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Strategy to rebuild relationship with an angry community

A regional utility had announced the purchase of a remote farming property where it intended to use wind and natural processes to neutralise potentially hazardous material. Peop le living near the proposed facility were concerned, organised an active opposition gro p , and recruited activist supporters from outside the region.

KSI first helped management understand that telling this angry community that it was wrong and relying solely on rational arguments was not working, and would not work. We then positioned the utility in the middle ground where it accepted that there were some risks associated with the project, it needed to share control with the community and with authorities like the Environment Protection Authority, and it needed to actively and systematically listen to its various stakeholders.

Gaining an understanding of the issue and educating management to possible alternative strategies required wide-ranging meetings and interviews with members of the utility's executive team, its Board, and selected managers and staff.

In the analytical phase, we used workshops with cross sections of executives, managers and staff to define priority stakeholders, drivers and barriers affecting the utility's objectives. It was important to involve as many as possible so that they understood and owned the process.

Main activities that brought the strategy to life included:

  • A listening strategy ; this included an open day at the site, letters inviting people to express their views, and a community forum in a provincial centre.

  • Consultation process ; at the community forum, the utility agreed to a community request for an 8-member subcommittee to work on a number of nominated issues with the utility and report back regularly.

  • Information pack ; This explained the project in clear and concise terms, but also provided contacts and web addresses of other information sources, not all favouring the utility's cause. This helped establish the utility as one of the best sources of information on the issue.

  • Broadening the engagement ; we brought broader parties (EPA, the local council and others) into the discussions via bilateral and multilateral formats. This allowed us to discuss wider options for resolving the issue.

As a result, the community came to see the utility as an ally in seeking a solution that worked for all parties. This led to reduced activity against the utility , and opened the way for the region to approach other utilities and the State Government for a different method of processing the materials. The original proposal was shelved and an interim solution agreed with another utility. The community was happy with the outcome, as was the utility. Community leaders praised the utility's community concern and response to the issue.


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