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New Approaches to Offshore Wind Conflict Management

By: Emilia Samuelsson

Effective ways to address conflicts are needed as the targets for the Baltic Sea offshore wind development are 22.5 GW by 2030, 34.6 GW by 2040, and 46.8 GW by 2050. At the moment, the Baltic Sea has 2.2 GW.

Studies have stated that communication is the principal problem to tackle during the decision-making process on developing wind facilities. Generally, authorities or the industry lead stakeholder dialogues such as consultations or public hearings, however, these face major engagement challenges. Many researchers have recommended a collaborative approach to solve conflicts when it comes to wind deployment. However, there is a lack of studies specifically focusing on the role of effective communication together with the use of a trusted third party in the decision-making process. The Baltic Sea Offshore Wind Collaborative Learning pilot project (BALOWIL) addressed this issue by getting NGOs to lead stakeholder workshops in a collaborative learning approach, with promising results.

Studies have shown that NGOs could be a trusted third party in complex decision-making processes, especially maritime spatial planning. While existing maritime spatial planning consultations and public hearings recognise and include various stakeholders, they often overlook the unique role of NGOs in mediating negotiations and building consensus. In this context NGOs, can act as facilitators for transparent and constructive dialogues, often fostering higher levels of trust compared to other project communicators.

At the core of BALOWIL’s strategy lies the Collaborative Learning approach, offering a framework for addressing complex public policy situations. It engages with stakeholders by encouraging open dialogue and interaction among parties through stages, making sure to prioritise ‘talking with’ rather than ‘talking at’ stakeholders. BALOWIL’s approach spans two workshops, the first focusing on concerns and barriers, and the second proposing solutions based on initial workshop findings.

The project included multi-sectoral stakeholders from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden. There was an equal split between those that were against offshore wind deployment and those that supported it. About 70 per cent of the participants to some degree had jobs dependent on the Baltic Sea.   

During the first workshop there were some concerns that were voted as more important than others. Some of these were;

  • Financial benefits would not reach the affected stakeholders and community in a fair way
  • Impacts on local communities are unclear
  • Lack of communication leads to disappointment and passiveness
  • Negative environmental impact on the landscape
  • Negative impact on animals

After the second workshop the NGOs analysed the concerns raised and found applicable solutions. All the concerns of higher and lower importance, according to the stakeholders, where presented with solutions but with less detail if of less priority. After the presentation of the proposed solutions these were discussed and the most important were selected. Some of these were:

  • Community-owned offshore projects
  • Collaboratively developed community benefits
  • Monitoring included in the project schedule
  • Appropriate facilitators and available information
  • Circular economy models
  • Transparency in the use of public funding

Both before and after the workshops a questionnaire was sent to analyse and get feedback on the experience. Participants largely agreed that the collaborative learning approach implemented in the workshops was beneficial for constructive dialogue. Indeed, 90% found it an beneficial approach (63% of respondents agreed, with 16% somewhat agreeing, and 11% strongly agreeing with this statement). In addition, 90% of the stakeholders found it easier to share their views when discussions were led by NGOs (53% agreed, 26% somewhat agreed, 11% strongly agreed). Another important indicator was that out of a diverse group all respondents agreed that projects like BALOWIL would enhance stakeholder inclusiveness (63% agreed, 21% somewhat agreed, 16% strongly agreed).

In conclusion, the approaches used in BALOWIL are important to further explore effective tackling of conflicts. The project findings offer a list of recommendations for policy makers, industry and future projects to use in constructive and collaborative dialogues. All of these were applied throughout the BALOWIL project.

Here follows nine Recommendations for Collaborative and Constructive OW Dialogues:

  1. Have a dialogue when there is potential to affect the results.
    One of the key factors when it comes to OW conflict management is timing. Stakeholder involvement must be undertaken not merely as a formality for final stage confirmation but rather as an integral part of the planning process from the very outset. Communicating timelines for regulatory and consultation activities should be done well in advance to give stakeholders time to prepare for engagement. Early engagement can address stakeholder concerns about getting involved too late to be able to have a meaningful impact.
  2. Introduce possible developments in an inclusive way.
    Stakeholders should be provided with accessible and clear information about the possible impact of the offshore wind project. This information should be made readily available through locally defined channels.
  3. Let participants express their concerns.
    Create opportunities for stakeholders to express their concerns openly early in planning processes. This fosters a respectful and engaged atmosphere, helps identify critical issues early, and reduces the risk of misunderstandings. For example, before dialogues it can be beneficial to agree upon active and respectful listening to each other.
  4. Make the dialogue space feel safe.
    Establish a safe and inclusive environment by having dialogues that promote active listening, understanding and empathy. For example, making sure that there is enough time for everyone to be heard in a round-table discussion within smaller groups. This provides a safe space for stakeholders to share their perspectives without fear of judgement or retaliation. When participants feel that their opinions are valued, they are more likely to contribute constructively to the conversation.
  5. Ensure facilitation of high impartiality/choose facilitators with minimal bias.
    Another important aspect contributing to making the dialogue space feel safe is to employ facilitators with high impartiality for leading stakeholder dialogues. As shown through the BALOWIL project, NGOs can be a fruitful third party, due to their economically unbiased position. Facilitators can generate higher trust levels and enable less defensive, transparent and reflective dialogues.
  6. Show how you adapted to their concerns.
    Adapting proposals to the concerns raised ensures that the proposed resolutions are relevant. This customization is vital in achieving more effective and sustainable conflict resolution outcomes. Additionally, clearly explain how the proposals regarding the stakeholder concerns were developed and why they were relevant. Transparency fosters trust and accountability in the decision-making process.
  7. Have the discussion in stages.
    Organize dialogues in stages to effectively collaborate and address possible conflicts. It can be beneficial to have the first stage only for identifying concerns and letting stakeholders present concerns regarding the projects. The second stage explores tailored solutions where stakeholders can discuss and evaluate potential synergies and compromises. This enables the next steps to consider multiple perspectives and strike a balance between conflicting interests.
  8. Find applicable, updated examples of the proposals to the concerns.
    Focus on finding applicable, updated examples to illustrate the relevance of proposed solutions to stakeholders concerns. Real-life examples provide concrete evidence of successful conflict resolution.
  9. Be open to criticism and show how it was taken it into account.
    Welcome criticism and adapt proposals based on stakeholder feedback. Stakeholders may identify flaws or alternative perspectives that can lead to more refined and effective resolutions.

Emilia Samuelsson

Based on final BALOWIL report: https://www.airclim.org/publications/baltic-sea-offshore-wind-collaborat...

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