Vehicle traffic, pedestrians, underground utilities and limited space make urban infrastructure improvement projects complex, but failing to properly engage utility customers and community stakeholders in the process risks stopping a program before it begins.

Engaging stakeholders is more than outreach. It is an opportunity to build alliances, understand community needs and get input that can improve or streamline a capital project. By striving for collaboration in addition to communication, urban improvement programs can benefit from stakeholder input and become more efficient and effective plans.

A robust, well-defined stakeholder strategy has key components that facilitate momentum for a project while achieving profitability and enhancing a company’s reputation and long-term relationship with a community.

  • It identifies stakeholders: Think far and wide to define urban infrastructure project stakeholders. Develop a comprehensive list and conduct research to create a stakeholder database that includes residents, homeowners and businesses. Consider landowners, right-of-way owners, government agencies, commissions and other utilities that might be affected by any improvement program.
  • It develops a clear and compelling message: For people to accept, or at least acknowledge, how a project may affect them, first they must understand the value of the effort. Clearly communicating the importance of the project, reasons for the plan, alternatives considered, and long-term benefits to communities will help stakeholders feel informed and provide an incentive to support the project.
  • It engages stakeholders early, often and throughout: Waiting to involve stakeholders until technical analysis and project plans are complete is a missed opportunity. Infrastructure improvement projects that affect cities and communities can benefit from incorporating input from stakeholders starting in the conceptual stage and continuing throughout the project. Pre-construction meetings, community meetings and ongoing connections with stakeholders help project managers understand what communities care about and allow project teams to consider solutions to minimize disruption.
  • It enhances results with communication: Open dialogue creates opportunities to improve plans, raise awareness of project activities and expedite project completion. In addition to keeping communities informed using fact sheets, door hangers and notices, project teams should be prepared to communicate delays and keep communications open with dedicated project email and hotline tools. By addressing stakeholder input as it is received, companies can manage community relations resources while enhancing the reputation of the utility. Stakeholders can become advocates, but only if they feel involved and heard.

Whether an infrastructure improvement program addresses a single city or spans multiple urban areas across a state, effective stakeholder management can make the difference between a project moving forward effectively or not moving forward at all.


To maintain safe and reliable natural gas delivery to its customers, one utility identified a pipeline section in need of upgrades. See how its comprehensive strategy determined the most efficient path to approval.

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Chuck Bell is the technical lead for stakeholder management services at Burns & McDonnell. He has more than 20 years of experience managing real estate services for transmission, generation and renewable projects.