Community expectations and engagement — putting the local in a global pandemic

During COVID-19, Australians across the country have rallied together to support their neighbours, becoming increasingly protective of their patch. While the pandemic has significantly impacted our ability to engage with communities in traditional ways, community expectation is at an all-time high — with people feeling they not only have a right to be heard, but to be included in decision-making. This heightened awareness and sense of pride raises new challenges for businesses seeking to engage with communities.

So how do organisations go about engaging with their communities at the height of a pandemic?

Rowland gathered a panel of experts to share their insights and reflect on how their experiences will impact future engagement activity and decision-making:

  • Dominic Nolan — Head of Corporate Affairs, Coal, BHP
  • Raynuha Sinnathamby — Managing Director, Springfield City Group
  • Shane Goodwin — Head of Corporate Affairs and Social Responsibility, New Century Resources
  • Ayllie White — Head of Corporate Relations, Sunshine Coast Airport
  • Amanda Wild — Specialist Advisor, Engagement, Rowland.

We put forward two questions to our panellists — firstly, in this new environment where the focus is on local, do you think communities hold more power when it comes to decisions that impact them? And how has this shift impacted the way your organisation engages with their communities?

Secondly, as communication becomes more sophisticated, particularly during the pandemic, what channels and tools have you adopted to keep your community engaged? And what has been most effective?

Some highlights from the discussion included:

  • Engage with purpose — be very clear about what you want to achieve with engagement, communicate your sphere of control and understand your negotiables and non-negotiables.
  • Take this time to examine the different ways your organisation can engage with the community. Where you’re unable to be on the ground yourself, consider creating local job opportunities and training them to be your voice on the ground, or explore and apply alternative approaches like live-streaming community events and video conferences.
  • Social media is filling the gap left by the closing of regional newspapers — use it to engage local personalities, highlight important issues and encourage engagement, but don’t look past the traditional communication tools. Picking up the phone can make a world of difference.
  • Give stakeholders a sense of control around what information they receive and how often they receive it to avoid communication fatigue. Have an integrated approach across a range of channels, but make sure the messaging is consistent across the board.

Rowland Webinar – Community Expectations and Engagement from Rowland. on Vimeo.

Short on time? We’ve summarised more from the video here:

Dominic Nolan — Head of Corporate Affairs, Coal, BHP:

At BHP, we have always valued our regional communities and we pride ourselves on community engagement that ensures communities feel empowered, and that their questions and concerns will be heard and responded to. COVID-19 has only made us focus on this more intensely and to lend support in different ways to what we have in the past.

Raynuha Sinnathamby — Managing Director, Springfield City Group

Springfield has been home to our residents for many years and they feel a strong sense of ownership for what’s happening in the community. They say ‘we’ are building these new ovals, or ‘we’re’ getting a new school.

Shane Goodwin — Head of Corporate Affairs and Social Responsibility, New Century Resources

An enhanced level of detail was expected on our operations as the COVID-19 pandemic began which provided many challenges that the business had to respond quickly to. We worked with the support of the industry and embraced policy and procedure as the facilitator for keeping communities safe.

Ayllie White — Head of Corporate Relations, Sunshine Coast Airport

The pandemic heightened our community’s appetite to flex their influence. After developing a new international runway, we had to build understanding in the community about the impacts the new runway had on them, rather than change those impacts that we had no control over.

Amanda Wild — Specialist Advisor, Engagement, Rowland

Continue to develop ongoing relationships with the community rather than engaging with them when you need them. Not only will this foster a system of goodwill, but it will also open the lines of communication more easily when you do need them.

Stay tuned for the return of our Corporate Affairs webinars in the new year. Until then, watch the other webinars in the series including: