There’s been much talk in the infrastructure development community of keeping things going during lockdown. Encouraged by Government, and with an understanding that public and private sector investment in major infrastructure will be vital as the nation drags itself out of the Covid-19 inspired economic slump, there’s been a real effort to find innovative ways of ensuring we stick to programme.
One such innovation this week saw Camargue launch its first virtual local liaison committee for one of our waste infrastructure clients, pulling together a dozen local councillors and planning officers for an online discussion about the emerging proposals. Just a few short weeks ago, a virtual community liaison group would have been unnecessary – but necessity being the mother of invention, it’s now the only way to keep those lines of communication open. And it helps, of course, that everybody’s been on a steep learning curve in relation to video calling. We work and socialise almost exclusively online now, so the building blocks are in place for exploring what else is possible.
Camargue’s no stranger to setting up and running these forums for our clients, doing so for waste (and other infrastructure) projects all over the country for many years. The same principles apply to running these sessions online as they would have done back in the days when we could all gather around the table to discuss the issues in person. The forum still needs to be inclusive, accessible and useful for all involved. You still need flawless logistics by way of preparing for the session, and then you still need to ensure that the meeting is chaired well and the content is relevant, transparent and presented by members of the project team who are all experts in their field and happy to answer questions.
The biggest difference, of course, is managing the technology that enables that crucial personal interaction to take place, especially when we’re a large group all sitting remotely in our own homes. But don’t let that be a barrier, or an excuse for not keeping engagement going. Having a virtual liaison group as part of a wider engagement strategy is eminently achievable and can be made to work, as we’ve demonstrated this week.
That aside, there’s also the very real likelihood that we’re experiencing elements of change now that will continue to be the norm, even when restrictions are eased. We need to be asking ourselves how long it may really be until large groups of people feel comfortable gathering in close proximity, even when it’s permitted? This experience, coupled with Camargue’s recent launch of our consultonline approach to online consultation, is clear evidence that, from a community and stakeholder relations perspective at least, we can definitely keep infrastructure communications going in a virtual world.
Toby Barker is a director at Camargue