Strategic Comms Pt 29: Three Reasons Your Project Begins Behind 8-Ball

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(This is the 29th in a continuing series on strategic communications. Click here for earlier segments)

By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

There are three reasons your project begins behind the eight ball.  First, most Americans believe a candidate’s position on growth is important and are suspect of the relationship between developers and public officials.  Second, swaying people from a predisposition is not an easy task under any circumstances.  And, third, opponents of real estate development projects are always more motivated than proponents.

The first reason is evidenced by the results of The Saint Index, our company’s annual survey on attitudes towards land use and development issues.  Our most recent survey found that 84% of Americans say that a candidate’s position on development and growth is important when making voting decisions.  In addition, 64% Americans believe the relationship between developers and elected officials makes the land use approval process unfair (see http://bit.ly/nimnWN).

The second reason stems from our extensive experience in land use politics along with some support from a theoretical standpoint.  Residents who are predisposed to opposing your project are difficult to persuade and rarely change their minds.  This is why your resources are better spent on supporters and undecideds.  Although, as we’ve discussed earlier, opponents who live near the site of your proposed project should always be included in your outreach efforts (see http://bit.ly/rZU52v).

To shed more light on why opponents are hard to persuade, we can turn to Cognitive Dissonance Theory.  This theory states that when people encounter information that is contrary to their existing beliefs, thoughts and attitudes, they are motivated to reduce this dissonance.  However, some of the primary ways they do this are to ignore opposing viewpoints, add to their consonant beliefs, or seek reassurances of their positions from their peers and others.

In regard to the third reason, as Mike Saint, our Chairman and CEO, astutely observes, residents who think a development proposal will have a negative impact on traffic, the environment or on the character of their community will react emotionally to the project.  That emotion will become passion, and that passion will become political action.  Proponents, on the other hand, typically assess projects intellectually and are less motivated by personal agendas.

Recognizing these dynamics will give a better understanding of the risks associated with not proactively building support for your project.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for Saint Consulting, an international management consulting firm specializing in land use politics.  He is also an adjunct faculty member at Emerson College, the nation’s only four-year institution dedicated exclusively to communications and the performing arts. Email Eagan@tscg.biz

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