Timely and transparent communication: Lessons from infrastructure projects – and Netflix!

Have you heard the latest from the house of Netflix? Rumblings from their usual admirers suggest a majority are most displeased about the unpalatable split in Season 3 release dates. Quite scandalous!

What, pray tell, does this have to do with communications and engagement, we hear you query?

Timely and transparent sharing of information is just the ticket to keep tongues from wagging and poisoning the well where relationships can be easily strained. The unfortunate inclination to withhold information on the pretence of reducing risk will almost certainly land you on the unseemly side of the ton’s favour!

Translation in an infrastructure project context?

This principle holds true beyond the world of streaming entertainment, extending into the realm of public infrastructure projects.

Let’s take a look at some Australian examples where Governments, proponents, project teams have failed to engage professional engagement services early enough, leaving our industry colleagues with an uphill battle to address a lack of timely and transparent communication led to significant community backlash.

1.The East West Link leaves Melburnians in a jam 
Melbourne, Victoria

The proposed toll road project sought to connect Melbourne’s Eastern Freeway with the Western Ring Road.

However, a perceived lack of community consultation and transparency about environmental and social impacts stirred a tempest among residents and local councils.

Protests and legal challenges were rampant, contributing to the political downfall of the Napthine government in the 2014 state election.

The lesson? Engage early, be transparent, and build trust to avoid dire consequences.

2.WestConnex: A rocky road to connection
Sydney, New South Wales

This grand motorway scheme faced criticism for insufficient consultation with local communities regarding its route and environmental impacts.

The result was significant opposition from residents, councils, and environmental groups, leading to ongoing public scrutiny and modifications to the project. Effective communication and transparency during the project planning stage could have avoided the delays and costs that snowballed during the project.

3.The NT Intervention: When top-down becomes flop-down
Northern Territory

The Northern Territory National Emergency Response, which included infrastructure elements like housing and health clinics, was lambasted for its lack of consultation with Indigenous communities.

Seen as paternalistic and culturally insensitive, the initiative faced substantial backlash from Indigenous leaders and human rights organisations.

The project illustrated how a failure in being culturally aware and a lack of inclusive engagement practices can manifest a lot of publicity for all the wrong reasons.

The takeaway? Ensure your communications and engagement planning allows all voices to be heard and respected.

4.Adani Carmichael Mine becomes a quagmire of controversy 

The controversial coal mining project in the Galilee Basin faced widespread protests and legal challenges due to environmental concerns and inadequate consultation with Indigenous communities. The continuous public scrutiny and delays emphasize the necessity of transparent dialogue and genuine engagement with all stakeholders, particularly those directly impacted.

Be better than Netflix!

Less astute project directors may perceive communications and engagement as a fluffy nice-to-have component to a project. However, it’s clear that transparent and effective communication and engagement makes good dollars and sense.

When communities perceive being ignored, neglected or talked down to, delays and project modifications quickly lead to project budgets blowing out.

In all these cases, timely and transparent communication could have fostered trust and collaboration, turning potential adversaries into allies.

So, take a leaf out of the book of successful communicators: keep your stakeholders informed, engaged, and valued.

It’s the best way to ensure your project, much like a beloved TV series, stays in the good graces of its audience.