Best practice evidence-based engagement

evidence-based engagement

Credibility, legitimacy and trust

Social licence, or lack thereof, is one of many challenges facing transmission development today. Social Licence is built on three pillars: 'credibility, legitimacy and trust'. Without demonstrating these three pillars in all engagement activities, it will be near impossible to acquire social licence.

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of confusing information circulated in the public domain with respect to transmission. This includes, but is not limited to; misconceptions around the costs of overhead vs underground; misinformation about alleged false claims and expert opinions; claims of price crushing renewable energy; claims that evidence-based submissions to the VNI West Regulatory Investment Test for Transmission (RIT-T) are both ‘reckless’ and ‘misguided’. 1,2,3,4,5

Disappointingly, many of these claims could not be substantiated due to significant lack of publicly available evidence.

The public will always trust those who set out their claims and offer them up for scrutiny. They will not trust those who throw about broad claims and disseminate false information that cannot be substantiated by publicly available supporting evidence.

It’s extremely important during this once-in-a-lifetime transition away from fossil fuels that we are all open to having the difficult conversations and can bring forth our ideas openly and transparently so that robust and meaningful discussion can be had. If you are going to start a conversation, make sure it is credible, legitimate, and trustworthy and is supported by evidence. Unless this is done, there is no point even starting a conversation. Unsubstantiated opinion is not legitimate, does not show you are credible and makes an mockery of robust debate. Unsubstantiated opinion is guaranteed to dilute trust and therefore, social licence.

The importance of evidence-based discussions

Public engagement is an important aspect of democracy and decision-making processes. When engaging with the public, or any stakeholder for that matter, it is crucial to foster discussions that are evidence-based rather than relying on broad claims. This ensures that the decisions made are well-informed, transparent, and accountable.

Evidence-based discussions are rooted in the principles of critical thinking, rationality, and the scientific method. They involve presenting and analysing relevant data, research findings, and expert opinions to support arguments and inform decision-making. By basing discussions on evidence, we can minimise biases, misinformation, and subjective opinions that may hinder effective problem-solving.

In contrast, relying solely on broad claims without supporting evidence can lead to misunderstandings, polarisation, a lack of trust in public institutions, and lost social licence. It is crucial to encourage open dialogue and exchange of ideas, but it should be grounded in facts and evidence. This approach helps foster a more inclusive and constructive public discourse, where different perspectives can be considered and evaluated based on their merits.

To promote evidence-based discussions during public engagement, several strategies can be employed:

Provide access to reliable information: Ensure that the public has access to accurate and up-to-date information through transparent and easily accessible channels. This includes sharing research findings, data, and reports in a clear and understandable manner.

Encourage critical thinking: Promote critical thinking skills among the public, enabling them to evaluate claims, identify logical fallacies, and distinguish between evidence-based arguments and unsubstantiated claims.

Facilitate expert input: Seek input from subject matter experts who can provide evidence-based insights and recommendations. This could involve forming advisory panels, expert committees, or inviting experts to participate in public forums and discussions. It’s important to ensure the expert input is specific to the subject matter you are engaging on and has not been used out of context, extracted from non-related material.

Fact-checking and verification: Encourage fact-checking organisations and independent media outlets to verify information and provide accurate analysis. This helps counter misinformation and promotes evidence-based discussions.

Engage diverse perspectives: Foster an inclusive environment that welcomes diverse perspectives and encourages constructive dialogue. This can be achieved by creating platforms for public input, conducting surveys, organising town hall meetings, or using online platforms for engagement.

Communicate uncertainties: Acknowledge and communicate uncertainties or gaps in knowledge when discussing complex issues. This promotes transparency and helps the public understand the limitations of available evidence.

Education and awareness: Invest in education and awareness programs that promote scientific literacy, critical thinking, and evidence-based reasoning. This equips individuals with the skills needed to engage in informed discussions and make well-supported decisions.

By emphasising evidence-based discussions, public engagement can become a valuable tool for democratic decision-making. It allows for a more comprehensive understanding of complex issues and fosters trust (and social licence) between the public and decision-makers.

Approach to handling broad claims

As humans, we experience fear, and this fear can often drive us to put up walls to defend ourselves from attack. Organisations who make broad claims and choose not to engage openly and transparently are often fearful of criticism or debate. So how do you manage organisations who demonstrate this behaviour

Handling people or organisations that make broad claims requires a thoughtful and strategic approach.

Here’s a few steps you can take:

Evaluate the claims critically: Begin by carefully examining the broad claims made by the organisation. Assess whether they are supported by evidence, data, or credible sources. Look for any logical fallacies or inconsistencies in their arguments.

Gather and present counter-evidence: Research and collect evidence that contradicts or challenges the organisation's claims. Compile reliable data, scientific studies, expert opinions, and other credible sources that provide a different perspective. Present this counter-evidence in a clear and factual manner.

Engage in respectful dialogue: Reach out to the organisation and initiate a respectful dialogue. Express your concerns and present the counter-evidence you have gathered. Encourage them to provide specific evidence and reasoning behind their claims. It is important to maintain a respectful and open-minded attitude during the conversation to foster constructive engagement.

Request transparency and accountability: Ask the organisation to provide transparent information about their sources, methodologies, and any conflicts of interest that may influence their claims. Encourage them to adhere to scientific, economic or engineering principles or recognised standards in their field. Hold them accountable for the accuracy and reliability of the information they present.

Involve independent experts or fact-checkers: If possible, consult independent experts or fact-checking organisations to evaluate the claims made by the organisation. These experts can provide unbiased analysis and help verify the accuracy of the information presented. Their input can lend credibility to your counter-arguments.

Communicate your findings widely: Share your findings and counter-evidence with relevant stakeholders, such as the public, policymakers, and other organisations involved in the topic. Utilise various communication channels, such as social media, websites, public forums, or traditional media outlets, to disseminate accurate information and promote evidence-based discussions.

Foster public awareness and critical thinking: Educate the public about the importance of critical thinking and fact-checking. Encourage individuals to question broad claims, verify information from reliable sources, and evaluate evidence critically. By promoting scientific literacy and critical thinking skills, you can help prevent the spread of misinformation.

Engage in advocacy efforts: If the organisation's broad claims have significant societal implications, consider engaging in advocacy efforts to influence public opinion and policy-making. Collaborate with like-minded individuals and organisations to raise awareness, provide accurate information, and advocate for evidence-based decision-making.

Remember, engaging with organisations making broad claims should be approached with a commitment to open dialogue, respect, and the pursuit of truth. By presenting credible counter-evidence, promoting critical thinking, and fostering informed discussions, you can contribute to a more evidence-based and rational public discourse.

Lack of evidence to support broad claims

So, you have engaged in good faith and have requested evidence, data, or credible sources to substantiate any claims made. However, the organisation, institution, or person you are engaging with is unable to provide any. How do you handle this?

If an organisation is unable to provide evidence to support their broad claims, it is essential to approach the situation with skepticism and caution.

Here are some steps you can take:

Communicate the importance of evidence: Clearly express to the organisation the significance of evidence in supporting claims and decision-making. Emphasise the value of reliable data, research, and expert opinions in ensuring accuracy and credibility.

Request transparency: Ask the organisation to be transparent about the basis of their claims. Inquire about their sources of information, methodologies, or any other supporting data they might have. Encourage them to provide specific details that can be independently verified.

Seek independent verification: Consult independent experts or fact-checking organisations to assess the validity of the organisation's claims. These experts can evaluate the available information and provide an objective assessment. Their analysis can shed light on the credibility of the claims.

Encourage peer review: If the organisation has made claims within a specific field or discipline, suggest that they seek peer review from experts within that field. Peer review involves having other professionals review and critique their claims, ensuring that they meet the standards of the discipline.

Highlight the lack of evidence: If the organisation fails to provide evidence or support for their claims, it is important to openly communicate this lack of evidence to relevant stakeholders. Share your concerns and inform others that the claims made by the organisation are not substantiated by credible data or research.

Share alternative perspectives: Present alternative viewpoints backed by evidence that challenge the organisation's claims. Provide information from reliable sources that offer a different analysis or interpretation of the subject matter. This can help individuals evaluate the validity of the organisation's claims more critically.

Promote critical thinking: Encourage the public and stakeholders to exercise critical thinking skills when evaluating claims made by the organisation. Emphasise the importance of questioning assertions and seeking evidence before accepting information as valid.

Advocate for evidence-based decision-making: If the organisation's broad claims have significant implications or affect policy decisions, advocate for evidence-based decision-making. Engage with policymakers, relevant authorities, and the public to emphasise the importance of relying on verifiable evidence and credible sources when shaping policies or making decisions.

It is crucial to maintain a skeptical mindset and prioritise evidence when evaluating claims. By promoting transparency, independent verification, and critical thinking, you can contribute to a more informed and rational public discourse, even in the absence of evidence from certain organisations.

Evidence-based engagement and social licence

Evidence-based engagement can significantly contribute to acquiring social licence. As mentioned earlier, social licence is built on credibility, legitimacy, and trust. In broad terms it can refer to the acceptance, and support of a project or initiative by the affected communities, stakeholders, and the broader public. It is an important factor in the successful implementation of projects, particularly those with potential social, environmental, or economic impacts.

When engagement processes are evidence-based, they demonstrate transparency, accountability, and a commitment to making informed decisions. This fosters trust and confidence among stakeholders, as it shows that decisions are not made arbitrarily or based on unfounded claims.

Here's how evidence-based engagement can help acquire social licence:

Credibility: By providing verifiable evidence and data to support proposals or claims, engagement processes gain credibility. When stakeholders see that decisions are grounded in scientific research, expert opinions, and objective information, they are more likely to trust the process and the outcomes.

Transparency and openness: Evidence-based engagement promotes transparency by sharing information, data, and research findings openly. This transparency helps stakeholders understand the rationale behind decisions, facilitating a more informed and inclusive dialogue. When stakeholders perceive transparency, it builds trust and enhances the likelihood of acquiring social licence.

Addressing concerns and mitigating risks: Evidence-based engagement allows for a thorough understanding and assessment of potential impacts and risks associated with a project or initiative. By presenting evidence, it becomes possible to identify and address concerns raised by stakeholders effectively. This proactive approach to risk mitigation demonstrates a commitment to minimising negative consequences and increases the likelihood of obtaining social licence.

Informed decision-making: Evidence-based engagement ensures that decision-making processes consider a wide range of perspectives and incorporate reliable information. This promotes sound and informed decision-making, considering various viewpoints, expert insights, and factual evidence. Stakeholders are more likely to support decisions that are well-grounded and based on reliable information.

Stakeholder participation and ownership: By providing evidence and facilitating discussions around it, evidence-based engagement invites stakeholders to participate meaningfully in the decision-making process. This inclusion creates a sense of ownership and empowerment among stakeholders, as they feel their concerns and perspectives are acknowledged and considered. When stakeholders have a genuine voice and influence, social licence is more likely to be acquired.

Long-term sustainability: Evidence-based engagement supports the identification and adoption of sustainable practices and solutions. By considering scientific evidence, best practices, and stakeholder input, projects can be designed to minimise negative impacts and maximise positive outcomes. This long-term perspective on sustainability helps build trust and confidence among stakeholders, leading to social licence.

People will always trust those who set out their claims and offer them up for scrutiny. They will not trust those who throw about broad claims and spread false information that does not have any supporting evidence. So, before you make a claim, make sure you have the evidence to support it.

Evidence-based engagement enhances credibility, legitimacy, transparency, informed decision-making, and stakeholder participation. These factors contribute to building trust, acquiring social licence, and ensuring the successful implementation of projects or initiatives.

Addressing the power imbalance between institutions and the public

The power imbalance between institutions and the public is a common issue that can affect various areas, such as government, corporations, and other organisations. This power imbalance arises from several factors, including differences in resources, access to information, and decision-making authority.

Here are some key aspects of the power imbalance between institutions and the public:

Information disparity: Institutions often have access to a wealth of information, expertise, and resources that the public may lack. This information asymmetry can result in a power differential, where institutions have greater control over the narrative and decision-making processes.

Decision-making authority: Institutions typically hold decision-making power that significantly impacts the public. They may set policies, allocate resources, and shape regulations that affect the lives of individuals and communities. Meanwhile, the public may have limited opportunities to influence these decisions or hold institutions accountable.

Resource disparities: Institutions often possess significant financial, legal, and organisational resources, which can be leveraged to shape outcomes. This can create a power imbalance, as individuals or smaller groups within the public may struggle to match the institutional resources necessary to effectively engage and advocate for their interests.

Influence and lobbying: Institutions, particularly powerful interest groups or corporate entities, may engage in lobbying or advocacy efforts to influence public opinion, legislation, or policy-making processes. This can further tilt the balance of power away from the public, as they may have limited means to counteract these influences.

Promoting democratic governance, transparency, and accountability

Addressing the power imbalance between institutions and the public is crucial for promoting democratic governance, transparency, and accountability. Some strategies that can help rebalance power include:

Transparency and access to information: Institutions should strive to provide clear and accessible information about their activities, decision-making processes, and policies. Open data initiatives and public disclosures can help bridge the information gap and empower the public to engage more effectively.

Empowerment and capacity building: Providing financial support to the public or grassroots community groups can empower them to; promote social inclusion; address local needs; build capacity; utilise subject matter experts for peer reviews and submission writing; citizen science; seek support from academics; and develop solutions that are relevant to their communities. This can result in more effective and sustainable solutions as the expertise and resources can allow the public to match the institutional resources necessary to effectively engage and advocate for their interests. Funding community groups can help institutions build trust and positive relationships with the communities they serve. It demonstrates a commitment to supporting local initiatives and addressing community needs, which can improve the institution's reputation and legitimacy.

Civic education and engagement: Promoting civic education and enhancing public awareness about their rights, responsibilities, and avenues for participation can empower individuals to actively engage with institutions and contribute to decision-making processes.

Strengthening public participation mechanisms: Institutions should create and maintain meaningful opportunities for public input, consultation, and collaboration. This can involve public hearings, consultations, citizen assemblies, and other participatory processes that allow the public to influence decisions directly. Meetings between organisations and the public could be facilitated by an independent facilitator to ensure these meetings provide meaningful opportunities and are not simply used as an information session or marketing exercise.

Strengthening accountability mechanisms: Developing robust mechanisms for holding institutions accountable, such as independent oversight bodies, whistleblower protections, and transparency measures, can help address power imbalances and ensure that institutions are responsive to public concerns.

Strengthening civil society: Supporting the development and capacity of civil society organisations, advocacy groups, and grassroots movements can provide a collective voice for the public and help counterbalance the power of institutions.

Ethical governance practices: Institutions should adopt ethical governance practices that prioritise public interests, transparency, and inclusivity. This includes promoting diversity, avoiding conflicts of interest, and fostering a culture of accountability.

It's important to recognise that rebalancing power between institutions and the public is a complex and ongoing process that requires systemic changes. It involves fostering a culture of collaboration, trust, and inclusivity to ensure that decision-making processes genuinely reflect and prioritise the needs and interests of the public.

1. Misconceptions around the costs of overhead vs underground:
2. Misinformation about alleged false claims and expert opinions:
3. Claims of price crushing renewable energy: h
4. Evidence-based submissions to VNI West:
5. Claims that evidence-based submissions to the VNI West Regulatory Investment Test for Transmission (RIT-T) are both ‘reckless’ and ‘misguided’:

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