Participants consistently emphasised that the value propositions and evidence bases used to support engagement-related activities need to be better understood and accepted. One workshop group suggested that community engagement practitioners need to ‘talk the language they (e.g. engineers, project managers, financers) talk’, while another group said that engagement practitioners should ‘use industry standards and methods (e.g. NPV) for evaluating community input’. Interestingly, most recommendations concerning measurement suggested that community engagement should adapt to existing methods, as opposed to encouraging other specialisations (e.g. engineering, finance) to adapt their own metrics and data to an engagement perspective.

Participants identified the following top challenges and opportunities in terms of measurement:

Measuring social risk: Non-technical risk is today widely accepted as a central consideration in project selection, planning, design and delivery. Yet measures of non-technical, social risk continue 

Big and better data: Today’s access to information is unprecedented. Harnessing big data, such as social media content, presents an exciting means of facilitating better informed engagement. Early studies in controversial industries are demonstrating that issues-identification and attitudinal measures are possible through big data analysis 

Return on investment: Understanding the return on investment (RoI) in community engagement is directly related to earlier considerations raised about the practice’s value. RoI and social return on investment (SRoI) address the systems dynamics identified through the research co-design, in which participants linked the quality of engagement to costs of community opposition. 

They also wanted answers to the following questions:

  • How can a more holistic picture of project or sector risk terrain be mapped? For example, could global and national data on technical risk be incorporated into new social risk metrics? What comparative national or global studies could enhance this understanding? 
  • What are the identifiable precursors of social risk and what measurable indicators could be developed to support improved identification of these risk factors? 
  • What can ‘big data’ tell us about community wants, concerns or attitudes to facilitate better informed engagement and avoid ‘solutioneering’? 
  • How can social risk be priced as a means of informing planning and investment decisions, incorporating current issues including the discount rates debate? 
  • How could real time, mobile technology assist in better connecting communities to projects, or to measuring social risks, social licence or community well-being to facilitate stronger, more timely engagement? 
  • How could improved or new community engagement measures help to track RoI across project types, scales and through the project lifecycle, from business case to closeout? 
  • What are the actual costs of community engagement, relative to SRoI for dollars spent? What are the costs of poor or missing engagement, in terms of days delay or costs of conditioning? Conversely, what value is created when community engagement is well timed and well delivered?

What do you think?

Do the challenges and opportunities resonate?

Is there a challenge that should be added to the list in terms of how social risk is measured and managed in the project environment?

Would addressing these key questions help you to improve community and project outcomes?

Is there a question that should be added to the list which would better assist you in improving community and project outcomes?

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