My name is Katrien Goossens and I work as the community engagement lead strategist for major projects at J Murphy & Sons.  I love the work I do because we are part of something bigger that contributes to the greater good. Whether this is through delivery of renewable energy, water supplies, wider utilities or transport schemes, the starting point is always to improve lives.

The nature of major projects is such that these, mostly public sector projects, often bring sweeping changes to the communities in which they are implemented over a period of months or years. They bring with them huge scope for legacy building, delivering social value, wider economic, societal and environmental gains.  The pooling of people and resources on major enables the delivery of meaningful support in local communities.

When people ask me what my job entails, I often say that it is a three-fold role. We are solution brokers for project teams, advocates for communities, and bridge builders to connect the two.  We are the face of the project.  We build trust in the project teams by being honest and upfront. It helps communities feel listened to, respected, and engaged and helps contractors to reduce risk and disruption by maintaining project programme momentum.

Community engagement is an important mechanism for connecting communities and contractors, creating working relationships and productive collaborations.  As projects increase in scale, duration and complexity, having dedicated engagement teams is becoming an ever more vital ingredient in their successful delivery.

However, at Murphy, a family owned company, we go further. For us, every colleague is a community champion. We deliver some aspect of community engagement for every project and each team we put to work.  This community spirit has been part of Murphy’s trademark for the last 70 years and is now more relevant than ever.

Good community engagement is about listening to people and addressing concerns together in a collaborative manner, which also helps to manage the expectations of all parties involved. This often leads to really positive outcomes which inevitably helps to build legacy in the community and allows us to give something back.

We have found that proactive information sharing around expected impacts prepares communities for our works so they can play their part and we can remain productive.  Some concessions can be easy to give, changing timings of deliveries, avoiding disruption on certain important days, but these only become viable if we are having productive conversations. It has proven incredibly powerful as acts of respect and care, for breaking down the natural boundaries that occur when a new major infrastructure project has to take shape in a landscape.

Like most good and productive relationships they work best when they are a product of long term and ongoing cumulative dialogue. It is hard to short cut this process, without putting the work in to create genuine conversations, where people feel that you want to work with them, to find common ground.

Crucially this isn’t just a delivery programme mechanism.  Great engagement can be used to shape and inform the nature of a new masterplan for community regeneration, or initial new project design long before any scheme breaks ground.   If done well it then also ensures that communities feel more connected to projects, gain a sense of ownership, so that once complete there is a greater likelihood of effective benefits realisation and active ongoing support.

The past year has proven how caring and resilient communities are. In fact, we expect that the pandemic, which is changing people’s work patterns will also change how we work. With more people at home during working hours, communications have become more important than ever.  We are amazed at how our communities have embraced the virtual meetings and overcome technical hurdles with grace and commitment.

But no matter how good technology is, we still need face to face contact and we will continue to work in an approachable, safe and visible manner on all our projects, as it is the people that make for successful projects and communities.