The last twenty years have seen data availability change the way people interact with major (e.g., extractive) projects, corporations, and even governments. More data is available, more quickly and without apparent boundary—which has fueled heightened activism. People are more stridently demanding accountability, or the opportunity to at least co-write their own narratives.

Are people striving for direct roles in an ever-broadening range of public and private decisions? Not necessarily. Rather, in some cases that the need is for functional transparency. A recent episode of the podcast 99% Invisible, “Wait, Wait, Tell Me”, clearly shows that when it may be impossible to give people full control over something that might affect them, there is value in giving people a look ‘behind-the-scenes’ at the running process (and its complexity) and how focused, well-intended people are attempting to address challenges. This functional transparency can be a powerful confidence builder.

In Detroit, an urban blight of “abandoned-yet-when-if-ever-to-be-demolished” houses demoralized those that were choosing to stay in the city. The antidote? Local planning offices mapped the properties in question, noted their own timelines and efforts to deal with them, and made those details known to all interested parties. This helped even when the answer was a longer wait than someone might have hoped.

Major Projects? Acorn International has learned over decades of experience helping clients design stakeholder engagement strategies and plans that local community members may well be willing to put up with considerable inconvenience, nuisance, and low-level but grinding construction impacts. When and/or why? Not necessarily because the majority believes that there will be large reward. But rather, because—in successful cases—stakeholders have come to believe that a particular project’s processes for sharing information have been timely and meaningful. This means that project proponents have offered functional transparency: in ways potentially large but perhaps quite small, stakeholders have had the opportunity to influence planned approaches and outcomes before they were inevitable and inflexible.

Kayak? How long are you willing to wait for a website to load, and give you the data you’ve requested? Trains? What happens if people know exactly why they need to wait to board? Better not to spoil the podcast; we hope you have time to listen and enjoy!

News & Notes

Acorn International

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