Gaining social licence is an uphill battle for many infrastructure projects these days.


Call them NIMBY (not in my back yard), LULU (locally unwanted land use) or BANANA (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything), but understanding public reactions to infrastructure development is key to gaining and keeping public support and social licence.


Environics has been studying public views relating to the development of controversial infrastructure for several years now, and our research points to some notable contrasts in how people think about these projects in general compared to when they are close to home.


Projects in General

When we track Canadians’ views about pipeline projects, for example, the public generally weighs environmental impacts against jobs and economic growth. And, for the most part, the public actually wants both – they are looking for an assurance that if a project proceeds, it will produce economic benefits while also providing environmental protection.


Projects Closer to Home

When a project is located closer to home, the public has a different set of considerations. While environmental and economic impacts are still important, these are trumped by health and safety concerns. In addition, the range of economic considerations narrows, with the focus shifting to local benefits and property values.


Hierarchy of Public Concerns



All of this creates a fairly difficult balancing act. Organizations will want to maintain general public support on the one hand, while addressing local concerns on the other. And no two development projects are alike. Health, for example, appears to be more of a concern when building electrical transmission lines, whereas safety trumps all other concerns when it comes to transporting oil by rail car.


Gaining social licence is an uphill battle for many infrastructure projects these days. We’ve laid out some general rules for dealing with NIMBY perceptions, but the way to move forward is with a solid understanding of public concerns relating to individual projects.

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