managing stakeholder commitments

Establishing, managing and keeping commitments and agreements is one of the most important and challenging aspects of stakeholder relationship management for large projects.

There are so many things that can go awry when working on a complex project with a long lifespan, and multiple stakeholders and team members that might change over time. Meanwhile you are responsible to track commitments that are often legally enforceable within the scope of a project, and are a pivotal factor that can make or break its success.

In this article we’ll take a look at managing commitments, agreements and permit conditions. Including examples of what needs to be recorded and managed, types of users, what can go wrong, and some tips for best practices.

Managing stakeholder commitments, agreements and permits. What is the scope and impact?

Building trust when working on a complex, multi-stakeholder initiative is hard work – and that equity erodes quickly when a promise is broken. A commitment is a promise made to people directly or indirectly affected by your project. It involves an organization agreeing to do or not to do something important to stakeholders.

Agreements and permits are usually developed within a legal framework, comprising a collection of acts, regulations, standards, practice requirements and management plans.

Oil and Gas companies for example have to meet numerous complex operating permit conditions before they can begin their projects. There are also conditions that have to be adhered to during construction, and after operation has begun – including ongoing reporting and communication with regulators and stakeholders. Good management of these conditions is essential, ensuring you can demonstrate that the project is operated in accordance with the terms and conditions of regulatory approvals.

Additional resource: Types of stakeholder commitments

What types of projects and stakeholders are involved?

There are many aspects impacted by management of these project requirements, including:

  1. Commitments to Indigenous groups
  2. Meeting regulatory compliance (i.e. managing permit conditions)
  3. Project obligations
  4. Management of internal policies
  5. Managing ‘field promises’ to landowners, and other stakeholders.

Effective stakeholder information management allows companies to demonstrate to regulators and stakeholders what they are doing and when, who is affected and informed, and much more through detailed reporting, and having a reliable record at your fingertips.

Example of commitments, agreements and permits are:

  • Related to regulatory or environmental compliance.
  • Single tasks such as building a fence, or a recurring action such as testing well water on a set schedule over a period of time.
  • Promises attached to assets i.e. a pipeline on a farm.
  • Linked to geographical areas of cultural significance.
  • Multi-stepped in nature, that must be tracked prior to being completed.
  • Promises that can achieve the goals and needs of a business.
  • Part of a company’s reputation in their field.
  • Involve the safekeeping of confidential information.
  • Mitigation measures for environmental impact and monitoring of wildlife.
  • Involve consultation with rights holders.
  • Determine communication with external stakeholders.
  • Permitting and compliance.
  • Linked to reporting frequency, and who needs to receive it.
  • Decisions are made while protecting public safety.
  • Facilitating equitable participation in production.

What can go wrong if commitments, agreements and permits are incorrectly managed or reported?

Despite best intentions, important commitments can be overlooked, especially in an atmosphere of constant change. Promises are broken when commitments are lost due to people coming and going on a project, lack of effective record keeping, and lack of communication.

In the end, when commitments are broken an organization’s reputation can suffer, and projects have a much higher likelihood of getting delayed or cancelled. For example, imagine a company needing to demonstrate to a regulator that they had done something related to environmental compliance. The regulator requires detailed data but the company is in a lot of trouble due to poor record keeping,  and they are digging into emails from people who had left years before to try and prove that they had actually done their job.

Another example is a stakeholder who owns a farm that a project intersects. One of the many agreements is to close the gate or the cattle will get out. But when someone forgets to close the gate, the cattle got out and were run over on the main road. The commitment is, “We promised the Farmer we would close the gate,” and the task is, “Tell everybody to first get the key, then close the gate.” When it goes wrong, it becomes an issue. The farmer complains and says, “You didn’t do it, now my cattle are dead and I need compensation.” If it continues, they might complain to the regulator and it becomes a statement of concern. Once it’s a case, you have to legally prove that you’ve done something about it and report back to the regulators.

The goal is obviously to mitigate these types of issues from occurring in the first place, carefully track steps taken to resolve them, and manage and document all interactions of regulators and stakeholders.

When something goes wrong on a project and stakeholders or regulators complain, typically you have little time on your side. For example you might need to get documents and reports gathered by a specific court date. If robust communications and data management haven’t been done properly from the very beginning, you can’t implement a new system at the last minute. Read on for some best practices and how to ensure that you are protected from the start.

What are some best practices for managing these commitments and permits?

Effective management of commitments is a strategic necessity. To create trust, demonstrate transparency, and achieve the best results, organizations must:

  • Make solid commitments that are measurable and achievable.
  • Continuously communicate and update all groups affected over the course of a project.
  • Track communications in a detailed and time-based manner.
  • Keep good records of project milestones and impactful events.
  • Keep promises made to stakeholders.
  • Using technology to keep commitments and achieve success.
  • Record all documents and agreements that apply to a given project.
  • Capture all conditions that must be met, along with their target dates.
  • Tracking tasks, responsibilities, progress, actions, notifications, and keeping the full record.

It is important to ensure everyone is on the same page as they are working through commitments and tasks using stakeholder engagement software. An important part of setting up the management of a consultation or engagement project is the development of a protocol document that meets the specific needs of a project and the software you are using to manage that initiative.

Protocol documentation ensures that all staff and consultants understand and use exactly the same data collection parameters for the purpose of generating consistent reports that meet industry standards and expectations.

Additional resource: The role of protocol documentation in your stakeholder consultation project

To prevent a project from going sideways at any point in its lifecycle, it is important to foster a collaborative, respectful relationship between all parties, and ensure projects are operated in a manner that complies with commitments, agreements and permit conditions. Effective management of communications, commitment and easy reporting is essential.

Learn how stakeholder engagement software works for you.

Dedicated stakeholder engagement software solutions like StakeTracker help organizations stay on track with their commitments by centrally managing all communications regarding the impact their initiatives have on the communities in which they operate.

The Commitments Management Module is designed for 1) commitments to Indigenous groups, 2) for meeting regulatory compliance (i.e. managing permit conditions), 3) project obligations, 4) internal policies, 5) managing ‘field promises’ to landowners and other stakeholders.

Even small, non-documented ‘promises’ made by field staff to land-owners for example can be easily managed in StakeTracker can easily be used to track what was promised.

In addition to easing the burden and risk associated with manual tracking commitments, StakeTracker records stakeholder issues, interests, and concerns as well as manages the assignment of tasks and generation of project reports that help organizations demonstrate commitments have been met.

StakeTracker also ensures that all communications related to a commitment are archived. As a result, there is a consistent, historic digital record of what has transpired regarding promises to stakeholders. Even if team members or stakeholder representatives change over time, the way the software is designed is legally transparent. Right down to details like an inability to change somebody’s name related to a task. The minute you’ve entered or changed anything in the system, a record is created in StakeTracker.

Learn more about a secure online stakeholder management solution to centrally document engagement strategies and outcomes of your stakeholder engagement activities.

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