A Community Engagement Strategy for Negotiating a Package of Community Benefits

Tentative Acceptance and Problem Solving

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This stage moves the community toward a greater comfort with the sponsoring company’s goals and with the notion of givebacks for the burden being shouldered by the community.

This stage develops the group’s willingness to accept that there is “reasonable cause” for the project. The goal is not that group members endorse or support the objectives; it is enough for them to acknowledge the existence of a rationale that is driving the sponsoring company to move ahead with its project.

This stage also defines the notion of a “package of givebacks.” The discussion could cover the philosophy behind the giveback approach; the criteria; and the boundaries (such as, “What is the financial maximum amount we can ask for?” “Is anything out of bounds?”). The reality is that some individuals will see this discussion as leading to what they perceive as a bribe, and this view should be acknowledged.

Substantive decisions about givebacks are usually made in negotiations between affected stakeholders and the sponsor/leader. Many of these decisions are made subsequent to holding negotiations off-line. In some cases, the negotiations are conducted in a problem-solving style with the whole group.

While the community weighs in with feedback on the project and decisions about givebacks, the process is not neutral; the sponsor is seeking a specific outcome.

  • Listen for needs that might become elements of the givebacks. Some of these needs might have first been discovered during the walkabout. Others might arise during the meetings.
  • Listen for and respond to questions about: the process; other participants; the sponsoring organization; and the executive’s approach to meeting facilitation. The facilitator may follow up outside the meeting to learn more about an individual’s perceived discomfort.
  • The presence of elders may be very important to the process. People tend to behave better in front of elders, especially those who are revered. People also tend to listen to elders; they often bring a perspective to the discussions that others cannot. One way is to approach the kupuna directly, explain what is involved, why it is important for the process to succeed, and then ask for their assistance. In a multiple meeting format, their presence is most critical at the outset or at the point when the discussion needs to come back together, or both.
  • Remember that this process has a specific desired outcome—the pathway to a project with community acceptance or tolerance. That end should be prominent at all times so that it can be used against the process at any point. If done well, the process has the potential to lead to a long-term relationship that goes well beyond the project itself.

Sometimes, a prior process on the same or similar subject has not reached a good closure, and therefore becomes part of a subsequent process. In the Wa‘ahila Ridge transmission line project, the line was denied a key permit by the Board of Land and Natural Resources. Rather than appeal, the company went back to the drawing board. One year later, when the company went to the public to discuss the proposed new alignments, the reaction of some was to pick the same, earlier fight, even though an alternative was being presented.

While there is no way to prevent this, a sponsor should build in some process tolerance for this dynamic. Rather than be caught by surprise, initial scoping should include a review of unresolved sentiments that may be carried into a new process. Acknowledging this will help to prevent the new process from being hijacked by past issues.

Related Examples

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