As our technological world surges forward we are finding more ways to incorporate technological advancements into everything we do. With this flourish of technology we also find ourselves in an increasingly visual world. Instagram has exploded in popularity with its users not only telling us where they are and what they’re doing, but showing us. Many people are visual learners and when given visuals are able to better contextualize ideas. If visuals help people better understand ideas and concepts, why not incorporate interactive visuals into stakeholder engagement?
What sparked this thought was a conference I recently attended for PR and External Communications for Energy. I was interested in the idea of using visualizations – tools or techniques to help form a mental image, or make something visible – in stakeholder relations. Visualizations can include anything from a picture representation of what a project will look like at its completion to a virtual map that can take viewers through proposed facilities and the surrounding area. It seems these types of visualizations are quickly becoming a powerful tool for stakeholder engagement.
In the oil and gas industry engaging stakeholders about projects is a major component to receiving approval from regulatory agencies. Much of the information that needs to be presented to stakeholders can be quite technical and unless you are fluent in “oil and gas”, a project could be taken out of context and your message could be lost in a flurry of confusion. However, if you provide stakeholders with a clear visual representation of what the project will look like and how it will directly affect them they will have a better understanding of the project and possibly be more supportive. In other words, visualizations have the ability to promote understanding and gain acceptance among stakeholders.
One great reason to use visuals is because they can replace hearsay and rumours with facts and an accurate representation of a project. Visuals can be a relatively unbiased tool. Instead of showing stakeholders a map they may have seen multiple times, present them with views of what the project site looks like before construction, during construction and at the completion of construction. This will give stakeholders a complete visual depiction of where exactly the project will take place and how it will look moving forward and will allow for a constructive fact-based dialogue.
Another reason to use visualizations is to prevent opposition groups from creating their own incorrect versions of what the project will look like. Incidents have occurred when opposition groups created their own visual representation of what a completed project would look like. In order to dispel any visual misrepresentations from outside sources, companies should take the initiative and provide stakeholders with their own factual visuals. With visuals, simple is often best. Taking a 14-page document and turning it into one simple graph can inform and educate stakeholders in an accessible way.
With the technologies now available companies have the option to create interactive visuals. These visualizations allow stakeholders to view a project at different stages, seasons and viewpoints. They can almost become like a fun app that will thoroughly engage while informing a stakeholder.
Visualizations can answer many questions and address concerns. They are able to give a project context which promotes understanding and acceptance, and can be a powerful tool in gaining stakeholder support.
As my seventh grade shop teacher always used to say: “Show me, don’t tell me!”
— Danielle Forbes, Communica
VISUALIZATION: For example, you can try to put into words just how quickly your business is growing. Or … you could create a visual that dramatically illustrates and emphasizes the point.