversarial groups or individuals.

How to achieve the best outcomes

Community engagement doesn’t always have to take the form of community reference groups or death by project newsletters. It can be an active small business engagement plan, which sees the construction team working with local businesses in a range of ways. It could be working with the local school. It should be genuine and authentic engagement and participation with Traditional Owners. The best outcomes will be achieved by a well thought-out and inclusive engagement plan which considers the new norms of engagement, in a world of physical distancing, and ensures no hard to reach demographics are overlooked.

Positive community outcomes will only be achieved by delivery teams embracing the importance of transparent, open and proactive engagement practices.

We can help

For advice on how to put together a leading practice engagement program for delivery of infrastructure, contact our stakeholder engagement team.

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