Part 3. Environmental Resistance and Social Media (Click to view Part 1 and Part 2)

Pipeline gridlock and environmental resistance reduced to their simplest form is a stakeholder engagement issue.

Thinking back a few years to the Arab spring, one key thing stood out. With the rise of the Internet, the general public now has a very real and very powerful mechanism for getting a message out. Social networking with tools like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs give anyone and everyone a voice – it’s free, fast, personal, and built to spread information quickly. As history has shown, it can definitely support a movement – whether political, environmental, or otherwise.

I’m a big advocate of information sharing, but I’m reminded of the telephone game from my childhood, where a group of people take turns whispering a message into the ear of the person next to them. By the time the last person in the group speaks the message out loud, the message has changed dramatically from the first whispering. The story gets altered every time it gets retold.

As a project team looking to build a major capital project, identifying and understanding project stakeholders is a key part of the process to move the project forward. From the PMBOK (Project Management Book of Knowledge) a stakeholder is a person or organization that:

  • Is actively involved in the project
  • Has interests that may be positively or negatively affected by the performance or completion of the project
  • May exert influence over the project, its deliverables, or its team members

In Industrial Megaprojects by Edward Merrow, Merrow defines a stakeholder as “a claimant on value”…and a megaproject must allocate “value in a way that renders the project feasible… Some stakeholders are unable to make a successful claim…because they are not strong enough politically.”

The rise of social media has provided a mechanism to increase stakeholder power for community groups and environmental groups who are often opposed to the project. Sometimes this opposition is based on an “interpretation” of the truth, rather than reality. This definitely adds complexity to the process of executing a major capital project, whether a pipeline, an oil sands project, an offshore LNG project, a wind farm, a mine, or any project that will be disruptive to stakeholders in some manner. The rise in power is neither inherently good nor inherently bad – often it is very good and helps ensure better quality projects. Either way, it is a reality and does require awareness and attention by project owners.

Project teams must engage these very real stakeholders in a way to help control information about the project and provide healthy dialogue based on verifiable information – good information spreads just as rapidly as bad information – think again of the telephone game.  If project owners fail to tell the story, someone else will tell it for them, and the likelihood of inaccuracy is heightened. This is even more important when it comes to pipelines or oil sands projects which have garnered media attention around the world.  Robert Bailleul’s article in the Motley Fool, “What McDonald’s Corporation  Taught the Oil Sands,”  provides examples of companies like @Cenovus, and @Suncorenergy that are taking very creative approaches to addressing myths and misconceptions,   as well as engaging critics in a more constructive manner.

Whether or not they’ve chosen to use Twitter, Facebook, or traditional media to engage these stakeholders, there is a growing awareness by project teams that they must address this information problem head on. Many projects and project owners continue to struggle in this area.

As a result, companies are looking for ways to effectively manage the rise in public engagement, as well as address stricter regulatory issues and environmental compliance requirements.

This is where systems like Coreworx Project Information Control can help.  Information systems allow organizations to automate processes that will improve governance, risk, and compliance procedures, and provide a mechanism to improve stakeholder communication. Projects will always have stakeholders whose goals are very different and even opposed to the goals of the company, but by putting processes in place to ensure transparency and visibility they can spend less time reacting to bad or misleading information and spend more time engaging in positive and constructive conversation.  By arming project teams with the best information, the noise will be reduced and companies can focus on delivering better projects.

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