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Publication Detail
The Practice of Stakeholder Engagement in Infrastructure Projects: A comparative study of two major projects in Australia and the UK
The soaring interests of the community in public infrastructure projects demand rigorous scrutiny of the performance of projects in a social context. While planning of capital intensive infrastructure projects usually undergo numerous iterations before being considered as a viable project, how such projects are perceived by the wider public depends on the efficiency in community participations and communication of relevant information in the planning and development phase of the project. There are numerous examples of some of the otherwise important infrastructure projects being considered a ‘failure’ due to lack of appropriate public support. Thus, objective integration of the wider community and effective information communication across the issues associated with the project development are highly crucial. There is currently no single approach for rationalising the planning and development policies of the infrastructure projects by ensuring complete integration of community and management of their expectations in the societal context. This study attends to this gap in knowledge by investigating the practice of stakeholder integration in the planning and development of infrastructure projects. Adopting Social Network Analysis (SNA) as the research method, we examined two large infrastructure tunnelling projects, one from Melbourne, Australia and another from London, UK. Based on a questionnaire survey and semistructured interviews, responses have been gathered from the representative groups and organisations on the frequency of their communication and their satisfaction with the information exchange with other stakeholders. The analysis highlighted the position of various stakeholders within the communication and satisfaction networks across six main project issues. The concept of centrality was particularly helpful in locating stakeholders who are well connected in the network, brokered across disconnected groups, and formed ties with other influential stakeholders. The analysis also underlined ‘peripheral’ and ‘isolated’ stakeholders. The analysis of the communication and satisfaction networks of the case project from Melbourne, known as East West Link project, reveals that the key actors nodes namely the promoter, sponsor and local authority are located in the periphery with respect to the six broad issues being considered in the project. This is due to an inefficient communication network between the project authorities and the wider community which resulted in a significant mismatch of the project’s strategic intents with the public needs and expectations. Given that the project was halted by failures in stakeholder consultations, this serves to emphasise the importance of evaluating societal issues more thoroughly. In contrast, the network analysis on the Paddington station of the Crossrail project in the UK reveals that the key project actors, namely local authority, sponsor, delivery agents, industry partners and utility company, took the central positions in the respective network across all six project issues. This finding clearly asserts that Crossrail project enjoys a relatively higher degree of public support by aligning the strategic intents of the project with the public needs and expectations. Outcomes of this network study have resulted in a reference model that highlights the processes of mapping the stakeholders’ information exchanges on the project issues. Thus, the reference model depicts the processes of building social network models based on the capturing of the project’s data in relation to the stakeholders’ communication and satisfaction across the key project issues. The model is applicable on most public projects with a diverse stakeholder base and the underlying complexity associated with the community participation and consultation processes. The model aims to assist policy-makers, practitioners and stakeholders in understanding and managing consultation activities in the planning of capital projects. The network information will enable a better understanding of how the overall network is functioning which is crucial for infrastructure planning initiatives that aim to influence stakeholder behaviour through the identification and mobilisation of key actors. It will also support wider stakeholder engagement in the planning of large infrastructure projects with optimal operationalisation and service delivery from a community perspective. It is worthwhile to note that the relative comparison of one project with another in relation to winning the public support in a social context has been based on the network measures of the participating actors in two key networks, communication frequency and satisfaction in the communication exchanges. These two networks were assessed on six broad project issues. Further enquiries could be made by extending the scope of the research with more project issues and numerous other network dimensions such as risks and impact networks, information received versus information sent networks, stakeholders’ interest networks etc.
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