The ‘IDEAL’ characteristics of communication and engagement
Inclusive and diverse: No communities or hard to reach groups should be left behind. This can include those who do not have a history of complaints, difficult to manage groups, those in deprived areas or those consisting of different nationalities.
Information provision: Residents should be provided with data relevant to them. This means taking the time to understand what those data are, how they can be illustrated or described, and what appropriate communication channels might be.
Impartial: Advanced communication and engagement is not an easy task as it can involve having difficult conversations with conflicting voices. Independent facilitation can help overcome these challenges whilst also providing access to experts, e.g. for conducting focus groups and workshops. Data provided by impartial experts can also help to build trust.
Interrogate: It is important to ask questions about any pre-held perceptions about noise problems and their likely solutions as what may appear to be a challenge to be solved (i.e. reducing complaints), may actually be triggered by something at a deeper level. Assessing such perceptions and gaining insight from residents can be a useful way to understand how core challenges can be addressed, to identify targeted outcomes, and to establish potential criteria on which such outcomes can be evaluated.
Decisions: All stakeholders may have expert knowledge that has the potential to inform decision-making, or to influence the potential success of a given intervention. Therefore, it can be helpful to perform stakeholder analysis or stakeholder mapping when performing any activities that are likely to influence noise to identify two factors: who has interest in the issue, and who can have influence over the issue. With this information it is possible to determine who should be engaged about noise - although it should be considered that sometimes there can be unintended and unexpected consequences that could affect groups. Hence, it can be helpful to include all groups in engagements in order to develop well rounded understanding.
Direct: Airports should be honest with the citizens. This means that airports should start communicating honestly, directly and transparently from the beginning of a decision process. Additionally, it should be directly communicated about the consequences decisions have on local citizens.
Early: Communities should be communicated with early and often throughout any changes that may affect them. This is important to make them aware of what is happening, but also to understand their needs, preferences, fears and so on, and to communicate any potential changes to the noise they may be exposed to (be it on a trial or temporary basis).
Easy: It is important that data is communicated and explained as clearly as possible and that it is easy to understand without any previous knowledge or expertise. Presenting complex information that people find difficult to grasp can lead to airports being accused of hiding data by purposely putting up barriers. Communication and engagement should be tailored to the characteristics of each airport and community group and what the interaction sets out to achieve. This includes using appropriate language and data, both in terms of relevance to the subject of the communication or engagement, but also to the expertise and comprehension of the recipient.
Explain: Airports should not just be explaining what has happened and what the results of any changes have been. They should also clearly articulate, why decisions have been made, whether other options were considered, why other options may not have been selected. Noise action plans can be a great way to demonstrate that noise has been addressed at a strategic level.
Empathy: Effective communication and engagement means going beyond numbers and thinking in qualitative terms by developing stories of the lived experiences of residents and developing and acknowledging empathy for those stories. Airports can also tell their own stories to help articulate the significant difficulties that they have in managing noise, thus helping to foster empathy for their own situation.
Accessible: Information should be easy to find and not hidden in technical reports, or multiple clicks into a website. For communication to be received effectively its intended audience should be able to access that information as easily as possible. Hard to find information gives the impression of mis-intent, which can be harmful to trust in airport-stakeholder relationships.
Authentic: Communication that does not set out to convey a certain message or has some intended outcome should generally be avoided as it can be considered as communication for communication’s sake. Rather any communication should have some targeted outcome or rationale for taking place. Meanwhile, engagement should be based on concepts of empowerment, trust and learning - engagement without these factors is less likely to lead to socially-optimal outcomes.
Accurate: It is easy to begin any decision-making process with perceptions of the challenge and any likely solutions. It is no different for noise. What can be perceived by an airport to be an issue that needs to be solved by obvious operational solutions may not actually be the core issue that needs to be addressed. For instance, setting out merely to reduce complaints is not likely to be as effective as setting out to solve the ‘triggers’ to those complaints. Management interventions that seek to address challenges without going to these deeper levels can result in money and time being wasted, or worse – damaging a situation yet further. It can be important to spend time listening and speaking to stakeholders to try to better understand a given noise problem.
Amenable: If decisions are made that are wrong from the citizens' point of view or there is new knowledge, then there are possibilities to amend these decisions.
Legitimacy: We all have our own internal maps about what the world looks like, and to each of us those maps are reality. It is important to respect those views. Treating stakeholders and their views with respect and dignity is important in building trust and building effective relationships with residents and campaign groups.
Locality: Take local considerations into account. There is no “single solution” that fits every local situation around an airport. Factors such as demographics, legislation, local concerns and noise environments are different, as well as aircraft operations for the considered location that also need to be taken into account.