Conflict is something we as humans, shy, if not run away from. It’s not a space where most of us feel comfortable operating in, yet it’s happening all around us particularly in infrastructure projects and the built environment.

Jennifer McDonnell and Ellen Buswell presenting at All Energy 2018 conference on conflict in stakeholder engagement 


For our stakeholder engagement consultants, navigating conflict is key to achieving successful outcomes for the communities in which we operate.


We contend and strive to avoid conflict, which stems from differences, that is, to say when we cannot agree. However, if we do not address conflict at an early stage, issues proliferate. “While conflict escalation has been well-studied in social science, it seems to be a neglected area of attention in natural resource management. Nobody likes conflict and many will ignore low intensity conflict, however this is likely to then escalate and require much greater effort and resources to manage.” explains Jennifer McDonnell, WSP Principal Stakeholder Engagement Consultant.


“Conflict doesn’t have to be viewed as a negative – depending on how conflict is handled, it can open up dialogue that can lead to greater understanding, more informed decision-making, and support delivery of project outcomes for all stakeholders. We can help clients understand the nature of conflict that they are facing, and traverse a path towards understanding what their communities and stakeholders care about, and why they care about it. This helps us to find common ground, build mutual understanding and respect, and reach positive outcomes.”


Ms McDonnell and Ellen Buswell, Associate Stakeholder Engagement Consultant, presented at the All-Energy 2018 conference in Melbourne on 3 October on the topic of conflict management.


While public support for renewable energy is strong, projects routinely encounter conflict and localised opposition. Jen and Ellen discussed why this can be the case. They examined the nature of conflict and how it can escalate, and how approaching conflict in a positive way can lead to better outcomes for both projects and communities.


Often it can feel like an overwhelming, overarching tsunami of conflict but in fact there are just many different smaller sources of conflict and there are methods to managing them all. It has been noted that identifying the source of conflict is very important for mapping the conflict and then resolving the conflict. Opening yourself up to thinking constructively about conflict and understanding it can help you to be less fearful, giving you the strength and ability to work through it.


“Declining public trust in government and business, changing community expectations, the rise of social media, and the roles that values and beliefs play in many types of conflict are some important factors underpinning much of the local opposition and conflict that projects may encounter,” says Ms Buswell. “The key to success is to examine relationships between issues and motivations of the stakeholders through interpersonal skills, such as resolving conflict, overcoming resistance to change, and building trust.


The WSP Stakeholder engagement team have also developed stakeholder engagement training packages that can be offered to clients to help them align and prepare their project teams for success and manage conflict on their projects.


WSP’s national Stakeholder Engagement team offers strategic engagement and community relations services, communications, social impact and social risk assessment, facilitation and conflict management services to projects across the country.


To stay abreast of our latest news, publications, videos and posts, please follow us on LinkedIn.