Nancy Sopko doesn’t currently drive community engagement at an offshore wind company. But we had to include her in this series for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because as the head of the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind, Nancy (who is the successor to the legendary Stephanie McClellan) has achieved a unique, sector-wide perspective on how offshore wind development is scaling in this market. Also, Nancy and Stephanie are both veterans of the offshore wind sector and were part of a small group of early players who cleared barriers to aid in the successful launch of U.S. offshore wind development.
Nancy’s B3Ps (Big Three Points):
1. Community engagement is a two-way communication, not one-way information distribution. It’s critical to use that point when engaging with stakeholders in community acceptance work. Note that Nancy defines stakeholders to include coastal residents, environmental organizations, and people who work on the ocean now, such as fishermen (commercial and recreational).
- “Engagement is key… We have to be constantly thinking about how to work the feedback we're getting into our plans…. That is a huge complaint that we hear about is, ‘Yeah, they talked to us, but what does it get us’?"
2. Offshore wind is at a critical juncture. The sector is poised take off, but only if the industry can navigate opposition and push back on false narratives.
- “[Community engagement] is the most significant piece of the puzzle. We need to get acceptance from not only coastal residents but other ocean users, such as fishermen… and charter boats in the tourism industry.... That is our big goal, and I think it’s becoming more and more prevalent as we get closer to getting more turbines in the water.”
3. Online communications: Expanded, but no substitute for in-person engagement. The pandemic has pushed community engagement online, as in all other industries. This allows those working in the sector to reach more people, but nothing can substitute for face-to-face interaction. Don't fall into the trap that digital mediums will be the best way to communicate down the line.
- “[For community engagement,] we need to build that trust and strengthen relationships. Nothing can do that better than looking someone in the eye and hearing their voice, hearing the tone, the inflection that they have, seeing how they move their hands and then kibitzing with them just separate and apart from the business matters that you're trying to talk to them about. So, I think digital is incredibly important, especially as we work through this COVID crisis. But there’s no substitute in my mind to in-person communications.”