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The role of culture in stakeholder management

In their Communication and Engagement Toolkit for CCS Projects, the CSIRO identifies four different types of stakeholder: Greatest Effort, High-Commitment, Least Effort, and Low Influence. The toolkit also discusses the importance of each group in relation to each other, and the implications for implementing a CCS engagement strategy.

The toolkit points out that the Greatest Effort stakeholders (those who deserve the most attention from a CCS proponent) are the local community, regulators, local government and taxpayers. Within the local community, I believe it is the landholder with whom land access needs to be negotiated who is among the most important stakeholders, particularly in the early stages of a project.

The toolkit points out that the knowledge and experience of the High-Commitment stakeholders, usually from other fossil fuel industries or scientists, can be a credible resource in informing Greatest Effort stakeholders about CCS. In my experience, they can also be a great resource or mentor to the community engagement practitioner. This was my experience while working as the community engagement manager at CO2CRC. I found that a senior member of the board, which comprised mostly of fossil fuel industry partners, was a coal mining engineer with extensive experience in land access negotiation.

He once told me of a particularly lengthy land negotiation process which for me was and remains a great practical lesson in stakeholder management. The mining company had wanted to use part of the farmer’s land for infrastructure to support the mine activities. After many months of meetings and discussions the negotiations failed to progress, but the engineer could not find out why. He kept meeting with the farmer and eventually, after many cups of tea, and cake and biscuits, the farmer told the engineer that the reason for his reluctance to agree to access was that there was a family cemetery on the part of the property under negotiation. For the miner the solution was simple – a new site for the infrastructure was found after which the land access agreement was quickly negotiated.

My take away messages from this story were that, while some land access negotiations can stall for straightforward reasons such as disagreement over the level of compensation, other reasons are more difficult to ascertain. These are likely to be many and varied, and can include cultural sensitivities that are unknown to a proponent’s representative, who generally is a visitor to the community. While the provision of reliable and jargon-free information is important when working with stakeholders, there are also cultural differences that may be less easily identified through standard engagement activities, including social research. In the case of this farmer and the coal mining engineer, a genuine friendship had to develop before the real reason for the farmer’s reluctance to agree to land access was disclosed. This takes time and patience in order to build the trust necessary for a stakeholder to take a proponent’s representative into his or her confidence.

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