COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT WITHIN NSW’S MAJOR INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS
If you reside in Sydney, no doubt you have either been subject to, or seen headlines on the development of the Sydney Light Rail, WestConnex Rozelle Interchange and NorthConnex. We may merely think of it as the construction we pass by on our morning commute to work, but there is so much more that happens behind the scenes – in particular, the large and intricate role of community and stakeholder engagement managers. To shine a light on this, Rebecca Spencer, recently working on WestConnex Rozelle Interchange, Anne Learmonth from NorthConnex, and Marianne McCabe from Sydney Light Rail, joined us for a panel event and shared some great insights from their experiences on these projects. Some highlights from the panel are below:
Having a seat at the table
In this profession, much of the role is focused on ensuring that the senior managers and directors are invested in and take a genuine interest in community engagement. They need to understand that stakeholder issues are a priority, and having their support and empathy is crucial to getting the job well done. However, it is important to be a part of this process end to end – from the very beginning when the project is being scoped out and contractual obligations are put in place, right to final delivery and review. An immense amount of planning and consultation needs to be undertaken with the community prior to the project kicking off, and it is crucial for the community engagement manager to be present and an active part of such discussions. If you are in this position and still fighting that fight, don’t give up.
Engaging the engineers
Within new infrastructure projects, engineers are at the core – which is why having their full endorsement of the role of communications is important. Anne spoke of getting the engineers involved in creating the mobile displays and running school education programs, where they found this frontline experience valuable to see the positive effect of their own team’s efforts. Bringing along the superintendent on door knocks or a community session, allows them to understand the value of community engagement and see it as an enabler rather than an inhibitor.
Community engagement managers – the new therapist?
Funny stories (for us not them!) were also told from our panel’s escapades in doorknocking and manning the complaints overnight line. Whilst community engagement managers must be respectful and do what they can to assist, they must know when to draw the line and make a call on putting the responsibility back on the resident. Marianne dealt with callers who treated the hotline as a counselling service, which steps into a hazy area of referring to professional medical help. To face such instances, Rebecca supported the growing necessity to provide training to deal with these at times, scary situations.
Providing support and building resilience
Despite the difficulties of the job, it is great to hear that support amongst CE teams is very strong – Rebecca mentioned that the engagement and stakeholder managers who work on these major infrastructure projects get together to share their war stories and provide advice. Our panel members support their teams to build resilience in the face of tough situations, such as those outlined above, by taking time to reflect on the week’s wins whether big or small, taking care of the team’s mental and physical wellbeing, and most importantly, sharing the burden equally – in this case, having a rotating schedule of each person manning the phone on the overnight complaints hotline!
How is it all measured?
Our audience asked some fantastic questions, one being how all these efforts are measured. With numbers and data becoming a key focus in each discipline, community engagement managers also need to leverage such tools. At NorthConnex, Anne and her team use a tool to measure how timely their responses are to complaints. They also scored 94 points on the ISCA sustainability award system for the community engagement efforts they undertook, which was a great achievement and provided further tangible evidence for them to have a ‘seat at the table’. Surveys are also a viable option to measure satisfaction – however, Rebecca wants to see more done to ensure that these surveys are monitored and carried out more regularly.
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