Communicating Technical Information to Non-Technical Audiences for Project Approval

THE SITUATION:

An Aboriginal community in B.C. successfully negotiated impact benefit agreements with a renewable energy company for two proposed hydroelectric run-of-river projects to be built within their traditional territory.

THE ASK: When a First Nation’s community wanted to communicate proposed impact benefit agreements with a renewable energy company ahead of a required community vote, they reached out to PR Associates for its expertise in community and aboriginal relations.

THE PLAN: PR Associates put together an integrated communications plan that included community meetings and various forms of media to build awareness and outline the benefits around two run-of river hydroelectric projects.

THE OUTCOME: The strategic outreach was a success with the following results:

  • The majority voted in favour of the agreements
  • Voter turnout was larger than any previous community votes
  • All sides gained the confidence needed to move forward with the project

The Full Story:

THE SITUATION

An Aboriginal community in B.C. successfully negotiated impact benefit agreements with a renewable energy company for two proposed hydroelectric run-of-river projects to be built within their traditional territory. The Nation’s bylaws require such agreements be approved by a vote of its members. The Nation wanted its members to make an informed decision by providing detailed, transparent information about the project, the agreements and the vote process. PR Associates was hired to develop and implement a communication plan and manage community outreach activities to facilitate a smooth process. PR Associates also worked closely with the renewable energy company to develop and distribute the material. Project information had to be modified to meet the needs of the First Nation community. Timing had to be coordinated with the renewable energy company, given that it’s publicly traded.

THE SOLUTION

An integrated marketing communication program was developed to address the goals of the campaign. It also had to address a few challenges including reaching out to community members in diverse and often remote geographic locations. Members lived on reserve in three communities within the traditional territory, and were spread across B.C., Alberta, the Yukon and the U.S. Aboriginal culture and individual preferences in how they receive information also had to be taken into consideration in the development and distribution of information. Communication preferences also varied given the wide age range of voters, from young adults 18 years old to elders in their 90s.

Key messaging was developed at the start of the campaign and modified as needed as the campaign progressed through the different stages. Some examples of communication materials included a special section on the Nation’s website, as well as information packages sent to members by email and postal mail. Community information meetings were held in key areas where members of the Nation live. A Nation communication team was established and trained to contact members in person, by phone and email. Radio ads and posters were created for select communities. Facebook was used as an important communication channel to reach members based on research indicating this as a well-used source for information.  Media outreach was also included at select stages of the campaign.

THE RESULTS

Information about the projects, agreements and votes was provided to members through a variety of channels. More than 1,900 community members registered to vote and more than 560 turned out. The 45-per-cent participation rate is larger than any previous community vote. Members voted 71 per cent in favour of both agreements. The results meant both the Nation and the company had the community backing to sign the impact benefit agreements and move forward with the projects.

PR Associates has offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa.

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