Know your audience. This is an important axiom no matter what you’re doing in life, from selling a product to speaking at an event. It’s also a critical part of successful land management and development. It takes a village to move a project from conception to fruition, and buy-in from everyone is critical to success.
The problem many developers run into is that they only speak to some of the stakeholders involved in a project. Those stakeholders who are overlooked can feel jilted or disgruntled—and ultimately, their waning support could affect the project. It’s important to communicate with everyone.
Let’s take a look at the stakeholder landscape: primary, secondary and specialty groups that need to be mindfully considered for their contributions to the project.
Primary Stakeholders: Those Directly Affected
Primary stakeholders will always be involved: they’re integral to land management and development. It’s incredibly important to gain buy-in from these parties early on, since they have the power to get a project off and running… or shut the whole thing down before it goes anywhere.
The secret to currying favor with primary stakeholders? Relationship building. Connect with them on vision and mission, and make an effort to be part of their communities. Ultimately, if they feel like your project (and your approach to project management) are a net positive for the community, you’ll have their support early and often.
- Government Agencies. Various government departments and agencies at local and regional levels are often involved in land management projects. You’ll need to work hand-in-hand with them on everything from permitting to utility integration, and more. It’s vital to have strong relationships with municipal agencies.
- Local Residents. The communities residing in or near the project are important stakeholders. Their perspectives, concerns, and needs should be considered to ensure the project aligns with their social and economic wellbeing. Local community engagement and consultation are essential at all phases.
- Landowners. The owners of the land or property are primary stakeholders because they hold the deed! They may include individuals, private corporations, indigenous communities or public entities. Their interests, goals, and rights need to be taken into account as you seek to cooperate with them to buy or develop the land.
Secondary Stakeholders: Those with Vested Interest
Secondary stakeholders aren’t any less important than primary ones. The difference is that your interaction with these groups is likely to be more limited and specific, based on the nature of the project. They have specific concerns and considerations, and you’ll need to work with them in a capacity that bridges the gap between your needs and their expectations.
To coordinate effectively with secondary stakeholders, developers and land management firms need to show up: literally and figuratively. Be present at meetings, be communicative via email and prioritize your effort to showcase responsibility. They’ll have a vested interest in the success of your project, so long as you show a vested interest in meeting their standards.
- Environmental Organizations. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and environmental advocacy groups often play a significant role in development projects. These organizations can provide expertise, conduct research and advocate for conservation. They care about the project’s environmental impact.
- Scientific and Technical Experts. Land use projects often involve input from scientists, researchers, and technical experts. They provide valuable knowledge and analysis related to ecology, biodiversity, soil health, hydrology, land-use planning and other relevant fields, to support informed decision-making.
- Industry and Business Groups. Depending on the nature of the project, industry and business groups may be involved as stakeholders. They have economic interests tied to the land and its eventual use. Balancing economic development with environmental and social considerations merits consideration here.
Special Stakeholders: Project-Dependent Entities
Not every project requires the same level of input from the same groups of people. There are times when—beyond primary and secondary stakeholders—special interests need consideration. It’s important to identify these groups and build bridges to them early.
Special stakeholders have niche expectations that may overlap with other stakeholder groups; however, it’s important to recognize them as their own entities. Meeting them where they are and working with them authentically can go a long way towards earning their trust—and support.
- Indigenous Communities. In cases where development projects impact indigenous lands or territories, indigenous communities are crucial stakeholders. Their cultural, social and economic interests and traditional knowledge should be respected and integrated into the decision-making processes.
- Recreational Users. If the land is used for recreational purposes such as hiking, camping, hunting or fishing, recreational user groups become stakeholders. Their access, safety and enjoyment may need to be considered and managed during the project.
- Water Management Authorities. In projects involving water resources, water management authorities—such as river basin organizations or water regulatory agencies—play a vital role. They ensure sustainable water use, maintain water quality and protect aquatic ecosystems.
Collaborate with all Stakeholders
The stakeholder groups mentioned above aren’t exhaustive. More importantly, your interaction with them is entirely based on context. It’s vital to understand how a project impacts them (positively or negatively), and work to form relationships that allow the development to move forward with everyone’s best interests in mind. That can only happen when you take the time to get to know your audience.