Stakeholder Information Management Software

The difference between stakeholder engagement and public relations

Public consultation is a necessary part of the process of project development in Canada and elsewhere in the world.

In many cases, consultation with stakeholders is legally mandated, but there are many more reasons to engage the public than fulfilling regulatory requirements.

In Canada and most other jurisdictions, consultation is regulated in order to ensure the voice of the public is brought to bear on projects that could affect them. While the process can appear to be onerous for companies developing projects, if undertaken with the right mindset, public consultation can offer much to inform a proposal.

The drawback of a “sales approach” to stakeholder engagement

Some organizations take the approach of presenting projects in a pre-packaged form, almost as a fait accompli. While they might have the intention to consult, instead the practice becomes primarily a “selling” of the project to the public. Companies that are wary of consultation and engagement often turn to a specific type of public relations to help with their sales pitch. This kind of PR role is to “spin” or sell the project to the public with the notion that this approach can save a great deal of money in the long run if delays are encountered.

Unfortunately this approach can leave little room for meaningful discussion and input, and stakeholders become wary of a condescending “we know what’s best for you and your region” attitude.

The drawbacks of “selling” a project

This method of selling rather than presenting a project or proposal to the public for input and refinement has many drawbacks, such as:

  • When citizens don’t feel engaged in the process, they lack understanding and ownership of a project.
  • When companies don’t adequately take feedback into consideration, they don’t fully understand a region and can’t tailor their project to suit its unique needs.
  • The long-term success of a project can be undermined without a solid base of public understanding and/or support.

The benefits of public consultation

In Canada, as in other areas, it’s the proponent’s responsibility to educate stakeholders – to make them feel they have enough information to make a well-informed decision about a project. Companies can’t choose their stakeholders, and there is certainly no “one size fits all” approach to consultation, however effective stakeholder engagement and consultation typically follows three recognized steps: notification, consultation, and participation.

Meaningful consultation that involves ongoing two-way communication with a project representative or team increases understanding, clarifies the community’s preferences and values, and allows the proponent to understand how the public’s views can and should lead policy decisions. The public has the right to be concerned about your project, to ask questions about it, and even to oppose it. But every person should have the correct information in other to form her or his opinion.

Detailed consultation will identify a community’s views on your project and how this perception changes over time. It will allow you to anticipate issues and develop ways of addressing them, which could include inviting the public to have input into solutions. Ultimately, it will help develop the public’s trust in your process by involving the community in project planning.

The result is more meaningful process that incorporates the views and input of those who know an area best – its stakeholders.

For more on this subject please check out our Communication strategy for stakeholder engagement.


About SustaiNet

StakeTracker stakeholder management software meets the needs of today’s stakeholder engagement and public consultation professionals by helping them efficiently manage interactions and communications with stakeholders, communities and the public.


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