Breukers S, Upham P. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 2013 DOI:10.1080/09640568.2013.851597
Organisational aspects of public engagement in European energy infrastructure planning: the
case of early-stage CCS projects
Dr. Sylvia Breukers
(Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), Radarweg 60, 1043 NT
Amsterdam, the Netherlands).
Dr. Paul Upham
(Finnish Environment Institute, Mechelininkatu 34a, P.O. Box 140, FI-00251
Recent years have witnessed a proliferation of studies on public perceptions of carbon capture and
storage (CCS), accompanied by efforts to translate such knowledge into toolkits for public
engagement and communication. At the same time, both literature and toolkits have paid little
attention to the organisational dynamics and views of project implementers with regard to public
engagement. Here we investigate the views of project development consortia employees in five
European CCS projects, focusing on their experience of organisational norms and structures relating
to engagement. Finding that planning for this engagement has in several cases been hampered by a
lack of shared internal vision on engagement and communication within the project consortia, at least
initially, we draw upon the socio-technical approach to technology embedment and new institutional
theory, to observe that internal organisational alignment is crucial in multi-organisational projects
when seeking effective public engagement and communication. We observe that this aspect of
internal organisation is not yet reflected in the toolkits and guidelines designed to aid engagement in
CCS projects. Engagement guides need to direct the attention of project implementers not only in
specific outward directions, but also towards reflexively considering their own internal structures,
perspectives, motivations, expectations and aims in relation to engagement and communication
Corresponding author. Present affiliation and address: DuneWorks B.V. Tel: 0031 6 520 171 39; email address: email@example.com Postal
address: Eschweilerhof 57, 5625 NN Eindhoven, The Netherlands
Present affiliation: Centre for Integrated Energy Research and Sustainability Research Institute, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT; firstname.lastname@example.org .
The work was begun while at the Tyndall Centre, University of Manchester.
Breukers S, Upham P. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 2013 DOI:10.1080/09640568.2013.851597
Public engagement; communication; CCS; organisational dynamics
1. Organisational practice in public engagement and communication
The literature on public opinion of renewable and low carbon energy infrastructure has variously
focussed on the characteristics of the technology involved; the psychological processes of the
receiving population; and institutional, planning and governance-related factors (Oltra et al., 2012; for
reviews see Bell, Gray and Hagget, 2005; Upham et al., 2009 and Whitmarsh et al., 2011; Wolsink,
2006). Reflecting increasingly nuanced understandings of public opinion in this context, energy
infrastructure developers in Europe and elsewhere are now typically encouraged towards early public
engagement and to obtain an understanding of the social context of planned developments. In
pragmatic terms, early public engagement acknowledges that local acceptance may be contingent on
situational, highly local circumstances (Renn, 2008) and that a developer would do well to anticipate
some of these.
In general, then, the focus in the siting literature is on affected populations and their environment in a
wide sense. It is much less common to examine public engagement in energy infrastructure
developments from the perspective of the organisations promoting the development. Responding to
this, here we investigate opinion, dynamics and structures within the boundaries of the firms involved
in developments as they seek to engage with nearby publics. For broad framing, we draw on
theoretical approaches that characterise the relationship of society to technology as one of negotiated
embedment, viewing both the formal and informal procedures of organisations and other actors as
forms of institutionalisation. As specific themes discussed with corporate interviewees, involved in
engagement, we aim to reveal organisational practice, motives, capacities and perceptions, these
factors being important for the adoption and elaboration of an engagement and communication
strategy and hence for the negotiation of public acceptance. More specifically, we aim to reveal more
about internal organisational constituencies, structures and capacities relating to public and
Breukers S, Upham P. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 2013 DOI:10.1080/09640568.2013.851597
stakeholder engagement in relation to development planning; internal actor views on the objectives of
engagement purposes, benefits (or disbenefits) and views of how CCS engagement might develop in
the future; what actors view as priorities in engagement; any attitudes to transparency regarding
development plans; any use of toolkits that have been produced to facilitate public engagement in
CCS development; and any other relevant beliefs and expectations of the project developer.
The companies that we examine are connected as part of large consortia comprising functionally and
culturally different firms, differences that we found to have significantly impacted on their ability for
effective engagement. The firms are involved in the deployment of a technology – Carbon Capture
and Storage (CCS) - that in Europe has been championed by the European Commission, but which
tends to be perceived by the public as a risky, end-of-pipe fix (Oltra et al., 2010; Upham and Roberts,
2011). For the public, storage-related concerns may persist even after detailed information has been
provided (Brunsting et al, 2013; Upham and Roberts, 2011). Despite this, CCS - the separation and
compression of CO2 from power and industrial plants and its disposal in saline aquifers, depleted oil
or gas fields - has come to be seen in many quarters as a key climate change mitigation option
(Bäckstrand et al., 2011; Oltra et al., 2012).
Given that we examine the role of internal organisational function, practice and structure in public
engagement rather than public psychology, institutional perspectives are particularly relevant and we
draw upon new institutionalist thinking here. Consistent with a perspective that takes as its unit of
analysis routinized, more or less codified ‘ways of doing things’, we also deviate here from a
psychological approach by adopting a socio-technical stance towards public engagement with
technology, viewing the public as part of systems of energy provision rather than independently
responsive to exogenous technologies. In line with this, effective engagement and communication are
defined in terms of meeting the needs (information - and process related) of the involved stakeholders
(including the ‘general local public’). While current practices in stakeholder engagement around CCS
seem to have met legal requirements to date, this is by no means a guarantee for effective public
engagement as defined above. Generally, planning institutions in European countries do not favour
early engagement and communication – where local stakeholders are involved in the planning and
design of projects (Breukers and Wolsink, 2007). Typically, local stakeholders are given the
opportunity to respond to ready-made plans without having the chance to discuss and influence
project design and location.
Despite (and perhaps partly because of) this, several practical toolkits and guidelines for public
engagement and participation in CCS and/or wider energy infrastructure planning have been prepared
over the past decade (Jolivet et al., 2006; IISD, 2007; NETL, 2009; Raven et al., 2009a; Ashworth et
al., 2011; WRI, 2010). In the absence of institutions that strongly encourage timely participation in
project preparation, design, planning, implementation and management, these toolkits and guidelines
are intended to support project developers or consortia that voluntarily adopt more participatory
approaches to the planning, design and implementation of CCS projects. The most prominent and
relevant toolkits in a CCS context have been reviewed and compared in detail (Breukers et al., 2011)
and their use and non-use is one of the issues considered here.
2. A combined socio-technical and new institutionalist perspective
There are two strands to our theoretical approach. Firstly, building on social construction of
technology (SCOT) perspectives (Pinch and Bijker, 1984), we take a socio-technical perspective on
energy technology innovation and deployment that views these as the outcome of processes in which
technology and society interact and co-shape each other (e.g. Breukers et al., 2009; Jolivet and
Heiskanen, 2010; Raven et al., 2009a, 2009b; Walker and Cass, 2010). As Pinch and Bijker’s (1984)
notion assumes a relevant social group that shares the meaning of an artefact, successful innovation,
social acceptance and use of a technology depends principally on how well the innovation becomes
embedded in a society via a process of negotiation that eventually arrives at some degree of closure
and stabilisation, even if temporary (Kline and Pinch, 1999). From this perspective, engagement and
communication serve to encourage the active participation of societal actors in the design, planning
and implementation of new technologies, to support embedding, stabilisation and closure of debates
The interaction between project implementer and other local stakeholders entails a confrontation
between different preferences, interests and expectations: engagement ‘operates between developers
and local communities’ (Walker and Cass 2010, p. 44; emphasis added). Embedding may not only
require local stakeholders to adapt some of their expectations and views when new developments are
negotiated: implementing organisations may also need to be flexible enough to scrutinize their own
expectations and beliefs if needed, with concomitant adaptations to the project plan, design or
management. However, as observed, there is no obligation on developers to act in this way. In the
context of CCS, despite the Aarhus treaty that requires the public to be informed of the environmental
implications of developments, the options for formal public participation in CCS proposals in Europe
are generally limited (Chiavari et al., 2009). <discuss aarhus>
Consistent with the relatively structural focus of sociotechnical theory (relative to psychological
approaches to public opinion of new technology), we also suggest that new institutionalism in
organisational theory can help to provide insight into project developers’ practices of stakeholder
engagement and communication. From this perspective, institutions are defined as rules, patterns or
procedures that structure behaviour and interaction. These rules can be informal - norms, habits and
customs - or formal: written laws, regulations and standards (Hall and Taylor, 1996; Scharpf, 1997;
Williamson, 2009). New institutionalism emphasises the importance of shared meaning and norms as
structuring behaviours, with actors behaving in accordance with what they think is considered
appropriate in terms of their institutionalised role (e.g. March and Olsen’s (1989) ‘logic of
Yet while formal and informal institutions influence organisational dynamics, actors within
organisations can collectively affect internal institutions, such as the norms of organisational change
(Hall and Taylor, 1996; DiMaggio and Powel, 1983). Indeed, what is deemed legitimate and
appropriate differs across historical, cultural and organisational contexts (Powell and DiMaggio,
1991): organisational choices and preferences are partly shaped by cultural and historically evolved
patterns and norms. In the present case, the project development consortia jointly preparing and
planning to realise a CCS project consist of organisations with particular norms and values that are
brought together. Difference in norms about motivations behind engagement and communication
between these organisations may reflect divergent preferences as to the extent to and the way in which
an engagement and communication strategy is designed and implemented.
While companies can be expected to show differences in organisational norms and cultures,
particularly in the absence of legal obligations to engage beyond information provision, they are at the
same time increasingly subject to global standardisation pressures relating to corporate responsibility
and stakeholder ‘management’ (Kourula, 2010). These external institutional environments affect their
daily operating environment through a complex of formal and informal laws, rules, norms and
pressures that impinge upon them and which are becoming more homogenous across national
boundaries, with many companies now being subject to the same or similar codes of conduct,
guidelines and management systems. Guidance offered by ISO 26000 on Social Responsibility is a
recent example of this and includes sections on stakeholder engagement and community involvement
(sub-clause 6.8.3, see www.iso.org/sr). Societal expectations around stakeholder dialogue and
engagement are increasingly widespread and find expression in such global institutions. Hence, we
would expect project developers to have responded to the changing external institutional environment
by increasingly addressing engagement and communication as important elements of their approaches
to project deployment.
At the same time there will also likely be differences in the ways that project developers act in
particular cases - due to other institutions influencing engagement practice, such as, for example local
(planning) traditions in and expectations of local participation; social norms within and outside the
organisations; and organisational cultures within the project developer consortium. Yet despite these
differences, new institutionalist theorists have posited that, over time, market or institutional processes
are likely to result in organisational similarity or ‘isomorphism’, as companies compete, successful
forms win out and organisations respond to institutional pressures from within and without (DiMaggio
and Powell, 1983). Here the specific aspects of organisational similarity that may be of interest are
engagement structures and norms, the latter being in the sense of commitments: in short, both the
capacity to engage and the willingness to do so. Non-market-induced isomorphic changes are also
understood as a shift to greater legitimacy with stakeholders (Ashworth et al., 2009).
Set against this theoretical background, it is useful to explore how project developers actually view
engagement and communication as part of their (changing) company practices and how such practices
are mediated by factors that are internal to the company. Since it is our aim to improve our
understanding of how project developers (and consortia) view and practice engagement and
communication, we focus on these internal factors.
There are a relatively small number of CCS developments planned or in operation in Europe;
personnel in at least one of the developers involved in most of these were questioned in the present
study, with 15 interviews in total. Of these, five were held in the Netherlands, three in the UK, three
in Spain, three in Germany and one in Poland (with two interviewees at the same time). Since we
promised the respondents full anonymity - in view of the sensitive nature of some of the issues
discussed - we do not disclose the exact locations here.
The respondents were involved in on-or offshore CCS and the interviews were conducted in a period
when most of the projects were still in the first stages of project and engagement processes. In
addition, we interviewed respondents with the following roles in each country:
employees tasked with public engagement and communication;
external consultants hired to support in devising and implementing an engagement and
employees responsible for the implementation of the CCS project but not actively involved
with communication and engagement on a daily basis.
While the analysis is in terms of socio-technical and new institutionalist themes, for interview themes
were sourced from related work in the corporate social responsibility literature (Adams, 2002). Adams
(ibid) investigated the relationship of factors both internal and external to the organisation in relation
to corporate behaviour, such as self-disclosure of environmental and social impacts. These factors
may be classified as (i) corporate characteristics (e.g. company size); (ii) general contextual factors
(e.g. country of origin, socio-political climate, news media pressure); (iii) internal contextual factors
(e.g. a change in company chair and the presence of a corporate social reporting committee).
Environmental and social disclosure practice is in many respects analogous to company practice in
engagement and communication: both practices are about developing and maintaining social
legitimacy and accountability for corporate activity and CSR in general is often researched from an
accountability perspective that relates to the social contract between companies and the societies in
which they operate (Kuruppu and Milne, 2010). The outward-facing practice of communication and
engagement is necessarily initiated and mediated by factors that are internal to the company and
Adams (2002) concurs with our own view that the internal contextual factors have received less
attention (quite possibly because they are less accessible to observers). The corresponding interview
themes are given in Table 2 and the results presented in section 3 are arranged in the same way,
structured by themes on which interviewees expanded in detail.
Table 2 Theoretical, interpretative and analytic themes with corresponding interview questions
1. Societal acceptance of
new technology requires
and is defined by
successful embedment and
debate closure sufficient to
permit construction and
2. Closing down debate
requires a degree of
consistency with social
norms and institutions in
the broad sense.
3. This applies within the
organisation, in the
locality and regionally /
4. Negotiation and hence
communication are central
to achieving 1-3.
structures necessary for
What is the organisation’s perspective on engagement and
participation and how have past experiences affected their
current perspective and approach?
What are the perceived needs of the organisation for setting up
an effective engagement and communication strategy?
Does the organisation consider that it has sufficient resources
for the communication and participation process?
Are there differences in practices and attitudes towards
engagement among the partners in the organisation?
What is the role of the interviewee in the project team/
How would the interviewee characterise the collaboration
within the project team? Within the organisation? With
approach to negotiation
and communication, in
involvement, views on
benefits and disbenefits
What is the organisation’s overall strategy on engagement?
What are the goals of communication and participation?
Have the actions and interventions been successful so far (and
to what extent)?
Is there room for negotiations with stakeholders? Can they give
input to the development process?
Does the interviewee use existing guidelines or toolkits on
engagement and communication?
How are other external actors perceived?
4. Results: multiple challenges to internal and external communication and engagement
In the following sections we group the interview responses in terms of notable themes, categorised in
line with the types of internal factors set out above.
4.1 Organisational constituencies, capacities and structures
As a starting point in understanding public engagement from developers’ perspectives, it is important
to know who the agents are and how they co-ordinate. As stated, the CCS projects examined here are
largely developed by project consortia consisting of different companies that in some cases are
working together for the first time. In some of the consortia, a dedicated engagement and
communication unit or team has been established, to coordinate communication and engagement
across each consortium. In other cases there is cooperation on engagement planning between
departments or consortium partners, without any formal arrangement on communications chain of
command, but with an awareness that as the project progresses, this will need to change. In others,
different partners are responsible for their part of the CCS chain and any engagement and
communication tasks are allocated accordingly. In a fourth variant, one large partner or company is
responsible for activities along the whole CCS chain. Although there is some similarity between the
first and fourth variants and the second and third variants, there are differences in the directions and
degrees of accountability and information flow.
Many of the interviewees indicated that differences in organisational backgrounds, cultures and
experiences amongst collaborating partners have posed a challenge for both internal and external
communication and engagement:
“Everyone has a different agenda when it comes to CCS as they control different parts of the
chain. It’s been really difficult to get everyone singing together about messaging.”
All interviewees indicated the importance of being seen to speak externally with one voice, and that
this necessitates active internal fine-tuning of views and communication tasks. This fine-tuning can be
difficult even for a single organisation, particularly if no effective communication strategy or task
division has been agreed upon. When organisations with different organisational cultures together
form the project consortium, internal communications are clearly more complicated. One
communications specialist indicates a problem with internal co-operation succinctly:
“There is a team but I'm on my own.”
In a different consortium, an interviewee illustrates the role of the uncertain organisational
environment in which they must operate as a communicator:
“The Communication and public perception strategy is led by X…We are not responsible for
the public perception issues of the Y Project. We have to take into account that we are part of
Z… I do not know how the consortium will be organised in the future.”
Internal norms, influenced by planning norms, play a part in this:
“My approach is softly softly - we bend over backwards to engage with everyone we need to..
However, X seem to have a different view - they set up pipelines all the time and their attitude
is if people don’t like it, we will get a compulsory purchase order. …The relationship has
been very difficult, one of the biggest challenges.”
In some cases, what was viewed as a problem by one interviewee would be viewed as unproblematic
by another. For example, one interviewee stated that the communications team is highly integrated
despite being physically and functionally located at different points in the project, while another
considered that the same structure was ‘very complicated’ and difficult for those outside the
organisation to understand. Interviewees from another project attributed a clash of communication
cultures in the main partner organisations to different national norms (hierarchical versus consultative
norms), which they viewed as compromising the ability of the project to communicate in an effective
and anticipatory way.
There were, however, also examples of internally-perceived successful organisational functioning,
particularly in the case in which the main company has established a dedicated company that is
responsible for all activities related to carbon transport and storage, and which works closely with the
parent company’s communications team. This working relationship consists of regularly sharing news
and information on communication activities, with people in this dedicated company also functioning
as a pool of specialists available for events or discussions, e.g. with local politicians. The CCS-
communications team is mainly drawn from a communication team that normally deals with issues
around lignite. A consulting agency provides additional support in relation to general strategy.
When asked about their needs in communication and engagement with relevant stakeholders
(including general public), most interviewees viewed a well-functioning and collaborative
communications team as crucial. Several interviewees were of the view that opposition and project
cancellation were in a large part due to not being able to understand and appropriately respond to local
concerns. This response requires a communications and engagement capacity, at the least. In three of
the five cases, communications capacity was considered relatively well-resourced, supported by
external communications consultants. One of these cases illustrates the forward planning capability of
a skilled public relations team, with an early prepared, though flexible, communications strategy. This
included material prepared with the intention of explaining the purpose of CCS in non-technical
terms, and also to help manage concerns about, leakage risk, carcinogen risk from capture chemicals,
pipeline integrity and so on. Other respondents indicated that engagement and communication
processes could be interfered with at the will of departments external to the engagement planning
4.2 Views on engagement purposes, (dis)benefits and future development
Underlining a management (rather than e.g. a planning democracy) discourse, in all of the projects,
respondents indicated that the overarching goal of communication is to achieve acceptance and
implementation of the project. Moreover, there is multiple and simultaneous instrumentality: the
dedicated engagement and communication department of one consortium, for example, was seen by
those questioned as existing not just to engage, but to demonstrate a commitment to engaging, with
this message intended for both internal and external audiences. In other words, there is a conscious
intent to send the message that engagement matters and to thereby reinforce the effectiveness of
engagement practice. Although two interviewees referred without prompting to an awareness of the
need for negotiation with the community, and for compensation for any local negative impact of the
projects, none expected the public to be able to influence the core objective of CO2 storage.
4.3 Approach to stakeholder involvement
4.3.1 Timing of engagement
Despite calls for early engagement having become widespread in the academic and advisory
practitioner literature, as well as in several of the engagement toolkits reviewed (Breukers et al.
20011), in all cases communication with the wider public is largely (though not entirely) intended for
later at the implementation phase, once planning acceptance has been gained. Nonetheless, although
early engagement was not practiced widely, several interviewees volunteered that they do have plans
for what to do if and when local opposition arises. In fact all expect to meet (or to have already met
with) opposition at some point in the development process.
4.3.2 Public engagement methods
The strategies used to engage with local communities and manage opinion include: meetings at
storage sites themselves with concerned people; engaging with people who are relatively uninformed
about or neutral to CCS, while avoiding opponents and large meetings; trying to avoid opposing
groups joining together to form a strong social network against the project. A selective, stakeholder-
focussed approach is evident in another project which has targeted six stakeholder groups rather than
a less differentiated ‘public’: academics, environmental NGOs, policy and regulatory bodies, CCS
developers working on other projects and financial institutes. Another project also engages with local
voluntary fire brigades, which play an important part in the micro-structure of its local community.
One interviewee indicated that the company continually monitors community attitudes, including
reactions to other projects and related developments reported in the media. Action is taken as soon
any negative attitudes or discussions are identified. One development consortium has been running
public meetings in the area surrounding the power station, along the pipeline and on the coast close to
the storage site. In terms of the pipeline, they have focused on areas where infrastructure will be
visible on the surface. The most informed communicators are also aware of the dynamics of protest
group mobilisation and the need to respond to this at an early stage:
“What seems to happen is you get lots of different groups all joining together. For example
you may have an anti-coal group joining together with a save our village group and a pro-
renewables. You have a desperate group who come together and don’t necessarily become
anti the project but anti the developer. So my job is to take away the momentum and not give
them the traction.”
These communicators are also aware of the potential value of independent third parties, particularly
academic scientists, lending legitimacy to the project via studies of issues that are or may be of
concern to local people.
4.3.3 The importance of trust and local relationships
It is widely understood that engendering the trust of local people is critical and that this can be
pursued in a number of ways. Communication in one pilot project was initiated by the chief scientist
in the storage part of the chain. In several cases, there are long term and strong relationships with the
local communities at the capture sites, often arising from a history of engagement between the local
power station or mining industry and the local community. In these communities people are familiar
with the industry and sometimes economically dependent on it for employment. Interviewees in these
latter cases described a relatively high level of trust between the community and the firm. In one
example, the power station draws employees from the local area and meets regularly with a group of
local councillors. This was originally to monitor and discuss the disposal of ash from the power
station, but the group of councillors has since become a more general liaison group between the power
station and the local community. The power station also operates activities such as a free car washing
scheme to remove the fine ash from vehicles and the sponsoring of a local police car. Indeed the latter
form of benefit provision is not unusual: another interviewee stated that the energy industry has
provided community benefits, such as equipment for playgrounds. One interviewee mentioned the
offer of collecting geothermal data at the same time as site exploration, so potentially saving a
municipality some costs when researching geothermal heating as a supply option.
For the storage sites and transport routes, rather than at carbon dioxide capture points, there tended to
be much less prior contact or even no relationship with the local communities at all. In those cases,
communication and engagement starts from a much lower base in terms of trust. This is further
complicated by the cost-benefit distribution at the storage site, at which the burdens (e.g. worries
about risks and costs) are experienced by the local community, with no straightforward benefits by
way of compensation.
In one case, the project involves companies and individuals with experience of long term planning for
village relocations due to surface lignite mining. However, public communication in relation to CCS
is raising new public perception issues and is substantially shortening the time period during which
local people will need to accommodate change – albeit sub-surface storage rather than relocation. In
this and other cases, fora have been set up in which project-related issues may be raised by and with
local stakeholders (including local politicians and NGOs).
4.3.4 Use of the CCS engagement toolkits and guidelines
Most of the consortia interviewees indicated that, rather than using the CCS engagement toolkits and
guidelines to design engagement and communication processes, they use these as background
checklists, more for reassurance than for information:
“…usually, if we look at the things that are presented we come to the conclusion that this
isn’t anything that’s new to us. To some extent, this is certainly reassuring to see, that no one
has found some completely new way how to deal with these things.”
One interviewee expressed scepticism of generic messaging on CCS in the toolkits, observing that
messages need to be tailored to national or regional conditions, which vary in terms of environmental
awareness, priorities and the extent of NGO influence. He did, however, see a role for generic tools
that inform approaches to mediation:
“Tools and guidelines are used in some way, to help avoid making mistakes. Whether they
help us much, that’s another question.”
4.3.5 Attitude to information transparency
The interviews indicate that in practice, early public engagement – prior to formal participation
requirements under planning law – is usually avoided, with reasons given including: not wanting to
'wake sleeping dogs' (i.e. draw unwanted attention generally); not wanting to draw unwanted media
attention given the cancellation of other CCS projects; not knowing how to undertake engagement and
not feeling responsible for this; engagement being seen as unnecessary at the early (explorative)
stages of a project. One interviewee indicated that use of a low-profile communications strategy as a
deliberate approach has been rewarded by steady progress in gaining the necessary permits. They
added that this approach is backed by a strategy of staying alert to project related communications and
being prepared with appropriate messages and explanations. These can then be deployed as needed
and when there is a more pressing need for active communication later in the project. In another
project, a pre-test of a broad advertising campaign indicated that this would not help and was
postponed, to be possibly used in future.
In a different project, a low key approach to communications and engagement was necessarily
converted to a more active approach, illustrating the need for flexibility and responsiveness: initially it
was considered unnecessary to explain to the local public why geological examinations would be
performed (i.e. to examine the suitability of sites for safe storage of CO2), as geological examinations
had in the past been undertaken without public concern. On this occasion local concern did arise,
however, and eventually an extensive communication effort was undertaken and the required
permissions for doing the geological examinations were obtained.
4.4 Project developer perceptions of other actors
4.4.1 Perceptions of the public by the firms
The interviewees emphasised that, in their view, in general the public know little about CCS: how the
process works technically, what safety issues are (and are not) involved, and why CCS should be
considered necessary. The public were also considered to be at times misinformed about CCS and in
need of scientifically neutral information. Hence the developers want to provide information
concerning the more technical and risk issues of CCS as well as the more generic reasons behind
CCS; the contribution and perceived necessity of CCS as a climate change mitigation measure. Much
of public ignorance is attributed to government and politicians:
“Everybody is in favour of CCS, science and politics as well. However, there is no common
platform saying, that’s what we want (….) such a platform is needed to create the necessary
An on-going awareness of how the company is perceived locally is also seen as important:
“The most important thing at the moment is that we don’t seem corporately arrogant. When
we did a study of why so many CCS proposals have failed over the last couple of years it was
very clear that corporate arrogance was a major issue.”
Another interviewee echoed this theme, commenting that early expectations of local people simply
accepting company messages about the value of CCS have not been borne out. Instead, the company
expects to go through some forms of discussion and negotiation with the public, even if this leads to
4.4.2 Perceptions of government as context-shaper
Respondents were asked about their view of the appropriate role of government (local, regional,
national and EC) in fostering effective participation and communication. Most described the role of
the national government as being important for communicating the necessity of CCS: for
demonstrating political will and commitment. Most also considered that their national government
was not yet taking sufficient responsibility in this regard.
Perceptions of the role of local government varied. In some cases local government and local
organisations are regarded as having a role to play in emphasising how CCS can contribute to local
economic and sustainability goals. Some interviewees see a facilitating role for local government, for
example in terms of organising community meetings. Indeed in one locality, the developers asked
local leaders to organise community meetings near the potential storage site. Sometimes this led to
positive communication with local people, but in other cases the information about the meeting was
not communicated to the community in a timely fashion, contributing to an initially negative attitude
towards the project.
5. Path-dependent organisational practices and a shared instrumental view on engagement
From a socio-technical perspective on the interface of people and technology, processes of negotiation
may result in a degree of stability sufficient to secure funding, construction and deployment of a
logistically and geographically extended operation that inevitably has uncertainties attached. For the
developer and advocates of CCS, including those at policy, such a scenario can be described as a
situation of successful lock-in, bearing in mind the need to maintain flexibility in the longer term if
CCS is to function as a bridging technology to a future with low reliance on fossil fuels (Shackley and
Thompson, 2012). In general, this approach points to the need to look for, and at, instances and
degrees of debate, negotiation, contest, resolution, reconciliation and acceptance both within the
boundaries of project development organisations and outside of these in their relations with the public
and wider stakeholders (in DiMaggio and Powell’s terms (1983), the organisational field).
In other words, controversy, discussion, debate and contest are not tangential but are inherent to
obtaining enough social acceptance to allow a project (or a technology) to proceed. Avoiding (or even
actively stifling) debate may succeed for some time: we refer above to the deliberate strategy of some
CCS developers to avoid publicity and debate at the exploratory stages. While this risks postponing
rather than dealing with problems, it has allowed some forward movement for the projects. In the
medium term, however, it is arguably in private and societal interests for relatively widely shared,
definitive decisions to be made on energy policy directions, even if full consensus will never be
possible. This requires government-led communication on why particular options are favoured and
corresponding, consistent policy support for their implementation – neither of which have been
particularly obvious at a European level in the case of CCS, despite supportive legislation in terms of
5.1 Internal structures
New institutionalist perspectives emphasise the role of formal and informal procedures that theory
suggests will be adopted for their perceived rationality and appropriateness (Meyer and Rowan, 1977;
Zucker, 1977). As mentioned, some new institutionalist theorists have also posited that, over time,
market or institutional processes are likely to result in organisational similarity or isomorphism as
companies compete, successful forms win out and organisations respond to institutional pressures
from within and without (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983). While we did not set out to probe
isomorphism in particular, the issue of structural appropriateness in terms of instituted public
engagement structures did emerge as a key issue and the abutment of dissimilar cultures and norms,
including the complexity introduced by multiple chains of command or accountability structures, did
emerge as a problem. The effects of this on the capacity of the consortia to engage meaningfully with
the public were largely negative. This is not to say that diversity in approaches to engagement is to be
avoided, but there is a body of theory and practice that is available to firms and which it would be
advisable to draw on, be this for instrumental or normative reasons.
The companies within the consortia vary in terms of pre-existing cultures and norms and as a result
also in perceptions of engagement and communication strategies. Those tasked with managing the
outward-facing profile of the consortia have sometimes had to argue strongly to maintain consistency
in company behaviour and message. Of particular note is the tension between the differing historic
practice of a pipeline company, accustomed to a ‘decide-announce-defend’ modus operandi, and the
historic practice of a power plant company, with its culture of developing and maintaining positive,
long term local relationships. This difference in pre-existing logics – a form of organisational path
dependency - may itself arise from the differing levels of embeddedness in particular localities.
Historically, it seems that pipeline installation firms have perceived less of a need for an on-going
relationship with local people than have power plants, with their more obvious and tangible potential
to pollute in the form of chimney stacks, gaseous emissions and large quantities of fly ash.
Whereas toolkits and guidelines on public engagement implicitly assume that project developers are
unitary bodies, in the sense of one organisation with one vision, in practice this is often not the case.
The toolkits that we reviewed (Breukers et al., 2011) give little attention to the way in which
prospective end-users of these toolkits and guidelines differ in background, skills, knowledge,
resources, cultures and objectives. This is particularly the case for a relatively novel engineering
project such as the deployment of CCS, where the consortia involved are likely to consist of different
organisations or at least different units of a large organisation. More specifically, disalignment may
come (inter alia) from differences in organisational cultures (e.g. in terms of hierarchy, history in
engagement, openness to change); views on engagement and communication (e.g. opinions on timing,
openness and transparency in communication efforts); the involvement of spatially dislocated
departments, complicating internal communication and understanding. Although some guidelines
emphasize the importance of arriving at an internally shared vision, no tools are offered to accomplish
5.2 External negotiation
Despite the public arguably being key stakeholders in the organisational fields of the consortia,
several have in effect adopted an avoidance strategy in the early stages of geological exploration,
while site geology was investigated and associated initial permits sought. Thereafter, the
communicators in several consortia have plans for communication and stakeholder management. No
interviewee really expected to give substantial ground to stakeholders or the public (or at least, would
not admit to this possibility), in terms of co-deciding on aspects like the exact location. In as far as
space for negotiation was foreseen, this would rather centre on issues such as: on-going access to
information, compensation, emergency preparedness, landscaping etc.
In this respect, in terms of the socio-technical approach to encouraging acceptance, we can see that,
paradoxically, avoidance of negotiation is perceived as critical by the developers: their shared view is
that the overall process of acceptance will be advanced by tightly controlling the opportunities for,
and instances of, public engagement. This places the socio-technical assumption of a role for
negotiation in a particular light: this is not negotiation in the sense of a confrontation between
different preferences, interests and expectations - engagement operating between developers and local
communities - but rather an approach that in essence is similar to a ‘decide-announce-defend’
strategy, leaving no room for (re)negotiating costs and benefits nor allowing changes to the project
The interviews show that most respondents (if not all) regard engagement and communication from a
very instrumental point of view – intended to win support or at least gain acceptance of the project.
There is little interest in local views and concerns as valuable inputs that may actually result in project
or process improvements. And in view of the perceived necessity of CCS to counter climate change
among several interviewees, the room to consider alternative perspectives on this is limited. In line
with this is the perception that a proper communication strategy is in the end about communicating
the necessity of CCS. Although there is also talk about and initiative towards dialogue, listening to
concerns etc, the overarching communication idea is implicitly one-way.
Whether communication is one-way information provision or about alignment of diverging
perspectives, depends not on instruments used (e.g. dialogue workshop, focus group meetings,
community board instalment). It rather depends on what is being done with the stakeholder inputs
gathered. If these are mainly used to further fine-tune the message directed at the local stakeholders,
then this is in line with a one-way communication strategy of informing, educating, reassuring and
persuading people. The toolkits reviewed offered no elaborate mechanisms for costs-benefit sharing,
which is what negotiations also should address if needed (aligning expectations should be followed by
attempts to align interests)
The study also begs a variety of governance questions about the role of functional and normative
motives of isomorphism in public engagement that merit further investigation. Public engagement in
technology development and infrastructure siting deploy a wide range of procedures, the use of which
may or may not be replicated across firms. For affected local communities, however, use of any
particular method is likely to be less important than the responsiveness of the companies involved.
Hence isomorphism in methods is less important than the internal structures that allow at least two
way communication when required and – according to deliberative democratic planning ideals of
impact assessment (Dietz, 1987; Parkins, 2011) – some degree of responsiveness to local views.
Questions arise, for example, as to whether the types of toolkits and guidelines that we considered
above should also direct the attention of project implementers towards reflexively considering their
own internal structures, perspectives, motivations, expectations and aims in relation to engagement
and communication practice: to a greater awareness of “the thoroughly social phenomena of
organisational knowledge and learning” (Marshall, 2008). Even more fundamentally, a consideration
of pressures and processes in this context begs the question of whether voluntarily deployed methods
and structures can ever fully substitute for legislation at state or sub-state level that provides
engagement rights to affected communities.
6. Avenues for further research addressing organisational structure in relation to public
We have described and discussed public engagement by firms involved in carbon capture and storage
in Europe, drawing on socio-technical and new institutionalist perspectives, informed by interviews
with personnel involved in the main planned and actual CCS operations of Europe (Breukers et al.,
2011). Documenting the practices and experiences of those involved, and emphasising the use and
non-use of toolkits and guidelines intended to help the firms, we have identified internal, structural
misalignments as a key problem in most of the CCS project consortia. This is understandable as a
result of the coming together of different organisational cultures, logics and structures and is likely to
also be a generic issue for other development consortia, both within the energy sector and beyond it.
Within the CCS consortia, there appeared to be little recognition for this as a crucial issue that needs
to be addressed before meaningful engagement can start.
The study has begun to explore perspectives that are relatively little-explored in the siting controversy
literature, with the twin objectives of documenting new empirics and opening up lines for further
investigation, specifically relating to the relationships between organisational structure and public
engagement by firms involved in energy transitions. The perspectives used are social constructivist
and the methods are interpretivist, seeking to understand and characterise the experiences of those
involved in public engagement on the corporate side. We have mooted, inter alia, the concept of
isomorphism as worth pursuing in this context as an explanatory concept, particularly in further work:
to our knowledge, measures of this (e.g. Ashworth et al., 2009) are non-existent in the literature on
energy infrastructure planning. Yet isomorphism introduces ideas of common logics, shared pressures
and a limited set of functionally successful responses that arguably resonates with the reality in which
infrastructure developers generally find themselves. While there may in principle be an infinite
variety of ways of engaging with the public, in practice there are tried and trusted methods, key
among which is consistency in messaging. This in turn requires supportive internal structures. While
none of this can guarantee to win over publics where there is deep mistrust, supportive internal
structures are at least a necessary even if not sufficient condition for successful engagement.
We offer here, then, some avenues for further work. Similarly, it would also be fruitful to better
understand the evolution of competing (or simply different) norms in relation to public engagement in
energy and other infrastructure firms. At the very least, we hope to have provided some ways of
thinking about these topics that have been little-used in the energy siting literature.
The authors are very grateful to the interviewees and the views in this article should be attributed to
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the FP7 NearCO2 project who contributed in various ways, including undertaking interviews - thanks
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