By Director Michael Sherry
Many Massachusetts towns and cities are in the midst of the largest building booms they’ve seen in decades, and neighbors and voters in every corner of the Commonwealth are gaining veto power over the plans of architects and real estate development officials. Therefore, a modern, thoughtful community relations plan is essential for any developer looking to win public and regulatory approval of their proposals. In addition to successfully navigating state and local permitting and regulatory processes, every comprehensive community relations campaign should integrate a grassroots engagement strategy to complement the work being done at the State House or City Hall.
“Grassroots engagement” is really the discipline of channeling the passions and concerns expressed by grassroots activists and the public at large, and translating these sentiments into positive changes. Although each grassroots engagement plan must vary based on the nature of the project or campaign, there are some elements that are common to every successful strategy:
- Transparency and Honesty – The projects that are secretive, or appear to wait for people to discover facts they could have been told, are often the first ones to turn sour in the court of public opinion. Hiding bad news only amplifies it when it inevitably comes out. Proactively sharing it, on the other hand, will win the developer credit among the public for forthrightness and will ensure an open-minded audience for the good news.
- Constant Communication – The most successful community relations strategies all share a focused commitment to talking to the people who will be impacted by the project – supporters, opponents, even the disinterested. A town hall meeting once every two months just isn’t enough; especially not when people can discuss a development on social media every minute of every day. Take the time and effort to ensure those closest to a project (like a butters and key stakeholders) are on the receiving end of a long series of phone calls, door-knocks, and snail mail.
- Flexibility – Adaptation is the key to vitality for any grassroots engagement strategy and every overall community relations campaign: each plan must include opportunity for reflection, change, and improvement. Conversations with stakeholders and voters aren’t just for their benefit – they should give the developer a greater understanding of what folks are concerned about and what they would like to see happen. In some cases, the details of a project may need to change to accommodate feedback from the community; in others, adjusting the message to prioritize and highlight the issues that constituents actually care about may be enough to ease tensions. Being flexible in the design stages of a product is a great way to show the community that their concerns are being heard and respected.
For more information about O’Neill and Associates’ community relations and grassroots engagement services, click here.