KEEP OR INCREASE PUBLIC SUPPORT BY MORE INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL TRANSPARENCY?
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Dr. Sami Faltas
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This report examines to what extent NAM can increase public support through greater transparency. It does not aim to provide a ready-made policy advice, but to offer an indication to what goals NAM should work towards to in the long run. The analysis is based on academic literature and information obtained from communication experts and several case studies. The conducted case studies on NAM itself, Gasunie, Schiphol and Essent are deemed as very illuminating, as also other companies face very similar problems concerning public support.
Before analysing NAM’s current transparency policy and making suggestions for improvements, the concepts of transparency and public support need to be defined. Within the scope of this report transparency is defined as the extent to which parties and individuals external to NAM can obtain and understand information on the organisation and its activities. More specifically, the transparency policy of NAM is assessed along the following five question: (1) Who creates transparency? (2) What information is made transparent? (3) Which medium is used to create transparency? (4) How is the information presented? (5) Does NAM play an active role in creating transparency?
To operationalise the notion of public support, NAM’s “public” can be divided into two groups: Firstly, the people who are directly affected by the activities of NAM; and secondly, the rest of society that remains unaffected but does have an opinion about the company. Furthermore, one has to realise that public support is to a large extent based on emotion rather than on rational considerations. This means that factors other than transparency are also very important in order to create public support.
The recommendations stemming from the research are divided into two sections. The first section contains recommendations regarding transparency. The second section provides recommendations on other means that can increase public support. With regards to transparency the main finding of the research is that NAM should to be as transparent as possible, with limitations due to the protection of NAM’s competitive position, security and privacy. In the long term, complete openness appears to be always the most successful policy.
However, transparency is not the only mean to create public support; rather, it should be seen as a starting point. There are a number of other ways through which NAM can increase public support. Firstly, NAM should cooperate more with the public, for example by including the public directly in its decision-making process. This way, the public will support NAM more eagerly as they feel more involved. Furthermore, NAM could also cooperate more with other stakeholders by setting up a round table conference. A round table could serve as a platform to facilitate the discussion between all stakeholders and makes it easier for the parties involved to identify common grounds. Furthermore, cooperation with other companies would also be very helpful. NAM is not the only company that has to deal with public support; therefore sharing ideas and experiences will benefit NAM, as other companies may sometimes be a few steps ahead.
Secondly, NAM should manage expectations of the public. Public support declines when expectations of the public are not met. When the public is well informed, even about the uncertainties of a company, it becomes easier for the company to live up to public expectations.
Thirdly, NAM should show empathy when dealing with its public. Public support is often not based on rational considerations, but on emotions. As a result, the public does not care very much about facts and figures, but more about empathy and sympathy. Therefore, NAM should aim to give the public the feeling that they are taken seriously and that NAM is sincerely willing to be a good neighbour.
Fourthly, NAM has to know its public and the ar guments of its critics in depth. This can be achieved through regular opinion polls or face-to-face meetings with the local population.
Lastly, NAM should create a distinct image at both local and national level. The public may not be aware of the benefits of NAM’s work for the region and Dutch society as a whole, as few may seek to learn about this positive aspects. Therefore NAM should exert greater effort to emphasise the positive effects of its work and repeat this regularly to create awareness.