A Community Engagement Strategy for Negotiating a Package of Community Benefits

Proposal Clarification

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In this stage, the group develops a tentative list of givebacks.

The group becomes able to fully engage in the discussion of actual givebacks in this stage—having moved on from questions about the validity of the project. Participants are ready to talk about issues and key needs as they work to develop a tentative list of givebacks.

A need that is expressed as a possible giveback is assessed by the facilitator and project team in three ways: Is it important? Who is stating the need? Is it realistic?

  • If the need seems unrealistic, the issue is addressed as soon as possible, though probably not at the same meeting. Some level of consideration is important for any idea.
  • If the need seems important, and it is being expressed by a key player, and it seems potentially realistic, then the facilitator can take the negotiation off-line if it does not appear to be a large-group issue. This may turn into a basic agreement that is brought back to the group for endorsement and refinement and further work on specifics, or it may be fully negotiated off-line.

If off-line, the negotiation process is conducted and the resolution is brought back to the group as part of the larger giveback package. Some elements may be completely worked out and agreed-to; other elements may be partially agreed to and require further specifics to be ironed out.

If the process is handled well, it can lead to a long-term relationship that goes well beyond the project itself.

  • The group develops a list of possible givebacks.
  • At the request of the group, further research may have to be done to determine what is involved and what the costs would be for various options.
  • The list is presented to the group to ensure that it accurately reflects ideas that were raised by participants.
  • There may be discomfort with the process.
    Many people are actually comfortable with a formal process (even when they claim not to be). Because the givebacks process is neither formal nor standardized, it can create discomfort in some participants. One way to mitigate this is to regularly acknowledge that the current process doesn’t foreclose using others at any time (including a formal process). It may also be useful to ask the group to apply “act as if” thinking. Rather than asking group members to approve the process, the facilitator can ask them to simply “try it out” or “act as if it is OK” long enough to fully engage. That may allow people to participate without agreeing that the process is a good one.
  • There can be a misperception that by discussing the givebacks, the community is, in essence, approving of the project.
    The protocol clearly allows the community to say “no” while the giveback process is under way, or even after the giveback process is over. This is in contrast to the traditional permitting process, which does not allow for this kind of parallel work; it is usually all or nothing, pro or con.
  • Communities need to exercise some degree of restraint in their demands. What a sponsor doesn’t want to see happen is to have the process undermined by an example that allows others to dismiss it as unrealistic and/or inappropriate.
  • The key in all of these various communications is directness and honesty. State what is involved and what is not, what actions mean and what they don’t, and what the process involves and does not involve.

In the West Oahu power plant project, Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc. was able to have initial discussions with stakeholders on the project, and then to formally state “The community’s ultimate position will be temporarily placed on the side, while we move to a discussion of givebacks.” The formal “suspension” worked for members of the community group, allowing them to move forward without concern about having to take a position on the project itself .

On the Lanai wind farm project, there exists such a history of mistrust in process that some of the group members have struggled with the parallel work. Two things have helped in this case:

First, the group has been reminded that without a giveback package, what they were engaged in what was an “all-or-nothing” process that could result in the project being built and the community getting nothing. Coming up with a givebacks package while opposing the wind farm created the opportunity to get something—no matter the outcome of the project.

Second, the group asked for and ultimately received a written description of the role that Hawaiian Electric would play in the process. It was complex because the project involved multiple processes with multiple decision makers. What was laid out was a clear statement of what Hawaiian Electric could and could not do, and it included a specific statement that the community could still oppose the project.

See document The Wind Farm Project

Related Examples

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