This process is best conducted if these three core philosophies exist and can be communicated:
- It is vitally important to honor individuals, groups, and communities for the realities they face, especially if others are benefited by the burdens they carry. For example, a community allowing a power plant in its neighborhood—no matter what the community benefits look like—will not feel as if its members have “won.” In reality, the concept of “win-win” has no place in these conversations. In nearly every case, if given the option, the community would pass on both the benefits and the project. This approach leads to a graceful acceptance or at least tolerance by the community. The sponsor’s language, demeanor, and positioning must remain true to this sense of outcome.
- “Ruthless transparency” needs to the norm. Discussions held inside and outside the meeting should be openly acknowledged; the content of those discussions should be shared with the group as quickly and as fully as possible and conflicts should be openly acknowledged. The fact that the process has a specific goal should always be part of the discussion. It’s important to overcome the natural tendency to “spin” information. Any sense of hidden agendas and secret (as opposed to separate) discussions can seriously undermine this work. Find stories, metaphors, and analogies to enable even the most complex subjects to be made accessible. Participants need to walk away feeling that this entire process was “above board.”
- This process operates on the philosophy that human beings have a “higher self” and a “better self” that can work together on tough issues and achieve important results. There are pieces of the process that are specifically designed to call on that higher self, to honor it when it is present, and to celebrate the group’s capacity to exhibit that self in a group context. Greater capacity to truly listen, to forgive, and to honor vastly different perspectives are among the behaviors of higher self applied in the process.
There is one more element that is critical to the success of the Community Engagement Strategy. The process must be led by an executive of the company who stays fully involved. This requires an executive who can handle himself/herself in a grassroots setting.
- It sends a message to the community that the process is important to the sponsor, and that the community is important to the sponsor.
- The executive is able to represent the company views and to make commitments on an on-going basis.
- The corporate memory/understanding is enhanced when an executive deals with the issues directly and can share them with the rest of the corporate leadership.