Support systems

Identifying and engaging community stakeholders from the start is key to a success startup

Early and effective stakeholder outreach is a key part of a successful project. Getty Images

Often times we think of technology as innovation. But innovation and the success derived from it is not always about technological advances.

Technological advances have driven innovation in all sectors of our economy. Technology and social media have driven social change and changed how stakeholders— the public and outside influencers — impact infrastructure and construction projects, and how they advocate with policy leaders. This includes the energy, utilities, infrastructure, real estate projects, and manufacturing industries.

Often times the innovation from technology is about a new way of thinking and how one adapts to, works with, and embraces technology and how it impacts a business or an industry. It is about a willingness to do things differently because technology now drives us to think creatively and differently than in the past. It is taking a new approach to how one manages risk, solves problems and meets the challenges facing a business or an industry.

Technology has changed how we communicate as a culture. It has changed how the public communicates with business and how business has to communicate with the public. Because of the growth and influence of social media in our culture, business must now mange a new kind of risk in the risk register of a project. It has to change how it interacts and communicates with stakeholders. It has to be more attentive and listen actively compared to how it operated in the past. Gone are the days when a project manager, private equity firm/investor or company developing a project can "keep their head down so they don't get shot at."

I listed the many industries that are impacted by social media. There is no better example of an industry that has had to change and use innovative and new ways of communicating due to technology. Regardless of the energy project, the development of oil & gas, building a pipeline, new utility lines, a refinery or chemical facility the industry now has to assess who their stakeholders are, listen to them attentively, and develop a strategic plan for outreach. If a company changes how they interact with stakeholders the associated risks will be minimized, mitigated and/or reduced.

There are a plethora of energy projects I can list that highlight how a business failed to innovate in response to how they failed to adapt to, work with and embrace the technology of social media and how it impacts them. One project sums it up, Keystone.

Effective stakeholder outreach has four parts: identification, analysis, prioritization and engagement.

Identification
The first step is to identify the stakeholders. This includes those who will be directly or indirectly impacted such as local, state and federal political leaders, NGOs, media, faith-based groups, landowners, civic leaders, nearby businesses and advocacy groups.

Analysis
The analysis is an evaluation of possible risks related to the stakeholders and the community where the project is planned such as stakeholders who might be opposed to the project, have concerns or be able to influence the process in any way. Have there been issues in the community or legislative bodies that might have a negative impact?

Prioritization
Prioritization is the process of taking the results from the analysis of stakeholders and determining what risks or issues exist. These risks are ranked. Strategies and tactics are developed to address and mitigate them. Finally, a determination is made regarding how and when to communicate with stakeholders.

Engagement
Engagement is the final part of stakeholder outreach. This is the process of communicating with stakeholders to explain the project and how they will be impacted. It will also serve as an opportunity to solicit feedback and insight as well as to continue analyzing risks from stakeholders.

Early and effective stakeholder outreach is a key part of a successful project. It is a new and innovative way of thinking about how to understand and mitigate project risk. It is a willingness to change because technology has shifted how our culture communicates, advocates and engages with business, policy leaders and one another.

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Andrew Biar is founder and president of Strategic Public Affairs, a government relations and PR/communications firm based in Houston.

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A new AI-optimized COVID screening device, a free response resource, and more — here's your latest roundup of research news. Image via Getty Images

Researchers across the Houston area are working on COVID-19 innovations every day, and scientists are constantly finding new ways this disease is affecting humankind.

From a COVID breathalyzer to a new collaboration in Houston — here's your latest roundup of local coronavirus research news.

A&M System to collaborate on a COVID-19 breathalyzer

A prototype of the device will be used on the Texas A&M campus. Photo via tamu.edu

Researchers at Texas A&M University System are collaborating on a new device that uses artificial intelligence in a breathalyzer situation to detect whether individuals should be tested for COVID-19. The technology is being developed through a collaboration with Dallas-based company, Worlds Inc., and the U.S. Air Force.

The device is called Worlds Protect and a patient can use a disposable straw to blow into a copper inlet. In less than a minute, test results can be sent to the person's smartphone. Worlds Inc. co-founders Dave Copps and Chris Rohde envision Worlds Protect kiosks outside of highly populated areas to act as a screening process, according to a news release.

"People can walk up and, literally, just breathe into the device," says Rohde, president of Worlds Inc., in the release. "It's completely noninvasive. There's no amount of touching. And you quickly get a result. You get a yay or nay."

The university system has contributed $1 million in the project's development and is assisting Worlds Inc. with engineering and design, prototype building and the mapping of a commercial manufacturing process. According to the release, the plan was to test the prototypes will be tried out this fall on the Texas A&M campus.

"Getting tech innovations to market is one of our sweet spots," says John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, in the release. "This breakthrough could have lasting impact on global public health."

Baylor College of Medicine researchers to determine cyclosporine’s role in treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients

BCM researchers are looking into the treatment effect of an existing drug on COVID-19 patients. Photo via BCM.edu

The Baylor College of Medicine has launched a randomized clinical trial to look into how the drug cyclosporine effects the prevention of disease progression in pre-ICU hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drug has been used for about 40 years to prevent rejection of organ transplants and to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

"The rationale is strong because the drug has a good safety profile, is expected to target the body's hyperimmune response to COVID and has been shown to directly inhibit human coronaviruses in the lab," says Dr. Bryan Burt, chief of thoracic surgery in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor, says in a press release.

Burt initiated this trial and BCM is the primary site for the study, with some collaboration with Brigham and Women's. The hypothesis is that the drug will help prevent the cytokine storm that patients with COVID-19 experience that causes their health to decline rapidly, according to the release.

The study, which is funded by Novartis, plans to enroll 75 hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center who are not in the ICU. There will be an initial evaluation at six months but Burt expects to have the final study results in one year.

Rice launches expert group to help guide pandemic response

A new response team is emerging out of a collaboration led by Rice University. Photo courtesy of Rice

Rice University is collaborating with other Houston institutions to create the Biomedical Expert Panel, supported by Texas Policy Lab, to assist officials in long-term pandemic recovery.

"Not all agencies and decision-makers have an in-house epidemiologist or easy access to leaders in infectious disease, immunology and health communications," says Stephen Spann, chair of the panel and founding dean of the University of Houston College of Medicine, in a news release. "This panel is about equity. We must break out of our knowledge siloes and face this challenge together, with a commitment to inclusivity and openness."

The purpose of the panel is to be available as a free resource to health departments, social service agencies, school districts and other policymakers. The experts will help design efficient public health surveillance plans, advise on increasing testing capacity and access for underserved communities, and more.

"The precise trajectory of the local epidemic is difficult to predict, but we know that COVID-19 will continue to be a long-term challenge," says E. Susan Amirian, an epidemiologist who leads the TPL's health program, in the release. "Although CDC guidelines offer a good foundation, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when managing a crisis of this magnitude across diverse communities with urgent needs."

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