A Community Engagement Strategy for Negotiating a Package of Community Benefits

Process Design


The goal of this stage is to decide whether to launch a community engagement process, and if so, to allow for its joint design by the group participants and process design team.

If the decision is made to go ahead with a community engagement process, the subsequent work of this stage involves designing a structure for the first meeting of the group and then establishing a framework that allows for participants and the process leaders to jointly design the process going forward.

Part way through the walkabout, ideas start to form about the best ways to organize the process that is about to begin. The team working on the project meets regularly to download from any recent community interactions and to discuss other events in the community that might impact the project. Information about community attitudes (both the larger context and specific views of the sponsoring organization) can be used as a basis for planning the meetings. With later interviewees, it’s possible to run process ideas by participants as they are formulated. For example, “We’re hearing such-and-such about a certain issue — does that sound right to you?”

The value of a senior executive leading this process is that it sends a message to the community and to the company about just how important the issue, the process, and the relationship with the community are.

  • Make a go/no-go decision about a community engagement process.
  • Develop the roster of who will be invited to participate.
  • Create the agenda for the first meeting.
  • Make various logistical decisions such as where, when, and whether an external third-party facilitator is needed.

Before deciding whether to launch a community engagement process, the sponsor needs to ask itself some questions:

  • Is this community in any condition to have a dialogue at this time?
  • Will the community agree to participate in a process sponsored by us?
  • Does it appear that there are early indications of a good giveback package?
  • Do we believe the company’s representative can sell this package of givebacks to the authorizing body and to the company’s own board of directors?

Based on the answers to these questions, the process design team makes the go/no-go decision on whether a community engagement process should be launched. Once a decision has been made to go forward, subsequent decisions need to be made, including:

  • Who needs to be at the table?
  • Should a third-party facilitator be hired or can an executive from the sponsoring organization do it?
  • Does a third-party convener (who can plan, support, and facilitate the process) need to be found because there is such distrust in the community?
  • Where is the most appropriate location for the meetings?
  • When is the best time for the meetings?
  • What is the role of the media?
  • Should the public be invited?
  • What should be included in the first meeting agenda?

Sensitivities exist around who is invited.
Individuals are usually invited into the group because their names have been repeatedly mentioned by key community leaders. The composition can include many of the expected names as well as a few who are unexpected; some known leaders may be left out. The sponsor/leader presumes there are reasons for exclusion and may not want to raise the specific exclusions with the group and possibly cause them to feel pressured to “reject” specific names. The decision is best left to the group to resolve.

  • One of the great challenges to this process may well come from within the corporate entity itself. This process gives so much power to the community in the process that it will undoubtedly raise fears and concerns within the corporation. The power of “letting go” is not easy for many to recognize, especially those who are used to more classic power equations. It is therefore imperative that the corporate sponsor of this process understands and willingly abides by the protocol.
  • The right site for the process is critical. The comfort of the group in its fullest sense is the goal. A place near or in the impacted area, a time of day that works for them, parking, air-conditioning (if during the summer months), food and drink arrangements, are all elements to take into account as part of the process design.

Related Examples

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