Everyone is a Potential Influencer: Effective PPP stakeholder engagement

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Strategic and sustained PPP multi-stakeholder engagement and outreach are critical for effective buy-in, collaboration and successful project implementation. 
Many of us recognize that well-designed PPPs can help governments increase private-sector investment in public-sector infrastructure and allow government financing to be allocated to other priorities. With thoughtful stakeholder engagement strategies in place, PPPs have the potential to leverage the private sector’s expertise and innovation to ensure effective long-term management of public resources.

Most importantly, PPPs help expand day-to-day access to core infrastructure for people and businesses—from enabling commuters to travel more efficiently to providing reliable electricity to hospitals and manufacturers—among other socio-economic benefits. Stakeholder engagement and outreach strategies can build understanding and awareness of a project’s objectives and enable consultation and consensus so that that stakeholders’ views are incorporated into project design and implementation.

Social media and other digital platforms present a great opportunity and have made this work more visible, participatory and impactful—but it also can be more complex. With increasing connectivity, the universe of potential PPP communicators and influencers has exploded. While this certainly creates new opportunities and broader reach, it can also contribute to increased reputational risk. With a few clicks, negative opinions or outright misinformation may fatally undermine a PPP initiative.

Robust multi-stakeholder communications, outreach and engagement are integral throughout the project. They require the coordination of a thorough public stakeholder and media engagement strategy before, during, and after PPP implementation.  At an operational level, this helps ensure budgeting for communications and proper alignment among government and industry stakeholders. At a strategic level, it is fundamentally important to managing public opinion as to how the project is perceived and received as it comes to fruition.

Developing a stakeholder engagement and outreach strategy and timeline—including principal messages, a compelling narrative, FAQs, briefs, videos, among other products—also helps ensure efforts are coordinated and the project’s benefits and burdens are conveyed transparently.

What’s the anatomy of a stakeholder engagement and outreach strategy?

Outreach and communications can start in the project’s pre-launch phase, with stakeholder identification and a soft rollout of the PPP concept through surveys and marketing using government media channels—such as ministry websites—community engagement portals, and social media.
As the project develops, outreach and information-sharing can be supplemented with government spokespeople who can discuss its merits and challenges with a broad range of influencers, including media, civil society organizations, think tanks, and the general public. Tools to get this word out can include radio and television talk shows, editorial board meetings, podcasts, and events—including town halls. This should be done at important milestones throughout the project.

Social media is critical and present a wide variety of engagement tools. For example, an Instagram feed can chart and share images of an infrastructure project’s progress in real time. This builds trust with the public, who can be expected—and indeed, encouraged—to share news, information, and opinions as the project moves toward full implementation.
It’s important to note that every project and country have unique characteristics, and this work requires a highly nuanced understanding of political, socio-economic, and media environments. A cross-cutting theme, however, is the potential for opinions or misinformation to go viral on social media.

However, by emphasizing knowledge-sharing at the outset of a PPP initiative—and providing a steady flow of accurate news and information through high-touch engagement with an established network of public stakeholders, utilizing the tools they use most often—a certain degree of trust will have been established with the public that can help counter misinformation and contextualize negative opinions.
Strategic stakeholder engagement and outreach plans should be at the core of all PPP project strategies, enabling an inclusive, innovative, and impactful systematic approach. 
As of late 2018, an estimated 3.9 billion people, or 51 percent of the global population, were using the Internet, according to the International Telecommunications Union. PPP implementers should prepare for and welcome public comments, online and offline—support, opposition, and everything in between—and view them as integral to the outreach strategy.

More study is needed, however, to better understand how reactions to PPPs, particularly among stakeholders using social media and other digital platforms, might have influenced or may be influential in PPP outcomes. Here, social listening is key to track and respond to public concerns, mitigate reputational risk, and work toward successful outcomes.
Do you have experience with public engagement for PPPs? Did it go well, or confront certain challenges? We welcome your comments and examples to deepen our understanding further and add to the nascent literature on this topic.
For more information about PPPs, the World Bank Group’s PPP Reference Guide, PPP Knowledge Lab and APMG International PPP Certification Communication Strategy.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog does not necessarily reflect the views of the World Bank Group, its Board of Executive Directors, staff or the governments it represents. The World Bank Group does not guarantee the accuracy of the data, findings, or analysis in this post.

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