Digital stakeholder engagement: the basics

Alexander Catmur
Stakeholder engagement has always been a fundamental part of the construction process. As the industry evolves toward ‘Construction 4.0’, this will not change, however, new technologies can offer us new ways of engaging stakeholders.

So, what are the main considerations of stakeholder engagement in Construction 4.0?

Not everyone is digitally minded

Your stakeholders will typically be very diverse and it is important to understand the makeup of the people you are engaging and how they are best engaged. Do you have tech savvy people who are comfortable receiving and processing information in a multitude of forms, or traditionalists who prefer things ‘the way it has always been’? 

That’s not to say you should not embrace technology with the latter – you just need to plan and shape your communication to them in a way that they will receive it well and they continue to engage.

Digital co-creation

It is a given now that collaboration delivers a better project. Traditional stakeholder engagement used public consultations, face to face presentations, workshops and meetings upon meetings to achieve this.

There will always be a place for face to face, but there are real challenges with this approach: you can’t reach everyone; you only communicate information known at a certain point in time; feedback and responses are slow; and it’s limited to the power of flat images or models.

Using technology can elevate how we co-create with stakeholders. Augmented and virtual reality can help us model a multitude of different ways people might interact with a space. The maturity of visualisation tools means that you can give your stakeholders a real sense of, and real input on, the end-product. Online portals can also help us disseminate information more easily, receive feedback at any time and quickly provide updates and responses.

Information, information

Traditionally we give stakeholders information through face to face meetings, public consultations or newsletters through the post. A big limitation of this is that you can’t always easily reach all stakeholders, or it takes a very long time do so.

We’re moving beyond this to embrace tools like social media to keep members of the public informed about projects. This makes it easier to reach larger audiences but can also mean information overload and wrong information and bad news travel much faster.

With digital tools it is more important than ever to control the messaging with your key stakeholders. Don’t leave a space where there should be information – the space you leave will inevitable be filled. And make sure there is consistency across all formats you are using to communicate to your stakeholders. Social media, email and sharepoints should all have the same information, written in the same way.

The feedback loop

It’s not enough to simply engage stakeholders, it’s vital that their responses inform and impact your plans. In our modern world we have all been conditioned that our opinions matter (expert or not) and we should be able to freely comment on anything and everything. 

If you don’t give your stakeholders opportunities and mechanisms to feedback throughout the project, they will create their own mechanisms and you won’t be in control of how they feedback, nor will you be able to stem any incorrect and damaging conversations.  Online tools can provide quick and easy ways to collect and respond to feedback.

In conclusion

Increased digitalisation doesn’t mean that the fundamentals of stakeholder engagement change.  Stakeholder engagement has and always will be about people. What it does do is change the dynamics of communication and how you build and maintain relationships with your stakeholders. Your stakeholders’ expectations of how they should be communicated with, how easily they should be able to contact you and how often you keep them informed has also changed.

So how do you use this to help increase engagement instead of destroying it? Keep people at the heart of your engagement. Use technology to add real value to your stakeholder engagement process so that their expectations are met, and your project is delivered with people at its heart.  

 

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