A well timed and executed engagement strategy is essential in addressing stakeholder concerns relating to a proposed activity. Annabel Knipe, a Principal Environmental Engineer at S2V Consulting commented “By providing stakeholders with sufficient information, including demonstration of how their feedback has been assessed and where appropriate incorporated into the proposed activity plans, potential obstacles to project implementation can be eliminated”. S2V consulting regularly supports its clients in the stakeholder engagement process, one example being for Murphy Australia Oil’s Perth Basin offshore seismic survey campaign.
The Perth Basin holds important fishing grounds for the economically important western rock lobster. Rock lobster fishers in the area had concerns that seismic activity would lead to loss of earnings, through the exclusion from key fishing grounds and/or damage to equipment. The expected level of response from fishers, and the overlap in survey area and key fishing grounds, suggested a high level of interaction would be necessary, and accordingly, early consultation was conducted. The stakeholder consultation process is a step-wise process with feedback loops as shown below.
Consultation: a stepwise progression.
The first step identifies all relevant stakeholders whose interests and activities may be affected by the proposed activity and assesses them for ‘Relevance’ and ‘Response’. Relevance reflects the likelihood that the proposed activity will impact on their interests or activities, and Response as the anticipated level of concern expressed by the stakeholder. The assessment results can be used in developing the engagement plan, by including factors such as timing, methods of first contact and frequency of updates. For instance, stakeholders assessed as ‘High Response’ may benefit from early consultation, providing the maximum time within the approval process to discuss the proposed activity and find common ground where necessary. Often, detailed information regarding the proposed activity is not confirmed early in the approval process, and therefore ‘High Relevance’ stakeholders may need updating as the activity becomes better defined.
The outcome of the assessment process provides an estimate of the potential level of interaction for different stakeholders and the most appropriate engagement plan to follow, as summarised in the diagram below. This refinement ensures that stakeholders are consulted in an appropriate time frame and with as much detail as is necessary without the burden of excessive correspondence.
Assessment of Relevance and Response.
The plan is then implemented with this earliest stage of consultation including discussion of arrangements for future engagement such as stakeholder’s preferred correspondence method, level of detail and frequency of updates. The original plan can then be updated, producing a tailored stakeholder plan for each stakeholder.
Once correspondence has commenced, the merits of feedback regarding the proposed activity can be assessed. Responses to stakeholders should directly address any points made and where reasonable concerns over the activity are raised, common ground is sought resulting in mutually acceptable control measures to be written into the Environment Plan (EP). Following acceptance of the EP, ongoing consultation should continue as agreed with each stakeholder.
According to Annabel “Each project is different and requires a tailored approach. In Perth Basin, to ensure effective communication, initial contact with the rock lobster fishers was made with the support of an appointed Fisheries Liaison Officer, an ex-fishermen who was well known in the community. A number of town hall meetings were held where stakeholder issues were heard, feedback was assessed and additional control measures discussed. Early and effective engagement allowed additional control measures to be mutually agreed as acceptable by both Murphy and the rock lobster fishers ahead of EP submission, making the assessment process smoother and more efficient. As a result of this process, the seismic survey was successfully completed in a sensitive area with full support of a stakeholder group initially resistant to the proposed survey”.
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