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2.3.10 Tools and techniques

Contents
2.3.10.1 Newsletters
2.3.10.2 Project information centres
2.3.10.3 Opinion surveys
2.3.10.4 Focus groups
2.3.10.5 Public meetings
2.3.10.6 Surgeries/‘Open house’
2.3.10.7 Participative workshops
2.3.10.8 Strategic stakeholder dialogue
2.3.10.9 Community liaison groups
2.3.10.10 Project liaison groups

In addition to inviting written or telephone comments, a range of techniques are available that can be used as part of a stakeholder involvement programme [CIRIA-2005]. Some examples are described below with a brief indication of advantages and disadvantages in various contexts.

The mix of information, consultation and participation techniques has to be designed according to the context. A simple clean-up of a pipeline spill may only merit a mention in a newsletter and community liaison group meeting. Major site remediation projects may require a much more sophisticated programme including participative techniques such as workshop-based formats or more in-depth deliberative approaches.

Where opinions on matters connected with the proposal are polarised and where reliance is placed on pressure groups, the techniques listed here may have much more serious resource implications.

2.3.10.1 Newsletters

Written material used to convey information might involve a series of publications. Newsletters provide ongoing contact and information can be updated. They are a flexible form of publicity that can be designed to address the changing needs of the audience. They are useful to support liaison groups and have potential for feedback. Care should be taken in establishing the boundaries of distribution. The disadvantage is that not everyone will actually read a newsletter [CIRIA-2005].

2.3.10.2 Project information centres

‘Project information centres’ have been valuable on many projects where consultations have strong links to a particular community [CIRIA-2005]. Documents, reports, data, and information – including those from third parties – are made available for interested participants to use. An information centre may be housed on site, in a local library, or it may be an on-line ‘virtual’ library.

2.3.10.3 Opinion surveys

Sending out a document to selected organisations and individuals for comment may help collect representative views, but favours those with more time to respond, may miss key groups, and can fail to get people really thinking through the issues and practicalities of proposals [CIRIA-2005]. Also, the balance of opinions expressed by those who self-select to respond to consultation initiatives or self-selecting surveys may bear no relation to the balance of opinions in society more widely. It is unwise to assume that opinions from a self-selected audience are representative of society at large. Interviews and questionnaires may therefore be required.

2.3.10.4 Focus groups

Focus groups or forums are meetings of invited participants designed to gauge the response to proposed actions and gain a detailed understanding of the participants’ perspectives, values and concerns [CIRIA-2005]. They provide a quick means of gauging what public reaction to a proposal might be. Disadvantages are that selection of group members may exclude some sectors of the community, groups require facilitation and support to them is time consuming.

2.3.10.5 Public meetings

Public meetings may bring together interested and affected parties to present and exchange information and views on a proposal [CIRIA-2005]. They can provide a useful way of meeting other stakeholders and allowing people to hear a range of views. They may demonstrate that the proponent is willing to meet with other interested parties. Though appearing simple, they may be one of the most complex and unpredictable methods, and result effectively in no consultation. Unless care is taken to represent all views, the public may be dissatisfied and mistrustful. In addition, the format may be too superficial to allow wide differences of opinion to be resolved.

Large public meetings can be intimidating and tend to discourage meaningful dialogue between the public and the organisation(s) involved. Smaller informal meetings and separate meetings with specific groups of stakeholders are recommended to be included in programmes.

2.3.10.6 Surgeries/‘Open house’

In the open house model, interested parties are encouraged to visit the site or some other convenient venue on an informal basis to find out about a proposal and provide feedback [CIRIA-2005]. This can be an effective way of informing the public and other interested parties. People can visit at a convenient time, view materials and ask questions at their leisure.

2.3.10.7 Participative workshops

Workshops with a limited number of participants can be used to provide background information, discuss issues in detail and solve problems where there is a demand [CIRIA-2005]. They may provide a more open exchange of ideas and facilitate mutual understanding. They may be useful for dealing with complex, technical issues and allowing more in-depth consideration, and may be targeted at particular groups – typically the more technically focussed stakeholders and local authorities.

2.3.10.8 Strategic stakeholder dialogue

Many activities could be described as dialogue. In this context, strategic stakeholder dialogue means an inclusive process that brings stakeholders together to address broader or strategically important decisions [CIRIA-2005]. Typically, corporate strategic stakeholder programmes run over 12 months or more to explore shared and different interests, and to build on common ground to reach an understanding or consensus. They are appropriate where a range of stakeholder groups need to be involved to address otherwise intractable issues and promote culture change.

2.3.10.9 Community liaison groups

Long-term community liaison groups exist for many large industrial sites and are an obvious channel for communication [CIRIA-2005]. They are a public demonstration of commitment to openness and respect for neighbours. They can give early warning of difficulties and can be used to test reaction to possible changes. They are likely to have a key role in helping to scope project stakeholder involvement programmes, particularly the more complex or potentially controversial ones.

2.3.10.10 Project liaison groups

Where there is no standing local liaison group a project liaison group may be set up as a channel of communication and focus for consultation. They are common in some industry sectors, including the construction industry and may be relevant also to contaminated land projects.