Community Engagement Strategy development
Finding suitable methods to effectively engage with local communities and other key stakeholders is one of the most significant challenges facing Irish wind energy sector developers. MKO has been at the forefront of stakeholder engagement on large-scale wind farm projects for over a decade, including designing, managing, and delivering effective stakeholder engagement exercises. Our experience has given us an increasingly clear picture of the Project Communications jigsaw’s key pieces.
Any stakeholder engagement exercise must be based on honesty, sincerity, and trust. To be broadly supported and welcomed by a local community, any wind farm development needs to be presented as an opportunity that will allow the community to achieve things and derive benefits from a project that otherwise would never accrue to the people living in that area.
We develop bespoke Community Engagement Strategies for the community and near neighbours of wind farm developments. These include door-knocking exercises, leaflet drops, public information events, media and public affairs management, community group consultation, and community gain administration.
Geographical area and stakeholder mapping
MKO can provide the following services:
- Stakeholder mapping using GIS;
- Identify key stakeholders using local knowledge/contacts;
- Identify community and voluntary organisations;
- Highlight potential advocates and detractors within the community;
- List any former objection or opposition groups to other developments;
- Identify key local media; and
- Identify key local and regional elected reps.
Community Liaison Officer
MKO can provide a dedicated Community Liaison Officer (CLO) for projects, with readily accessible contact details, who would be available to neighbouring residents and community groups from the initial project development phases through to the operational phase of the wind farm.
As necessary, one-to-one meetings may have to be scheduled with the proposed project’s near neighbours. The CLO would be available to speak on behalf of the project whenever required and make publicly available full, clear, and comprehensive information about the project during key milestones stages of development (e.g., pre-planning, planning, construction).
The CLO would have the expertise and resources to receive, record, investigate, respond to and address queries and complaints during the project development and operation stages.
The CLO will implement the Community Engagement Strategy, including the door knocking on homes identified within a particular radius of the project and creating a presence as required. They will provide their contact details and direct people to the project website. The CLO will maintain regular communication with the relevant project leads via phone calls, emails and in-person to remain informed about the project. The CLO will record (in a pre-agreed manner with the developer) any specific concerns raised by members of the public in relation to the project and convey these concerns to the project team in a timely manner, tracking all consultations undertaken.
Depending on the reception, interest, or willingness to engage the residents, the CLO will capture this detail to inform future door-knocking requirements at a future point in the project’s development. The CLO will also follow up with any required actions from the door knocking exercise (e.g., specific information requests etc).
The CLO may sometimes call on other project team members, e.g., GIS for mapping to fulfil the requests of some of the local community members or the in-house digital team to update the website and produce leaflets. The CLO will work with developers to inform and agree best next steps as the project progresses.
Consultation with community groups, clubs, and societies
Our business model focuses on simplifying the complex communication process and understanding where and with whom communication should occur and how those communications are best delivered for a successful outcome. This includes individuals, families, communities, and sporting organisations. Our Project Communications team can meet individuals and organisations at a time that suits them and uses methods such as in-person or virtual meetings.
Adaptability and flexibility to meet our client’s requirements are at the core of our business model. We can lead or form part of a project team. Our reputation is crucial to us in the eyes of our clients, whose expectations we always strive to meet among our professional peers and with the communities we work.
Our people approach the most complex challenges with confidence and a can-do attitude.
Our GIS team offer a variety of data, analytical, and digital project communication services. We use accurate data for key decision making, network analysis, route mapping and the creation of PDF maps to demonstrate study areas and turbine/dwelling layouts.
Community Report (for planning)
Planning authorities will consider how the promoters of wind energy projects have meaningfully and properly consulted with the local community and facilitated public participation in developing their proposals. This should ultimately demonstrate the economic benefit of wind energy projects to the community or communities in the vicinity of the relevant wind energy proposal in the final weighing up of the merits or otherwise of a given proposal.
With the production of a Community Report (at the planning stage) in mind, wind developers need to take active steps to:
- Inform local communities as they begin to develop their proposals;
- Take the views of local communities into account in designing their proposals;
- Demonstrate what practical effect that process of engagement has had; and
- Set out how the project will perform as a good neighbour in the context of the long-term economic and social development of the community or communities within which it is situated.
The process of community engagement and the strategy for implementation can be an integral part of a successful project. Similarly, ignoring or poorly managing community concerns can have long term negative impacts on the success of a project and not adequately involving communities in the project development process has the potential to impose costly time and financial delays for the project. It is important that all community interactions are recorded and presented in the Community Report so the planning authority is aware that all steps have been taken to ensure effective community consultation has been undertaken.
Public Information Days
Public Information Days should take place in key local centres, where local community members can view project information and meet relevant project team members and developers. To overcome a common perception that such information days don’t provide sufficiently specific information for people attending, a project team member will meet attendees one-to-one or in small groups and take them through all the project information as it relates to them.
Such days require the production of bespoke materials, e.g., information boards or presentations, which our Project Communications team can manage.
Arising out of the necessity of conducting these public consultation days online during Covid, some people have expressed a desire for the information day packs to be available online in what is known as ‘Virtual Rooms’. These rooms continue to supplement the in-person events and ensure consultation is effective and widely available to the community at a time that best suits them. MKO can provide this digital resource.
Our Project Communications team takes on end-to-end event management associated with such events and works closely with other teams to produce relevant content.
Virtual Consultation Room
A Virtual Consultation Room provides a more resilient community and stakeholder engagement approach. It has become an expected and essential component of effective community engagement by helping remove barriers and allowing developers to connect with their audience virtually. Importantly it also makes participation easy for stakeholders at a time that suits them, driving better engagement for projects.
Media and Public Relations management
It is always prudent to devise a media and public relations plan ahead of the delivery of any community engagement. The more prepared and proactive you can be, the more control you can exert over the project messaging. This includes local media and elected representatives.
One of the important steps to success is that a proactive media and public relations campaign is led by the developers of the project and MKO can manage the delivery of this. It is important that the first messages the public are exposed to are carefully crafted and delivered. The influence and support of the media and local politicians is important and early consultation is vital.
MKO can also provide media training to project spokespeople, ensuring they are well prepared and briefed before any media interviews or public engagements.
Community Gain Plan Administration
The Community Gain Plan incorporating the Community Benefit Fund is there to help improve the quality of life for the people living in the vicinity of the proposed development. Those living in the closest proximity of the project should be the immediate beneficiaries which is why ‘nearest neighbours’ are designated for payments. However, it is also critical that a much broader ‘community’ benefits also. The Community Gain Plan can be more than the fund administered once the project is operational. Some developers may wish to fund education, sustainability, sports, and other projects in a community while the project is being developed.
MKO manages the delivery of these projects as well as the administration of the Community Benefit Fund, from working with the local community at the early stages of engagement to determining the needs of the community to helping set up a local fund committee to working with the committee to ensure the successful administration of the fund.
At MKO, our teams have the expertise and experience to work with developers of potential wind farms and other projects to socialise important broad messaging in the receiving communities years before the project delivery.
The focus is on discussing green energy, climate crisis, energy crisis and associated topics in a catchment with renewable energy potential. The aim is to sow the seeds now for future gain. This involves:
- education-based marketing;
- expert analysis in local, national and specialist publications;
- advertorial (paid for articles);
- socialising the green energy/climate crisis key messaging;
- school and community engagement; and
- sponsored climate action radio broadcast on local radio with various contributors.