Leger’s extensive experience in public opinion research and social acceptability analysis has demonstrated that what makes a project acceptable or unacceptable goes beyond its intrinsic value. Indeed, it is not enough for a project to be worthwhile in itself or to be a “good project.” The context in which a project takes place and the reputation of the protagonists have a decisive impact on the public’s reaction.
Over the years, through our observation of numerous projects that have raised questions about social acceptability, we have developed an analysis model – a grid – that allows our clients to plan appropriately for their project’s implementation stages, so that it takes place under conditions that foster public acceptance.
This four-level model combines the conditions that must be met for a project to be considered acceptable: we call these levels the “Four P’s of Acceptability.” The first two levels are related to contextual conditions, i.e., not directly related to the project as such. The next two levels deal with the project’s intrinsic conditions.
• PRINCIPLE: Public approval is achieved in two stages. First, the population must support the project’s overall objectives, regardless of implementation details: an agreement in principle of sorts. The project must provide a solution to a recognized problem and this solution must be considered useful, necessary and credible.
• PROMOTER: The best project in the world can be rejected if presented by the wrong people. It all comes down to public perception of the promoter’s ultimate intentions. The promoter’s prominence, brand image and corporate reputation influence perceptions of intent.
• PROJECT: Insofar as there is support for the project’s overall objectives and the promoter’s intention is seen as a worthy cause, the public will be able to assess the project’s merits, as it has been presented. At this stage, clear and transparent communication is imperative. Citizens must be able to understand the ins and outs of the project in order to reach an informed opinion. The key elements of the citizens’ assessment will be their understanding of the project’s advantages, its impact, associated risks and the means in place to mitigate risks.
• PROCESS: Last, but by no means least, the implementation process at the local level must anticipate means to inform and consult the public prior to the start of the project. A sense of having real influence on the process facilitates the host community’s acceptance of the project. The project promoter must have an open attitude and show a degree of flexibility to be able to respond positively to any of the local public’s requests to adapt or modify the project.
The four levels are mutually dependent, and some of the actions involved may be worked on simultaneously. The priority given to the various messages, however, evolves as the project progresses through the levels. Finally, a thorough analysis of the current situation, a good understanding of the parties involved and, above all, the public’s opinion of the issues raised by the project, will guide the establishment of an informed strategy at each stage.
Mathieu Gagné heads Leger’s Strategic Communications division and is actively working on a three-pronged approach for the company’s new positioning among its clientele: research, strategy, and consultancy. For the past fifteen (15) years, Mr. Gagné has conducted numerous mandates for a wide range of clients, which involved consulting services and research, including media strategies, social acceptability and strategic positioning. His training in journalism, combined with his professional experience, make Mr. Gagné an incredibly effective strategic advisor.