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Following the long-awaited launch of the National Infrastructure Strategy, our Founder and Managing Director, Jo Field, takes a look at why effective stakeholder engagement will be vital to the success of every project.

This week the Government launched the National Infrastructure Strategy as part of the Spending Review, with a commitment to transform UK infrastructure by investing in local projects that have a visible impact on communities and support economic recovery. The strategy outlines how the government will accelerate and improve the delivery of infrastructure, boosting productivity and working towards the target of net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Commitments include a £4bn levelling up fund, allowing local areas to bid for up to £20m to fund local projects to drive growth and regeneration. Also, £1.7bn investment in local roads, £5bn for buses and active travel, £1.3bn for electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and funding for key transport projects across England, including the completion of Crossrail.

It’s great to see the Government is strongly committed to investing in infrastructure for the benefits it brings. I firmly believe in the power of transport infrastructure to regenerate communities and create jobs, skills and growth - just look at what the DLR did for London docklands in the 1980s. But what can we do to ensure those involved in major projects delivery can maximise their success?

What makes a successful infrastructure project? 

Building new infrastructure is crucial to the economic recovery and creating a bright future for the UK’s towns and cities. Communities, stakeholders, and the end-customer or user should always feature at the heart of plans.

A recent study on the performance of megaprojects by the Bartlett School of Construction and Project Management at University College London, identifies six key themes that are crucial to improving megaproject outcomes. The report suggests effective stakeholder engagement and adequate understanding of power, interests, drivers and expectations is one area that will help to drive success.

What is stakeholder engagement?

Stakeholder engagement means building relationships with the communities and representative groups who have an interest in your project; anyone who the project directly (or indirectly) affects. Exemplary stakeholder engagement is about working together with your stakeholders to achieve common goals; making sure both the project planners and the end users benefit from the best possible outcome.

How does stakeholder engagement help projects succeed?

Stakeholder engagement is vital to the success of all transport projects – large or small. It’s important to build relationships and engage your stakeholders from an early stage, to ensure better policy decisions. Communities need to be engaged at the start of the planning process. It’s the only way to get things right first time and deliver an end result that works for everyone. 

If we fail to listen to stakeholders and take their views and requirements into consideration, we run the risk of making expensive mistakes, the possibility of legal challenge, and/or a project not delivering the benefits it was designed for.

More importantly, when stakeholders feel they’ve been listened to and have had an opportunity to properly contribute to the development of a project, they’re more likely to become advocates. 

Why do we need advocates?

Advocates, or supporters, will champion the case for the project and share their views to help shape the scheme. Stakeholder advocates will applaud delivery of the project if their views have been considered and things have been done well.

Infrastructure projects, especially major ones, need advocates from a range of sectors; including business, industry, communities, campaign groups, young people, older people, and equalities groups. Advocacy helps to protect the project through the planning and decision making process, ensuring it gets the relevant powers and permissions for construction. Stakeholder advocates also help to continually make the case for the scheme, enabling the project to sustain support across political cycles.

How can we ensure effective stakeholder engagement?

Transport stakeholder engagement is a technical discipline, mixing communications, public affairs and policy expertise. Building advocacy isn’t something that can be done overnight.  It takes time to build relationships and trust. Project coordinators will need dedicated expertise to make this happen. Some organisations will have the resources internally for this, but others may not, or may need assistance in some areas. That’s where recognised industry experts such as JFG Communications can help. Some of our previous blogs include top tips to help get your started on your stakeholder engagement journey. Or please get in touch for further information on how we can help.