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  • Hunter Communications

Stakeholder engagement vs community engagement

By Lorelei Campbell, Agency Director

Having a clear and planned process around engaging your key stakeholders and the community is essential.

Business is about relationships – whether you are a government agency, a large developer, a not-for-profit or a start-up. Often the success of a new policy, a new project or a change starts and ends with your stakeholders – and if you don’t engage it might mean delays to a project, damage to your reputation or mean a great new policy or change doesn’t get implemented.

What is the difference between community engagement and stakeholder engagement?

The words community and stakeholder engagement are often interchangeable depending on the industry or organisation.

However, at Hunter we define community engagement as engagement being implemented by project and usually with a very specific purpose and remit – i.e., it usually has a defined start and finish date. For example, an organisation that is planning or designing a program or undertaking a construction project that might have an impact on a particular community.

Anyone who has an interest in the project or the issue – including key stakeholders – can be involved in community engagement projects.

A community is usually defined by a common geographical location, a similar interest or an affiliation to something. A stakeholder is an individual or organisation with a specific stake in an outcome of a decision your organisation makes.

Stakeholder engagement is usually ongoing, and stakeholders are usually managed based on interests, priorities, relevance and their interest – but this does not mean it is static - approaches and programs should continue to be refined.

Whilst community engagement will usually have a dedicated project resource assisting with engaging the community, stakeholders usually have specific ‘relationship managers’ within an organisation – again based on their interests and priorities.

Why should you have a process in place for community and stakeholder engagement?

When implementing a large project that is going to have impact on communities, most organisations will recognise that having a good process in place to ensure the right people are engaged is essential. But sometimes, the process followed is not always best practice -even with the best of intentions.

The benefits of good engagement are many. Plus, it is now mostly required and accepted as a standard part of any significant project. Instead of just announcing (and potentially defending) a decision, companies, governments and organisations have realised that by being transparent and accountable you can often get a better result for a project or the organisation.

When engaging people who might be impacted, or have an interest in, what you are doing, better decisions are usually made and trust (and subsequently reputation) in your organisation is increased.

Good engagement also provides the opportunity to identify (and leverage) advocates and people who can endorse your new project or policy throughout, which can also help drive success.

So, what does best practice look like?

The International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) are the ‘guardians ‘of best practice and their Quality Assurance Standard outlines the important elements of any engagement process. In fact, their website has a wealth of useful resources and training.

What is key to any good engagement is appropriately moving through each step of the framework – and good planning is essential!

You must define the issues that need to be addressed and resolved, the stakeholders affected, the objectives of your engagement, the level of participation of the public based on your community and stakeholder engagement goals, the project requirements and then you can develop a strong plan.

Following execution of any engagement plan, feedback, and evaluation of what worked / if your objectives were achieved are also key.

Good engagement is more than just good two-way communication. By understanding the views, interests and needs for your community and stakeholders can lead to more effective decision making.

Stakeholder engagement and community consultation is something we love getting involved in at Hunter Communications. So, if you have any questions, we would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at admin@huntercomms.com.au


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