Hits on Social Site Characterisation

2012-08-02 09:28 by Anja Reitz

A quick Google search proves it as well: the term 'social site characterisation' is gaining more and more attention. In the meantime, stakeholder engagement experts agree that most of the ideas and actions of social site characterisation are not new. An interesting situation thus: a concept, not really new, is picked up and used by many in a relatively short period of time. Apparently it is a strong concept. But why?

A quick background. Scientists publish new or critical reviews and improvements of existing methods to engage stakeholders on a regular basis. Also in the field of energy and CCS projects, several methods to engage stakeholders have been developed (see my previous post on communication and engagement toolkits). Social site characterisation is one of them. But, compared to all the others, it is referred to much more often.

The concept social site characterisation was introduced by Wade and Greenberg in 2008 “to describe the process of collecting and incorporating information about stakeholder views” (source: Global CCS Institute). In 2011 Wade and Greenberg published a toolkit for application. In the meantime the concept became key in a work package on stakeholder engagement in a large European research project: SiteChar. In this project, social site characterisation is applied in practice in two potential CCS locations in Scotland and Poland.

The first outcomes of this application are recently published. The process started with a profound investigation of the local context of the planned Scottish and Polish CCS projects. The perceptions, expectations, values and questions around CCS and related activities in the areas of community members and local stakeholders were investigated via interviews, a survey and media analysis. Secondly, focus conferences were organised in which members of the community wrote a position paper on CCS after being informed extensively about all aspects of the technology.

These first outcomes of the social site characterisation process immediately show the strength of the process. By the combination of different methods to collect information about stakeholders and the community, a very detailed and complete overview of existing opinions, perceptions, expectations and questions is made. This is of course the perfect base for a tailored communication and engagement strategy.

A second reason why social site characterisation is picked up easily is simply its name. By calling it site characterisation a direct link is made to the geological site characterisation which project developers are familiar with. This parallel also stresses the importance of the process. Like geological site characterisation, the social site characterisation provides a definite answer to whether a location is suitable or not.

A third, and even larger advantage of the term is its possible broad application. Not only CCS projects need social site characterisation processes, the implementation of other energy projects like wind turbines, biomass plants and power lines could be improved by it as well. I noticed this when I used the term in a lecture for students working on an offshore wind project. They were investigating the economic and technical feasibility of several options and locations, and tended to forget to take social acceptance into account, or only did so after the preferred option was already chosen. By pointing out that economic site investigation, technical site investigation and social site investigation must be seen as equally important, they understood the relevance of the engagement process much better.

These are different reasons why social site characterisation has gained popularity in a short time. The application is also promising so far. Therefore, I predict a further successful spread of the term and increasing number of hits on Google.

Source: Global CCS Institute Blog, Ynke Feenstra


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