‘Investments in relationships pay themselves off’

Clementine Roest

The job of a community engagement manager in the Netherlands recently became even more interesting with the introduction of new environmental planning legislation, says Clementine Roest of BAM Infraconsult. ‘A key element of the new law is the participation of citizens and businesses in the decision-making process of new plans and projects. How we can anticipate on this as a contractor is something that has our full attention right now.’

After many years of working in marketing and business development for an export company – which involved a lot of travelling abroad – Clementine chose a job that allowed her to stay closer to home in 2008. ‘The direct reason for this was that this was the year my daughter started her primary education.’ She joined BAM Bouw en Techniek in a managerial role in marketing and communication. Eight years later she moved on to BAM Infraconsult. ‘I wanted to operate closer the projects. Something that appealed to me about the job of a community engagement manager was that on the one hand I could express the interests of BAM and at the same time represent the interests of stakeholders, more precisely: local residents and businesses. At first glance the two seem to create an area of tension, but as the saying goes: there is no polish without friction! The main thing is to make sure people aren’t taken by surprise. Even if you have to be the bearer of bad tidings – like noise or other hindrances – so long as you are open and honest in your communications, people will accept the necessity.’

Strategic plan

Over the past decade, Clementine has seen some major changes in her field. Where initially it was considered sufficient to inform local residents with a letter and an evening meeting, these days the effectiveness of community engagement is founded on strategic engagement plans. ‘Such a plan helps us to mitigate environmental risks by focussing on the right stakeholders, the people whose interests will by definition be impacted most by the project. After all, our main objective is to guarantee smooth progress.'

Building trust

It’s a pleasure to be able work with people, both within and outside of one’s own organisation. For the people within, it can sometimes be necessary to explain why stakeholder interests should weigh so heavily. That kind of understanding can be built over time, however: ‘Investing in relationships is something that pays itself off in the long run. I do understand that building trust is not an end in itself, but it is an important factor in achieving healthy collaborations,’ says aldus Clementine.

Appreciation

‘In my position you get your share of criticism of course, and sometimes it comes in a way that is difficult to handle. When that happens, it’s good to know you have the backing of a good team and you can let off steam when you have to. Generally, though, people are very positive. When I left the Uithoflijn project, residents expressed their appreciation that they had felt heard and understood throughout the process. My job is to offer stakeholders an opportunity to stand up for their interests. It’s very satisfying to know you’ve succeeded!’

‘On the railway station project in Driebergen-Zeist we had to interrupt services for sixteen days. When services were resumed, we were there to meet the commuters and hand out freshly picked apples from a local fruit grower. Just like the commuters, this grower saw significant impact to his business as a result of our activities. To a degree, we were able to soften the impact by involving him in the project.’