Potential of conflict communication formats for infrastructure projects
Authors: Nils Hellmuth, Eva-Maria Jakobs
Abstract: Germany has decided to fundamentally transform its whole energy system. The transformation requires numerous infrastructure projects that are conflict-prone . To handle conflicts, involved companies are expected to use legally prescribed public participation procedures (formal) as well as non-legally binding participation processes (informal). Public participation can occur on three intensity levels: information, consultation, and cooperation . Little research has been done on how conflict communication can be used at different participation levels. This paper aims on a deeper understanding of how conflict communication formats are perceived by people living in so-called energy regions, i.e., regions undergoing an intensive energy transformation. It focuses on how they retrospectively evaluate their potential for conflict management, and what recommendations they derive from this knowledge.This paper presents selected outcomes of a study conducted in the large-scale project ENSURE, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The project aims on solutions for the German energy transition. The study combines in-depth interview and pre-questionnaire. The literature-based interview guideline covers two question complexes: (1) background, remit, and experience, (2) conflict communication (occurrence of conflict; conflict triggers and resolutions; potential of communication formats; quality criteria; challenges of distance conditions). In the pre-questionnaire, respondents were asked to rate the potential of formats of participation levels for conflict management (1 = very suitable; 6 = not suitable at all). For each level, formats frequently named in the literature were given . In the in-depth interviews, participants were asked to comment on their ratings. In addition, they were asked to recall two infrastructure projects they had experience with and indicate which formats had been used particularly well or poorly? The participants were contacted using a stakeholder list provided by the project consortium. The participants (n=12; nine male, three female) live in the federate state Schleswig-Holstein and have experience with infrastructure projects in the energy and/or mobility sector. All are well-informed about the region. Most of them (n=8) are involved in environmental protection organizations or in local politics, e.g., in regional development committees. Interviews were conducted digitally in 2021. The data were anonymized, transcribed, analyzed qualitatively (two coders; overall categories: 247) as well as quantitatively.Conflict communication formats were mostly used on the information level. The best ratings are given to consultation level formats (Ø = 2.2). At the information level, information events are rated as most suitable (Ø = 1.3). At consultation level, resource-intensive personal talks with those affected are recommended (Ø = 1.3). Respondents favor integrating levels of participation and formats, e.g., consultation processes as part of information events. At cooperation level, mediation is best rated (Ø = 1.9). The respondents address factors influencing the suitability of formats for conflict management. Some formats are strongly topic-dependent, e.g., an expert hearing is particularly suitable if a topic generates fears. Other factors are the target group, the local context (city/rural) or the setting (private/public). The format choice should consider the project size and phase.Further research should examine the impact of the factors named above and how conflict communication can function under distance conditions (COVID-19 pandemic).Literature Renn (2015): Aspekte der Energiewende aus sozialwissenschaftlicher Perspektive. Analyse aus der Schriftenreihe Energiesysteme der Zukunft. München: acatech. Verein Deutscher Ingenieure e.V. (VDI) (2015): VDI-Standard 7001 – Communication and public participation in planning and building of infrastructure projects. Training for work stages of engineers. Berlin: Beuth. Ziekow/ Barth/ Schütte/ Ewen (2014): Konfliktdialog bei der Zulassung von Vorhaben der Energiewende. Leitfaden für Behörden. Konfliktdialog bei Höchstspannungsanlagen.
Keywords: conflict communication, infrastructure project, communication formats, participation, energy transformation
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