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Stakeholder Engagement During COVID-19: Innovation and Online are the Trends

May 5th 2020

By Caroline Bleay, Client Results Specialist, Public Affairs and Engagement, Coast Communications  

COVID-19’s impact on business and daily life cannot be underestimated, and its impacts on communications have been swift as well. With physical distancing requirements in place for the foreseeable future, public engagement and consultation practices are requiring a quick pivot. 

Over the last week we spoke with a number of our clients and also looked at our own evolving practices at Coast Comms to reflect on the new best practices creating meaningful dialogue and input. The good news is the C-Suite, as well as stakeholders, want to continue with engagement, but the ‘normal’ process of consultation is having to adapt – and quickly.

What trends are we seeing?

  • Some initial slowing down of planned consultation programs occurred, especially in March, as we were all recalibrating and the “shock” of the pandemic was still vivid
  • As we enter May, existing programs are again restarting
  • Video conference is paramount, but supplemented by more one-on-one conversations over the phone
  • Some are investing (often after some years of consider it) in online engagement platforms. In one case, an organization adapted to engage via the platform the stakeholder already used for its own members!
  • For very formal engagement processes, like those within the Environmental Assessment process, a few clients have been given then go ahead to do virtual meetings. We have heard they worked very similarly to the regular ones. People drifted “in and out” and provided feedback on topics and there were no real complaints about the new process

In the next phase of the pandemic we will see governments invest in recovery, including stimulus programs that will likely inject funding into public and private capital infrastructure, climate action and renewable energy programs. For those, as well as the existing projects and programs that are continuing to move forward, we can’t hit pause on stakeholder engagement and consultation.

 "A return back to the core values and fundamental principles of consultation is even more important now."

While maintaining our ability to be nimble in how we undertake consultation, it is crucial that we continue to implement the International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) Core Values:

  • Those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process
  • The public's contribution will influence the decision
  • Promotion of sustainable decisions by recognizing and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers
  • Seek out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision
  • Seek input from participants in designing how they participate
  • Provide participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way
  • Communicate to participants how their input affected the decision

Whether online and virtual engagement, like working from home and teleworking, will remain post-COVID-19 is unknown. But what we do know is that we have to forge ahead, adapt, innovate and keep the dialogue happening. 

Coast Communications provides full-service communications advice and support, including stakeholder and public consultation and engagement services based on the IAP2 model.

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