Roundtable

Channel description: 

In the context of power grid projects, Roundtables are formal, usually recurring meetings among a number of representatives from one or many stakeholder groups to discuss the current state of project progress. They are a fairly common channel for TSOs, regulatory authorities, policy makers and other project sponsors to engage in a regular, institutionalised form of dialogue with other (especially local) stakeholders to discuss and even jointly decide on certain aspects the grid project, e.g. the routing of an overhead power line or the choice of technology in different sections. Participants are typically representatives of larger stakeholder audiences such as spokespersons of Local citizens’ initiatives. Therefore, communication via Roundtables can reach a lot of stakeholder groups as representatives spread the results of the discussions. At the same time, the number of participants of the event itself remains limited – thereby allowing for focused, constructive and manageable discussions. Roundtables can be organised not only by TSOs as project sponsors but also by any other stakeholder of a grid project such as local mayors or other representatives of municipal administrations. 

In order for Roundtables (like any stakeholder involvement event) to be a success for every participant, expectations have to be realistically formulated and clearly managed. Among other things, it is thus important to agree on the “rules of the game” of the Roundtable beforehand and communicate them clearly. This may e.g. concern the agenda of the Roundtable that could be semi-open or closed which may be jointly determined beforehand, but should in any case be communicated ahead of time in order to allow participants to prepare the meeting. Moreover, the rules of the game include the discussion modalities, agreements concerning non-disclosure and privacy, and very basic and general communication standards, like giving constructive criticism or letting each other finish making a point. In addition, in order to enhance transparency it is recommendable to keep minutes of each Roundtable meeting and disclose the final minutes to the public.

Audiences: 
Usual patterns: 

Most importantly, Roundtables should be held at the local level along the corridor of the grid link in question and hence include representatives of all relevant local stakeholders. Multi-stakeholder Roundtables really need to make sure to consider all stakeholders, so that everyone can live up to the requirements and expectations that come with a stakeholder’s role in power grid development: e.g. the role of the Permitting authorities to explain the permitting process, the role of policy makers to explain the need for a grid project in of larger energy policy or the role of local communities to help find concrete solutions to the routing of the grid. Roundtables have often proven to be the best way to establish a recurring forum for dialogue throughout the planning of a power grid project where stakeholders can discuss the state of project progress together in a smaller, manageable circle that allows for constructive discussions. To allow for maximum participation from local stakeholders, who are non-professionals in the grid project, Roundtable should be scheduled to take place either in the evening during weekdays after close of business or on the weekend.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • How many and which Local citizens’ initiatives and action groups have been created in the communities affected?

  • Which business associations and farmers associations can speak best for concerns of the stakeholders that they represent?

Usual patterns: 

Focused Roundtables on specific issues and concerns that typically surround grid projects are excellent tools for project sponsors like TSOs to involve stakeholders and include their specific expertise in the planning process. Belgian TSO Elia, for example, has been planning to hold stakeholder-specific Roundtables with local representatives of NGOs in the context of the BESTGRID initiative in order to jointly assess sensitive environmental spots in the pipeline corridor and identify the best possible routing, e.g. regarding bird protection as well as the impact of the project on local forests and pasture lands. Other TSOs have had focused Roundtables with environmental representatives regarding the choice of technology and the specific up- or downsides of overhead lines and underground cables in different grounds.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Which Environmental NGOs are active in the grid corridor that would be willing to participate in a focused Roundtable discussion?

  • What are the environmental issues and concerns at stake in the specific grid project?

Potential audience size: 
Usual patterns: 

For a single Roundtable, the number of participants should not exceed 30 people. When organising a multi-stakeholder Roundtable, it is crucial for the inviting party (e.g. the TSO) not to forget any representative in the affected area and invite participants individually. However, participants should be kept to one representative per stakeholder group (e.g. municipal authority, Local citizens’ initiative of farmers’ representation) in order to keep the discussion constructive and allow everybody to participate. 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • What is the best balance that can be struck between having everybody represented at the table while keeping the overall number of participants to a manageable level?
Cost/required resources: 
Usual patterns: 

The resources required for a Roundtable event are fairly limited, because no major cost components except for some logistical needs (e.g. location) have to be considered. Nevertheless Roundtables are ideal channels that can be jointly organised by more than one stakeholder groups involved – for example the TSO driving the project and the municipality that is affected by the specific grid section in question. 

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Which stakeholder could join the TSO in organising and calling a Roundtable discussion? 

  • Where would be the most cost-effective and well-reachable location for all participating stakeholders?

Type of communication: 
Dialogue
Participation

As early as in the invitation to get together for a Roundtable, the event should be labelled as a forum for dialogue, i.e. a meeting where the inventing stakeholders (e.g. the TSO) gives the participants the opportunity to give feedback to the current state of planning presented. It is imperative for the organiser to be transparent about the expectations of the stakeholders that are invited, so that it is very clear that participants will not only be informed, but that comments, remarks and questions will be discussed. In order to show sincerity vis-à-vis the concerns of local stakeholder it is important to have an independent keeper of the meeting minutes who takes down the comments and feedback given to the current state of planning. Such transparency and traceability of input is crucial for the establishment of trust among stakeholders.

Moreover, Roundtables can even be real participatory events where decisions are jointly taken. However, such room for manoeuvre needs to be clearly communicated in the announcement and invitation to create only realistic expectations of joint decision making.

Content to be communicated: 
Usual patterns: 

Whether for many different or just for one single stakeholder group, Roundtables should cover the specific “how” of a grid project, i.e. the technical design and its routing, rather than the fundamental need of a project which has usually been established already. Consequently, multi-stakeholder Roundtables at the local level should focus on the specific, on-site features of the grid project like the micro-routing of a power line within a specific municipality. In this regard, it is crucial to provide participants (ideally upfront) with up-to-date maps and other explanatory materials to discuss the latest status of routing.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • What materials have to be prepared to discuss technology and routing?

  • To what extent is the current status of planning fixed and where exactly is room to manoeuvre, discuss alternatives and decide together on the project design?

Project stage at which best employed: 
Usual patterns: 

At the outset of a grid project, Roundtables with representatives from regional stakeholder groups (like state-level policy makers, regional or national NGOs, business associations) and interested local stakeholders (e.g. from municipal authorities) can contribute to building consensus on the need of a grid project. Early engagement before the initiation of official planning processes (Spatial planning and permitting) with Roundtables where all relevant stakeholders are invited to participate can help to build trust among stakeholders. Most importantly, early Roundtables can be used to inform about the procedures and millstones of the upcoming Spatial planning and permitting processes as well as the legally required and voluntary consultation and stakeholder involvement measures. Roundtable participants can together agree on a roadmap of stakeholder involvement activities in the subsequent project stages.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • Who are local stakeholders that need to be invited to participate in early-stage Roundtables, even though they do not yet know if they are personally affected?

  • What are regional stakeholders that best represent larger audiences like environmental activists, municipal administrations, business and farmer associations that should participate in a Roundtable?

  • How can policy makers be integrated early in the organisation and invitation process to hold the Roundtables on “neutral” ground?

Usual patterns: 

During the Spatial planning and Permitting stages, regular Roundtables (e.g. every 2-3 months) should be held upon the invitation of – for example – the TSO or municipal authorities to accompany the planning activities in preparation of the permitting application. In addition, Roundtables can be called on ad-hoc basis whenever a new milestone in the pre-permitting planning process has been reached. The main purpose of Roundtables in this stage is to include all relevant local stakeholders into the process of identifying alternative routes and choosing the preferred route. Therefore, Roundtables should be held on a district level (or at least with one Roundtable for every section of the grid) to keep them as local as possible while at the same time avoiding the overburdening of regional stakeholders like TSOs and Permitting authorities. Moreover, regular meetings can help to anticipate and prevent conflicts before they arise by intensive discussions about the planning of the project. Problems can be jointly identified, tackled and solved.

Further project-specific questions: 
  • What are the proper spatial intervals for Roundtables along the power grid corridor in question? 

  • Given the national legislation for Spatial planning and permitting, what are the most useful time-intervals at which Roundtables should be held, in order to assure that a new status of planning is discussed at every meeting?

Country-specific examples: 

TenneT has successfully established Roundtables in the post-spatial-planning phase of power grid projects in Germany. In the run-up to the submission of the permitting application, TenneT holds bimonthly stakeholder Roundtables in each planning section of the project. As the project covers different state-jurisdictions, in some cases the Roundtables are called by the local district administration while in other cases TenneT itself invites participants. The Roundtables have contributed significantly to improving the atmosphere, frequency and organisation of the stakeholder dialogue on the ground.