The Benefits of Early Engagement

OpEd – Kelly Munro (Technical Director – Engagement, Communication & Communities, GHD)

With the continued rise of infrastructure building projects around Australia, communities are bearing the brunt of multiple construction projects close to where they live, work and play. Considerable benefits can be realised by local communities and the projects we work on, if meaningful and targeted engagement is carried out early, and people see their inputs being considered.

Consultation experts and government agencies refer to ‘social license to operate’ as the latest ‘must have’ for projects. However, not fully understanding the local community’s perspective can potentially delay or complicate projects. If we build in meaningful social license from the beginning, we can create efficiencies through risk mitigation. Project teams today need to not only consider communities, but also understand them, be willing to talk to them and, more importantly, listen and learn from their local knowledge.

When communities are given the opportunity to understand a project at the concept design phase, they often provide thoughtful inputs rather than negative feedback. When consulted early, they can become assets in the project development phase rather than ‘anchors’ in the formal planning and construction stages. In turn, project owners and sponsors benefit from a more certain approach to project development – reducing costs and time delays, reputational risks and the likelihood of enraged or burnt-out communities.

When we build a solid foundation of trust, communities are more accepting of our projects. This provides flexibility in construction at times when things can, and will, go wrong. This trust legacy then extends onto future projects. By bringing early engagement to the table, organisations become trusted advisors for clients and governments for the benefit of future projects.

Kelly Munro
Technical Director – Engagement, Communication & Communities

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