Dr. Michaël Dooms (MSc & PhD, Applied Economics : Business and Technology, Solvay Business School, University of Brussels) is associate professor at the Solvay Business School at the University of Brussels (VUB). He is program director of the MSc in Management/Bedrijfskunde, teaches courses in Management and Strategy, Organization Design & Change, and is responsible for the internship program and foreign trade mission. He is a guest professor of port management and strategy at universities in the Netherlands (MEL-Erasmus University Rotterdam) and Greece (AUEB). His PhD Thesis won the 2011 Palgrave MacMillan MEL PhD Competition (4th edition). He is a member of PortEconomics.eu and a member of the Port Performance Research Network (PPRN), where he co-animates the port authority strategy group. His other research interests are in the fields of complex project evaluation (of large scale infrastructure projects), stakeholder management and corporate strategies. He has worked as a project manager and researcher on projects characterized by a multi-disciplinary (integration of technical, economic and environmental criteria) and multi-stakeholder (public and private sector, local communities) approach, exceeding a total value of more than 10 million euros. In the field of strategy and organizational change, he was a key member of the strategy office developing and implementing of a strategic plan for the Belgian rail infrastructure manager Infrabel (2006-2010). From 2013 onwards, he leads the PORTOPIA project (www.portopia.eu), a large EU-FP7 collaborative research project on port performance measurement.
At present, several leading individual port authorities release sustainability reports including objective measures of their economic, social, governance and environmental performance to their stakeholders (at large). These sustainability reports come in a variety of forms, reflecting the diversity of port clusters, but have been subject to harmonization and best-practice exchanges in the recent past within leading industry networks (e.g. IAPH-PIANC Working Groups 174 for individual ports, the PPRISM and PORTOPIA projects on the industry level).
One important limitation of the currently used sustainability reports is that, while they are an important management and communication tool on the level of the port cluster authority (or cluster manager, sometimes also referred to as the port authority, port managing body or in a larger sense the port development company), they provide little input as regards the actual strength of the social license to operate of the port through the eyes of various stakeholder groups, in particular local communities within the often dense populated regions were ports are located. Furthermore, (limited) individual evidence gathered by port authorities through perception based studies has pointed to results showing potential mismatches between strategy and actions on the level of sustainability and the way these strategies, and even the port development company (and its associated economic stakeholders) as a whole, are perceived, legitimate, and deemed as salient/relevant, by the stakeholder ecosystem in the surrounding social and economic environment.
Therefore, the objective of this contribution is to shed more light on the development of a strong and efficient technology driven solution permitting the capturing of detailed data and insights regarding the strength of the social license to operate of port clusters, allowing the key stakeholders responsible for the management and development of the cluster (mainly infrastructure development) to better align various sustainability strategies, actions and performance towards the elements that confer actual legitimacy for the port cluster, and provide the necessary basis for sustainable growth (which involves, inter alia, the development of new port assets). This idea is developed behind a continuous background of local community opposition to crucial port development projects since the 1990s, both on the port access, land development or hinterland connection side, which have led to important delays in the implementation of infrastructure, and resulting congestion and/or other negative environmental impacts, let alone non- or inefficient use of government subsidies given the planning and implementation delays that have occurred due to absence of stakeholder support (including TEN-T / CEF funded projects).
The main impact of such a development would thus be easier planning, improved stakeholders relations on a daily basis, reduction in lead times to implement important infrastructure projects, and an overall improved alignment between sustainability actions, their objective impacts, and the legitimacy they confer to stakeholders. Overall this development would thus contribute substantially to the goals of the port-cities network, in particular a better integration of ports in their surrounding socio-economic environment, and an improved and better supported selection and management of investment projects and their impacts, be it in the context of land use and development, handling capacity development, hinterland connections, or energy /circular economy related developments, and the broader city-port relationship.
The contribution builds further upon previously released research both on the level of general stratrgic management (Peloza et al, 2012), and research facilitated by AIVP (the so-called LH Lab series, and publications in the Sefacil – Océanides book volumes, see Dooms, 2015), and shows the recent developments as regards the measurement of the social license to operate from a number of leading ports. This contribution intends to inspire the various stakeholders present, including the buildup of a research network across countries, cities and ports for the joint development of a working solution, allowing port and city managers to benefit from additional strategic knowledge in a resource-efficient way. Furthermore, it would allow a debate with experts on the scope, need and governance of such a knowledge-generating environment. One suggestion would be to invite some port / city development managers to discuss about their experiences in social license to operate measurement. At present, at least the ports of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg are known to have executed such surveys, but not on a structural basis.
Some of the questions to be tackled are :
- How to develop a sustainability index for ports, allowing the development of a ‘sustainability reality score’ ?
- How to develop an index measuring the social license to operate of the local and regional (city) community, allowing the development of a ‘sustainability perception score’ ?
- Under what kind of organizational and governance framework(s) should this be organized on the individual port (community) level ?
- What could/should be the role of Port Centers ?
While the presentation offers first insights and ideas, we look forward to a debate around the questions mentioned above.