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