The Nexus of Corporate, Client, and Community Public Engagement: Lesson Learned from the Americas

Monday, May 1, 2006

University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin

In May, 2006, Merrick Hoben gave this presentation on CBI's involvement in the Uruguay Pulp Mills Project – a dispute between Argentine and Uruguayan stakeholders over two paper mills on the Rio Uruguay. The talk recounts some of the pitfalls and lessons learned from our intervention in this extremely controversial situation. Below is a summary of lessons learned and best practice points. The full talk can be downloaded in PDF form to the right.

The Nexus of Corporate, Client, and Community Public Engagement: Lesson Learned from the Americas

Address stakeholder concerns as early and comprehensively as possible.

  • Undertake stakeholder assessments and engagement early and consistently.
  • Make sure impact studies aren’t missing key stakeholders.
  • React immediately to notable events (such as protests, lawsuits)
  • Assume the problem won’t go away on its own.
  • View PR efforts by companies as different from stakeholder engagement.
  • Use an assessment and engagement team with local knowledge.

Allow more time for stakeholder assessment and engagement.

  • Neutral parties usually need green light to proceed with stakeholder ‘due diligence’ ground work weeks before starting formal conflict assessment interviews. This time is used to start an informal dialogue with stakeholders and increases the chances of stakeholder participation in the assessment/ engagement.
  • If done right, stakeholders are less likely to see process as perfunctory/useless.
  • Assessment should ideally be published ahead of social and environmental impact studies, and those studies should reflect and respond to concerns raised in the stakeholder assessment.

Select appropriate convener(s)

  • The convenor’s perceived legitimacy/credibility is critical to the success of stakeholder engagement processes.
  • Multilateral and client companies should consider co-convening with other local agencies where necessary to ensure public legitimacy.
  • If other actors are involved (i.e. governments, independent organizations) they can often help the neutral publicly define its role.

Provide consistent and specific information about intent, events and timelines.

  • When multilaterals and their clients are jointly involved, they should internally and jointly define the appropriate and necessary scope of the engagement. This scope should be clearly communicated to the public as early as possible.
  • Devise a timeline for consultation and engagement, decide what specific actions will occur (public meetings etc.), put it in a press release, and then stick to it. (i.e. stakeholders need a clear vision about what will happen).
  • Multilaterals and company clients need to provide public documents demonstrating its intent and efforts.
  • Whenever possible, use scientific experts with impeccable credentials and, at the very least, an understanding about the sensitivities of their work. The substance of their reporting efforts is irrelevant if they are perceived as a non-credible source of information.