Around the world, the climate change debate and environmental disasters have increased government and industry emphasis on renewable energies and low carbon emission technologies. Community engagement for the development and implementation of such projects is gaining importance after community backlashes have caused delays and cancellations. How to engage and who to engage with, however, remains unclear as both the term ‘community’ and ‘community engagement’ continue to be rather unspecific and fluid concepts in academic literature. Especially public relations literature gives community engagement little attention although practitioners are often called onto manage engagement projects for organizations. Through the use of qualitative in-depth interviews with experienced Australian community engagement practitioners, this study explored how community engagement has been practiced and which communication processes were reported to be more or less effective. Research findings suggest that face-to-face communication is the most important communication form and that building positive relationships with the local community plays an integral role. Although some organizations allow communities to influence the decision-making process, the results indicate that most organizations engage with ‘strategic intent’ and attempt to control engagement processes rather than genuinely listen to community concerns. These findings challenge current academic concepts and offer new directions for future public relations research and engagement practices.
Community Engagement, Public Relations, Organizational Listening, Australia
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session
Lecturer in Communication / PhD Candidate, School of Creative Industries, University of Newcastle, Australia
I am a Lecturer in Communication at the School of Creative Industries at the University of Newcastle, Australia. My research interests centre around organisational communication behaviour, audience studies and the influences of new technologies in public realations. My PhD research investigated community engagement for renewable energy and low carbon emission technologies through the lens of public relations theory. I have presented my research findings at international conferences including the annual International Communication Associaltion (ICA) conference, the Barcelona PR Meeting and BledCom in Slovenia. Before commencing my academic career in 2008, I gained valuable industry experiences working for a range of organisations, including Australia's leading member-based organization NRMA Motoring and Services, internatioal media organisation Bertelsmann AG, a German commercial television channel and small public relations and event managment agencies.