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Three reasons why you need to engage communities as well as politicians

Navigating your path through government engagement on any project can be a daunting task.

Between departments and agencies, ministers, policy advisers, public servants, industry groups and lobbyists, there are plenty of reasons why you might feel lost.

While the Government Relations team at Cannings Purple is here to guide you through these engagements, it is important not to forget about engaging with the community. Here are three reasons why:

  1. Politicians expect it: When we meet with politicians to talk about clients’ project/issues, there’s one question we are inevitably asked: “have you spoken to the community?” If the answer is “yes” and you can tell them the community is on board, they’ll be delighted. Even if there are concerns that need to be addressed, they’ll be pleased that you’re having the conversation.The lesson? Good strategy should see you engaging with community before you start talking to government.
  2. Approvals aren’t everything: Just because a project has cleared the relevant statutory approvals doesn’t always mean it has community support. And social licence counts for an awful lot.The James Price Point project, for example, initially received environmental approval but later had the approval revoked over conflict-of-interest issues, following objections from environmental and indigenous groups (in a follow-up twist, the approvals were eventually reinstated but not until after proponent Woodside had abandoned the project). Similarly, the Roe 8 project was hotly debated at a community level and had EPA approval that was overturned in the Supreme Court and then reinstated by the Court of Appeal. It was a major talking point in the lead-up to the 2017 WA state election.
  3. The Big Picture: When you take your project to any stakeholder (in government, business or the community), you should explain the Big Picture, outlining what the project means to all stakeholders and how it will fit with other initiatives. Remember, whichever stakeholder is involved, you need to take them on a journey – and the best journeys are about jobs, social benefits and a positive community impact.

A standout example of “engagement done right” is the new Matagarup Bridge linking East Perth with the new stadium at Burswood.

It’s a great story: an eye-catching $91.5 million structure that allows people to make their way easily into and out of Perth’s newest entertainment precinct and pays tribute to the cultural significance of the area.

But it was also a highly complex project that required a large portion of the Swan River to be closed for the first time in the history of the State.

With a strong focus on engagement – particularly with commercial and recreational river users and the Whadjuk people – the project was able to ramp up to a 24/7 construction schedule with only a handful of complaints, each of which was able to be addressed individually.

This successful outcome was a tribute to the combination of bespoke and detailed stakeholder engagement delivered by the York Rizzani Joint Venture in partnership with Main Roads. On behalf of the Joint Venture, Cannings Purple’s community engagement specialist and associate director Charlie Wilson-Clark worked closely with the State Government to achieve this success – talking honestly and openly with the community every step of the way.

Renee Wilkinson is an Associate Director in Cannings Purple’s Government Relations team and an expert in helping clients build relationships with government and the community. Email Renee.

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