Let’s Get Ready To Rumble: Using Informed Consent to Move a Development Project Forward

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A number of regions across the U.S. are experiencing real estate booms: Nashville, TN; Denver, Co; and Austin, TX. All three are among the hottest areas in the country for 2018. While some cities embrace the growth, others adopt a “not-in-my-backyard” philosophy, driven by interest groups dead-set against any new construction. To move a development project forward in this environment, it is important to employ the concept of informed consent.

Let’s set the scene: In this corner, meet developer XYZ (fill in the blank and cue the audience’s boos) and in the other corner, meet the vocal community members who believe they will be negatively impacted by a proposed project (crowd goes wild).

Sound familiar? Developers often face the potential of community ire. It may not have anything to do with the project itself, although concerns over gentrification, displacement, or traffic impact are not unusual refrains associated with new development proposals, among others. More often than not, however, community activists use these concerns to mask their real agenda: a deep-seated opposition to change.

How can developers navigate these waters?

  1. Focus on the naysayers.

    A developer’s primary objective is focused on swaying people to support a given project, right? Wrong. While it is important to keep people engaged and/or to try and convince additional stakeholders of a project’s benefits, the trick is to flip that mode of thinking. What if the naysayers could somehow be convinced of a project’s importance? It is possible. Read on.

  2. Use Informed Consent to obtain “grudging acceptance.”
    Informed Consent is defined as: the willingness of opponents to grudgingly go along with a development to which they are actually opposed. (This is based on years of research by the Institute for Participatory Management and Planning (Hans, Annemarie and Jennifer Bleiker.) Picture opponents who have decided that they can ultimately live with said project.

    Sound impossible? In actuality, it is a tried-and-true method that has been proven to be successful over and over again.

    It takes time, patience and above all, perseverance.

  3. Achieving Grudging Consent

    Start first with a big dose of empathy. Understand where the naysayers are coming from. This doesn’t mean agreement exists but demonstrating an appreciation for the reasons why someone/anyone would oppose a given project is important and critical to understanding the “why” of the project going forward as opposed to the “how.”

    It is also critical at this juncture that anyone involved with a specific project – naysayers and supporters alike –understands four key facts:

    • The project represents an important opportunity for the community;
    • The chosen developer is the right one to make it come to fruition;
    • The approach to the project is reasonable, sensible and responsible;
    • The developer is listening and does care about the potential negative impact that the proposed project may have.

     

  4. Tell a compelling story.
    Facts and figures may be used to help explain why a project is moving forward and what might happen if it doesn’t. But data – no matter how well communicated – lacks any kind of emotional “stickiness” that is relatable to the audience. What people truly connect with is a compelling story.

    Six key types of stories exist, according to “Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins” author Annette Simmons, two of which are especially useful to developers: “Who I am” stories and “Why I’m here” stories. The audience – especially naysayers – need to know who a developer is before trust can develop. It is important to share who “you” – as the developer — are as a person, revealing that you possess qualities the audience seeks. To answer the question of “why I’m here,” appreciate that people are wary of false promises and hidden agendas. Be as transparent as possible; explain the project agenda upfront and share what is really in it for you from a project standpoint as well as paint a picture of what the project could mean for your audience. Storytelling has proven to be an effective method of communication. Consider that “stories are remembered up to 22 more times than facts alone,” according to Jennifer Aaker, Stanford University Behavioral Psychologist.

Hahn Public Communications is proud to have several credentialed Informed Consent-trained experts on staff and has created the industry’s only Negotiating in Public model for developers, built on several Informed Consent principles. Contact me today if you’d like to discuss a plan for how to smoothly move your development project forward and live to “fight” another day.

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