Over 15 years and more, Main Street has generated a big chunk of our income through the use of one phrase: “You should talk to people before you try to do that.”
B.C.’s recent history is littered with project proposals and policy proposals that ended badly or have suffered damaging and expensive setbacks. Mines, pipelines, run-of-river power, gravel pits, waste incinerators. A harmonized sales tax. A transit tax.
At the Lions Gate crossing in the 1990s, the provincial government decided to tear down the old bridge and build a bigger, faster toll bridge. Zoom! A project team spent millions on technical studies, and even got down to measuring the trees in Stanley Park, but guess what? People on the North Shore refused to pay tolls, and people in Vancouver didn’t want more cars rolling on to Georgia Street.
The Golden Ears crossing of the Fraser River was developed in the 2000s with more delicacy. TransLink asked local folks to provide input on the scope and the route, and then worked in public to win the written support of each affected municipality. With these assurances in place, the transportation authority was able to start measuring the trees.
The communications world has changed enormously in two decades. Municipalities, school boards and middle-sized companies (some, not all), have hired full-time people to keep customers notified and to organize public information events. They understand the value of the communications investment.
The value is this: If you tell people what you plan to do – communicating in a systematic, respectful, transparent way – they are less likely to freak out. They are less likely to organize their neighbours, go to the media, litigate, or lie down in front of the bulldozers.
The objectives here are relatively simple. Build your reputation for honesty and social responsibility; identify allies; reassure the uninformed and the skeptical; anticipate issues. It’s a formula for reducing risk, costs and delays.