The Importance of Stakeholder Outreach

pipeline through green space
Stakeholder Outreach is critical for project

Because the dynamics have changed in how the public and outside influences impact a project, stakeholder outreach must be part of the business strategy and risk register. Any company that is developing a new project has to analyze and mitigate the political and social risks that could come from stakeholders. This applies to a variety of projects in the energy sector including oil and gas exploration, pipelines, downstream facilities, power/utility lines, mining, as well as new roads, infrastructure, and real estate.

There are numerous examples of projects being delayed or canceled by activist stakeholders. Some include the Keystone XL pipeline, Palmetto Pipeline, the now infamous and nationally watched Ashby Highrise development in Houston, the Port Ambrose LNG project in New York, and more recently sand mining projects in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Texas.

Stakeholder Outreach
Stakeholder Outreach is a process

Effective stakeholder outreach has four parts. These are identification, analysis, prioritization, and engagement. The first step is to identify the stakeholders. It’s important to think broadly when identifying groups that could be impacted by or influence a project. This includes those who will be directly or indirectly impacted such as political leaders at all levels of government, local, state, and federal, with a focus on the municipal and county levels, NGOs, media, faith-based groups, landowners, civic leaders, nearby businesses, advocacy organizations, and other relevant groups.

The analysis is an evaluation of possible risks related to the stakeholders and the community where the project is planned. The analysis will examine numerous factors about a city, county, and region. Are there any stakeholders who might be opposed to the project, have concerns or be able to influence the process in any way? Have there been issues in the community or legislative bodies that might have a negative impact?

Prioritization is the process of taking the results from the analysis of stakeholders and determining what risks or issues exist. These risks are ranked, and strategies and tactics are developed to address and mitigate them. In addition, prioritization includes deciding how and when to communicate with the stakeholders.

Engagement is the final part of stakeholder outreach. This is the process of communicating with stakeholders to explain the project and how they will be impacted. It will also serve as an opportunity to solicit feedback and insight, as well as continue to analyze risks from stakeholders.

Reaching out to political and government leaders is vital to successful stakeholder outreach. Should a constituent call or run into their County Commissioner or State Representative and mention the project, the political leader should already have been briefed. It’s never a good idea for them to find out about the project from others.

Engagement is a two-way process. Once initial outreach is completed, stakeholders may have questions or issues may arise. The stakeholder management program must be responsive to inquiries, and a protocol needs to be established for routing issues to the right person in the company. Quick response time is crucial. It will be important to communicate with stakeholders throughout the project providing updates and responding to ongoing issues.

Early and effective stakeholder outreach is a key part of a successful project. Without it, a project can be delayed or canceled. Stakeholders must feel valued and be taken seriously. When a project is delayed that means equipment and personnel are sitting idle. The consequences are cost overruns and lost revenue at a minimum. Because risk can occur at any time during a project, it’s important to maintain a strong stakeholder outreach program.