Engaging on Transport Infrastructure

“I’ve been yelled at. Threatened. Spat at. Cried at. I’ve felt in danger. I’ve felt frightened. I’ve felt exhausted.” That’s how one colleague has described her life as an engagement manager on a major road construction job.

But it’s her perfect job.

“I get to really make a difference. I get to say, come on, how are we going to get through this together.” By now she’s smiling. “I get to make a real difference.”

When it comes to engagement, there are the projects that lift up spirits or inspire us. And there are the jobs where it’s just hard work.

Road and rail construction is tough. It’s about telling people that their land is being resumed. Or that they’ll have to live with 18 months of noisy, dusty construction and when it’s all done, that the road will still be there. It’s about listening, and being empathetic. It’s about validating the concerns and frustrations of community members.

So what do you do when the project is going ahead and there’s only a handful of things we can ask the community to provide input on?

Here are the things that matter most when there are few negotiables.

  • Empathy – No, you can’t shift the road. But you can shift the way people feel. You can listen to them, understand, and let them know it’s hard.
  • Documentation – It’s critical to document needs, and your own commitments. Nothing could be worse for a stakeholder than having their comments lost.
  • Supporting verbal conversations with written materials – When you’re telling someone that you’re going to resume their property or take away their privacy or outlook, it’s a shock. It’s a swirl of white noise. It’s feeling lost and frightened and confused. Unless there’s a take home, then it’s impossible to remember. It’s the critical time to get the facts right and to offer support.
  • The little things can make the biggest difference – Ok, so you still can’t move the road, but you can help community members to find help, to relocate, to understand how to ask for construction workers to be mindful of their children and neighbourhood.

 

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