Often, public perceptions on major infrastructure projects are shaped by news headlines and the stories about those impacted by the development.
Despite the public benefits of a project, public sentiment can turn against it if the news coverage is predominately about community concerns, lack of consultation or adverse environmental impacts. Such sentiment can lead to financial risks through delays, budget overruns, or even scuttling of the project.
Infrastructure leaders confirm that seeking insights from affected and interested parties during the planning phase is a critical success factor in meeting deadlines and budgets.
This means building in processes that allow regular and reliable sentiment and perceptions monitoring. Traditional focus groups and town hall meetings are no longer enough and are often designed around project leaders having something to say, rather than listening and learning.
The infrastructure sector can learn from the approach of big business in other sectors where gathering consumer or stakeholder data, understanding emotive factors and the ‘direction of travel’ of citizens and related interested groups is fundamental.
By combining the elements of media and social media monitoring, on-the-ground research and data analysis, it’s possible to produce timely and relevant insights to inform and refine the communications and engagement approach.
This must be a continual process recognising that human perceptions are fluid and can change quickly.
In our experience, bringing the human perspective and a listening ear to projects can help keep them on track, on budget and out of the headlines.