3 techniques to boost community engagement for challenging mining projects

July 9, 2019 Janeth Pizarro

Here’s help to guide interactions with stakeholders in the mining industry and how good community relations can mitigate mining operations risks

 

When you think of the mining industry, communities may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But communities are an integral part of what we do. Mining activities are not conducted in a bubble. They have the potential to deeply impact the environment and surrounding communities—for better or worse.

Unfortunately, we’ve been hearing more about the “worse” aspect in the media as reports show that mining protests have become increasingly common in the developed world. The reasons behind many of these protests are varied and complex, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. But there is a way to start a job off on the right foot and reduce the likelihood of social conflict: extensive community engagement.

We saw the results of an effective community-engagement program when we took on an environmental impact assessment in preparation for a mining project in the northern region of Peru. This area has been the site for some mining-related incidents in the past that have negatively impacted the locals and the environment.

As a result, anti-mining sentiments have grown steadily stronger among the Peruvian residents over the years, and extensive protests had the power to bring multibillion-dollar projects in the region to a halt. When our team arrived, we faced the challenge of navigating a minefield of mistrust and resentment among the community.

 

 

How to change up the formula

In Peru, traditional approaches to community engagement had been twofold. First, hold one or two large community meetings with members from the various townships surrounding the mine. Second, give money to the communities to mitigate any potential damages caused by mining activities (a common conflict-resolution tactic in Latin America).

But the level of antagonism toward mining was so deep among Peru’s residents that these methods were no longer sufficient. If you find your own community-engagement program to be similarly ineffective, consider the following techniques:

 

1. Focus on the individual

Instead of holding large, catch-all community meetings, host multiple, smaller gatherings to prioritize building individual relationships. You will gain a much deeper understanding of the various concerns and priorities of your stakeholders. Smaller settings also tend to make people feel more comfortable expressing their opinions.

To reach each of the approximately 50 townships that surround the mine, we created about 20 small focus groups that were attended by almost 600 people in total and conducted one-on-one interviews with about 300 individuals. Then, we simply listened to their doubts, fears, and concerns. We made every effort to address each one presented. We also collected demographic information from each township to help us identify future opportunities for community development.

 

2. Make the community active participants

The feeling of inclusion is a powerfully positive force. Wherever possible, try to involve the community directly in the work you’re conducting.

We brought approximately 2,000 community members into the field alongside our specialists to participate in the process of monitoring water, air, sound, and vibrations, where they were able to learn how the equipment works and how the procedures are completed. This led to increased transparency, as the residents saw exactly what we were doing during all stages and were given a hands-on opportunity to learn how our work related to the overall mining project.

 

_q_tweetable:No matter what industry you’re in, putting in the extra effort to truly engage with your stakeholders will serve you well._q_

3. Don’t just tell—show

When you need to describe a complex idea or process, words can only take you so far. Ninety percent of the information that is transmitted to our brains is visual; but visual information isn’t necessarily restricted to pictures. Here’s your chance to get creative.

In Peru, we hosted more than 50 community workshops to explain the project scope but found that flat maps and 2D images did little to aid help residents understand the project. So, we brought another dimension into the mix. Our team created physical models of the mine that allowed people to interact with the project in a tangible way. We also made a 3D video for everyone to view the planned layout and activities. The feedback regarding these learning techniques was overwhelmingly positive.

 

Engagement matters

No matter what industry you’re in, putting in the extra effort to truly engage with your stakeholders will serve you well. It’s a risk-avoidance technique that saves time and money in the long run, but it also builds trust for future projects of a similar nature. Most importantly, it speaks to what you—and the company you represent—truly value.

About the Author

Janeth Pizarro

Janeth Pizarro is a senior environmental specialist in our Lima, Peru, office. With more than a decade of experience, Janeth has held important roles in environmental permitting and technical coordination for medium- and large-scale mining projects throughout South America.

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