Seaports Magazine - Summer 2016 - (Page 39)

» GUEST VIEWPOINT Community Relationships: Build Them Now s By Rick Sheckells, Managing Principal, EcoLogix Group, Inc. ome years ago my firm stopped using the term "sustainability" in its marketing of services. The term had become so over-used, and so associated with only environmental improvements at the expense of economic and social opportunities, that we felt the connotation of the term sustainability had come to misrepresent the level of effort truly needed to make an organization viable over the long-term. Similarly, as a business decision, we have more recently discarded use of the term "outreach" as a description of one of our firm's core competencies. Why? After many years of honing our practices, we recognized how often clients and prospective clients applied a connotation to the term outreach - one that implied a heavy dose of telling external stakeholders all about the project, and how the project will be good for everyone. The conclusion too easily reached was that in order to win approval, all one need do is carefully craft a strong and compelling message. The fact is, any successful effort to build relationships of trust with those who care about seaport growth - such as neighboring communities, environmental organizations, and health advocates - requires far more listening than message delivery. What ports need in today's environment of heightened citizen awareness of the environmental impacts of goods movement, and sometimes highly motivated, often organized opposition to growth projects, is something much more effective and enduring than outreach on individual projects. Rather, ports will benefit from long-term relationships of trust with neighbors and advocacy organizations. It is those relationships that can be used as Any successful effort to build relationships of trust with those who care about seaport growth - such as neighboring communities, environmental organizations, and health advocates - requires far more listening than message delivery. a framework for constructive discussions on difficult issues. Without such relationships, however, it is extremely challenging to get into a useful dialogue about project details. Without the trust, citizens will have a hard time changing their position, something that was likely based on misinformation at worst, or incomplete information at best. In other words, if one starts what they believe is early outreach describing a proposed project's needs, design details, and benefits, then one may already be too late. The alternative, as we now advise clients and prospective clients, is to invest in longterm relationships with those who may least understand ports. We think of and describe this approach as maintaining The SocialLicense-to-Operate. Catchy phrase, but like many things of substance, the details matter greatly. Just how does an organization go about investing in relationships, especially when there has been a contentious history with certain stakeholders? On occasion I have heard some stakeholders referred to as the "enemy," and nobody wants to walk into the "enemy camp," right? In fact, that is exactly what you - or somebody who understands your organization - needs to do. With the right approach, all stakeholders are potential partners who can help you produce a better On occasion I have heard some stakeholders referred to as the "enemy," and nobody wants to walk into the "enemy camp," right? project. It takes a willingness to find some small bit of common ground. And that can best be found by listening. What are a community's priorities? Do they include physical development, safety improvements, amenities such as parks or community centers, or jobs? Candidly discussing jobs can be a tricky venture. Community expectations may be out of sync with the reality of a port authority's hiring potential. On the other hand, no port official can afford to create doubt about the headlines regarding growth in the port industry and associated jobs. It can help to begin with an honest explanation of where the jobs will be, skills needed to hold the jobs, and what is within the port authority's ability to influence. An important consideration in any such discussion is frame-of-reference. Communities and ports often speak in different terms. It is helpful to ensure that your liaison can speak and understand the language of ports, of communities, and of other key external stakeholders. Having worked on numerous infrastructure projects that were potentially controversial to external stakeholders, in our experience, developers do the right thing by communities. When asked the difference between the developer who gets the project delivered on time and within budget, and the one who suffers delays and unanticipated costs - or worse, doesn't get the project at all - I have observed that the only difference is the timing of when the developer chooses to do right by the community. Early project outreach is never soon enough. ● summer 2016 * WWW.AAPASEAPORTS.COM 39 http://WWW.AAPASEAPORTS.COM

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Seaports Magazine - Summer 2016

AAPA Headquarters
From the President's Desk
Ports Strengthen Partnerships Via Community Outreach
The Slippery Slope: Ethical Considerations in Port Business Decisions
Community Outreach Toolbox
Symbiotic Cooperation Leads to Success for Everyone
Community Relationships: Build Them Now
Port Community Outreach: A University's Role
Index of Advertisers

Seaports Magazine - Summer 2016

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