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Helpful advice on appointing a Community Liaison Officer set out in CSIRO toolkit

After reading about the fantastic contribution community liaison officers (CLO) like Josie can make to the success of a CCS project, developer project managers may be considering creating a similar position within their own organisations. With this in mind, an overview is provided below to the section of the CSIRO Communication and Engagement Toolkit for CCS Projects that explains the roles and responsibilities of a CLO.

The toolkit points out that the first task of the developer is to clearly identify the aims of the CLO position, with these being informed by the project goals. These aims may include facilitating community ownership over the project, developing and maintaining a good relationship between the community and developer, and providing positive and negative feedback from the community to the Community Liaison Working Group. The Working Group comprises civil society members from local government, business, non-government organisations, and the media who represent the community’s views to the developer.

The toolkit suggests that the CLO achieves these aims by acting as a strategic communication link between the community, the Working Group and the Independent Steering Group, which takes the lead on behalf of the developer on stakeholder engagement.

This means the CLO not only provides project updates to the community but proactively seeks out issues of interest that can be further developed to increase engagement with the community and identify matters of potential concern for the Working Group and Independent Steering Group to address. This early action is aimed at creating and/or maintaining a positive relationship between the community and developer.

The most efficient method for conducting the community feedback sessions is through community meetings, and where specific aspects of the project need to be negotiated, private, face-to-face meetings. For example, at times the CLO, acting on the advice of the Steering Group and developer’s project team, may be involved in the early identification and resolution of potential areas of disagreement, such as land access arrangements with landholders.

The toolkit suggests that ideally, the CLO is a trusted member of the community with some technical qualifications, such as a high school or secondary science teacher or similarly qualified professional. The CLO, following appointment, will need to leverage this community trust both to perform his/her tasks within the community and to help win the respect of the Community Liaison Working Group members. This will enable the CLO to fulfill his/her important role of setting and attaining the Working Group goals.

According to the toolkit, this CLO can achieve this by creating a dynamic group environment, identifying issues crucial to the community and raising them within the group, encouraging discussion and debate about how the issues could be addressed, maintaining a balanced perspective in discussions, disseminating information through fact sheets, handouts, presentations, newsletters to the group and broader community, and providing feedback from Working Group meetings to the project’s Independent Steering Committee.

Finally, with the role of the CLO requiring an unusual mix of technical, strategic communication and public relation skills, the CSIRO toolkit helpfully provides a draft advertisement outlining the necessary skills, knowledge, responsibilities and personal characteristics of a CLO. The advertisement can be adapted for use in newspapers, radio, online, community publications, and notice boards.

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