Public consultation is a necessary component of the project development process. In many cases, consultation with stakeholders is legally mandated, but there are many more reasons to engage the public than fulfilling regulatory requirements.

In Canada and most other jurisdictions, consultation is regulated in order to ensure that the voice of the public is considered on projects that could affect them. While the process can be time consuming for companies busy with projects, public consultation can offer key insights to a proposal when taken on with the right mindset.

The benefits of public consultation

In Canada it’s the proponent’s responsibility to educate stakeholders so they feel that they are equipped to make a well-informed decision about a project. Companies can’t choose their stakeholders, and there is certainly no “one size fits all” approach to consultation. However, effective stakeholder engagement and consultation typically follows three recognized steps: notification, consultation, and participation.

It’s important to emphasize meaningful consultation that involves ongoing two-way communication with a project representative or team. This method increases understanding, clarifies the community’s values, and allows the proponent to understand how the public’s views can and should lead policy decisions. The public has the right to be concerned about your project, to ask questions about it, and even to oppose it. But, every person should have the correct information in order to form an opinion.

Detailed consultation will identify a community’s views on your project. It will allow you to anticipate potential issues and develop ways of mitigating them, which could include inviting the public to have input into solutions. Ultimately, it will help develop the public’s trust in your process and overall image.

The result is more meaningful process that incorporates the views and input of those who know an area best – its stakeholders.

Why not the sales approach?

Some organizations take the approach of presenting projects in a pre-packaged form, almost as a fait accompli. While they might have the intention to consult, instead the practice becomes primarily a “selling” of the project to the public. Companies that are wary of consultation and engagement often turn to a specific type of public relations to help with their sales pitch. This kind of PR role is to “spin” or sell the project to the public with the notion that this approach can save a great deal of money in the long run if delays are encountered.

Unfortunately, this approach can leave little room for meaningful discussion and input, and stakeholders become wary of a condescending “we know what’s best for you and your region” attitude.

The drawbacks of “selling”

This method of selling rather than presenting a project or proposal to the public for input and refinement has many drawbacks, such as:

  • When citizens don’t feel engaged and unheard in the process, they lack understanding and ownership of a project.
  • When companies don’t adequately take feedback into consideration, they don’t fully understand their stakeholders and can’t tailor their project to suit their needs.
  • The long-term success of a project can be undermined without a solid base of public understanding and/or support.

For more on this subject please check out our Communication strategy for stakeholder engagement.


About SustaiNet

StakeTracker stakeholder management software meets the needs of today’s stakeholder engagement and public consultation professionals by helping them efficiently manage interactions and communications with stakeholders, communities and the public.


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