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Third Phase: While You Explore

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Step 8

Deepen Your
Knowledge

Step 9

Engage On
Key Topics

Step 10

Manage
Expectations

Step 11

Evaluate Your
Effectiveness

Step 8: Deepen Your Knowledge

In your first few weeks and months, you should deepen your knowledge about the project context. It is critical that your engagement continues after the initial visits. Some issues you will want to discuss in your ongoing engagement include:

1. People
  • What is the status of the subgroups in the community (youth, elders, women, etc.)?
  • Who are the formal and informal leaders? (religious leaders, teachers, etc.)
  • Where there are indigenous peoples, how do they engage with other community groups? How are they viewed and treated?
  • Are there any vulnerable groups in the community?
  • Are there any institutions or individuals that enjoy broad legitimacy?
  • What are the venues where people meet and exchange ideas?
  • Are there any outsiders influencing the community (diaspora, community leaders residing in the capital, NGOs, small scale miners, politicians, etc.)?
  • Are there absentee landlords? Do significant numbers of local people work for them during harvest time?
  • Are there any immigrants living in the area?
  • What does a person need to do to be considered “local”?
  • Who are the decision-makers in the community? Who are (or could be) opponents of the project? Who could be influencers (either positively or negatively)?
  • What is the land ownership structure; land users, land owners, communal ownership?
  • Are there any land conflicts?
Make sure you ask the same kind of questions of multiple people from multiple subgroups so you can cross-reference opinions. If different people offer similar answers, you know you are getting an accurate sense of a situation. If not, it will help you start learning and understanding the varying perspectives of different groups.
2. History
  • Is there a history of conflict or is the area relatively peaceful?
  • What is the level of access to government services?
  • What are people’s perceptions about the role of the state?
3. Culture
  • What do people value from a cultural perspective? What key cultural norms and values should be taken into consideration by the company?
  • What are the traditional ways of resolving conflict?
  • If indigenous peoples are present, what is the best way to approach them?
  • What values do people share or have in common? What divides them?
  • Are there any special days, events or seasons that could affect scheduling?
4. Issues not related to exploration or mining
  • What issues are community members concerned about?
  • What issues are local, regional, or national politicians raising?
  • What do people talk about informally, at cafés or pubs?
  • Has the community changed over the past five years? If so, how and why?
5. Perceptions
  • How are outsiders viewed?
  • How are foreign companies viewed?
  • Do some communities perceive they are impacted by company activities and deserve consideration (even if the company does not consider them to be impacted)?
  • Are there any promises that have been made by previous companies or by authorities?

Below are three tools you may find helpful as you deepen your knowledge: an engagement record, a stakeholder analysis, and a risk register.

As part of developing a better understanding about the project area, keep a record of
your engagement with community leaders and groups. An engagement log is a simple organizational tool that will be invaluable if your project advances to later stages of development. After each meeting, simply note the individual or group you met with, the date and location of the meeting, the issues discussed, and any follow-up activities you committed to (and the deadline for fulfilling those commitments).

Along with your engagement record, conduct a simple stakeholder analysis. For example, for each group or person you meet, note whether they are a decision-maker in the community, a supporter or an opponent of the project or mineral development in general. Also record whether they have a positive, negative or neutral attitude towards the company.

To broaden your knowledge, identify the risks and opportunities you may encounter throughout your project. In its simplest form, this process could be a brainstorming session with your team over dinner to assess social risks, their likely consequences, and what steps you could take to mitigate them. As a more formal process, consider creating a risk register to assess the likelihood of occurrence, level of impact, and mitigation strategies. (See the Preventing Conflict in Exploration toolkit for more detailed guidance).

Recording engagement activities and tracking risks will help you assess how well your engagement approach is working. These documents will also serve as a useful resource for anyone taking over the project in the future. Tracking your efforts and monitoring key issues will help prevent surprises down the road.

​Tips:
Set up an informal advisory group

If appropriate, consider establishing an informal advisory group with a few respected people from the community. You could invite them to a local restaurant occasionally to meet and chat informally (note that inviting them to meet at the exploration site could raise suspicions in the community). An advisory group could help keep the company informed about community concerns, emerging issues, or rumours. it could also give the company advice on how to respond to and resolve these problems.

Use your local staff

The community does not just exist outside the gate. You work with community members every day at your site and project office. Learn from the insights local staff can provide as they understand the company’s perspective, and are often an influential stakeholder group. Many community members base their perception of the company on the stories they hear from friends or family members who are employees.

Step 9: Engage On Key Issues

There are a few indicators that typically signal it’s time to engage stakeholders more systematically regarding key aspects of your exploration activities. They include:

  • You have a good understanding of who the formal and informal leaders in the community are.
  • You have defined the group or area that might be impacted by your activities (local communities).
  • You have identified good venues for interaction (e.g., an already planned public meeting where you can introduce yourself).
  • You have identified a number of topics on which you want community feedback.
  • You are hearing feedback from community members that they want more information on certain topics.

The following questions will help you prepare for conducting more systematic engagement. Review these questions periodically to ensure you are considering all facets of your engagement activities.

Why
Why do you want to engage with this particular stakeholder?

Reasons may include building a base for project support, securing access to land for exploration purposes, hiring local staff, and mitigating risk of opposition.

Think about: What would you like to walk out of the meeting with?
Who
Who must/will you meet? Will it be a group? An individual? Any “observers” such as NGOs or politicians? Media?

Your list may include officials, chiefs, youth representatives, NGOs, and other community members or groups

Think about
: What is important to them? Do you have the right people in the room? Who else needs to be informed or involved?
What

What are the key issues that matter to the person or group you’re meeting with?
What are the key issues that matter to the company?

Be aware of the issues, risks and opportunities that were raised during early informal discussions.

Think about: What is the company’s interest in these issues? Do you have the mandate to make a decision? What are the likely questions and concerns that might be raised?
When
How often should you meet?

List each contact in your engagement log and how often you will meet with them (e.g., Chief X – once a week; shop owner Y – once every three months).

Think about
: How the frequency of engagement should match the risk or opportunity profile

How
What approach or tactics will you use?

Do you simply want to inform stakeholders or do you want to ask for advice, consult them on important issues, or even involve them in decision-making?


Think about
: Not everyone needs to be involved or consulted; some are informed. Select the right engagement approach for each group. 

Where
Where will you meet?
What events do you plan to attend in order to meet other people?


Engagement can occur at venues such as formal meetings, coffee shops, bars, public community meetings and cultural events.


Think about
: Each engagement venue serves a different purpose. Make sure you use a mix of venues to gain a broad perspective

At the early stages of an exploration project, you will likely discuss a small number of key topics:

Community Consultation
Discussion Points
  • Provide project updates
  • Listen to local perceptions
  • Involve affected people in decision-making where possible
Recommended Approach
  • Engage on an ongoing basis, not only in case of need​
Land Access
Discussion Points
  • What is the relationship be- tween land owners and land users?
  • What is the process of gaining access to land?
Recommended Approach
  • Agree with the community on an access protocol
  • Find out how different groups are likely to be impacted
Local Employment
Discussion Points
  • What is a generally accepted definition of “local” staff?
  • What are the available skills and capacities?
  • Who else might be competing for the same workers (perhaps seasonally)?
  • What is perceived to be a fair distribution of jobs between communities and subgroups?
  • How will people perceive the hiring process as transparent (e.g., by using a lottery)?
  • What are considered fair wages locally?
Recommended Approach
  • Do not make any promises
  • Ensure that the distribution of jobs is seen as a transparent process and perceived as fair
Local Procurement
Discussion Points
  • What is the level of available goods and services in the area?
  • What contract-related information can the company provide to local companies and service providers?
Recommended Approach
  • Initially, keep local procurement lim- ited enough to avoid creating depen- dency, raising expectations or causing inflation for common consumer goods (e.g., for meat and bread)
Cultural Heritage
Discussion Points
  • What sacred sites, cemeteries, places of importance should you be aware of and/or stay away from?
  • Are there any days the com- pany cannot work because of cultural practices?
Recommended Approach
  • Recognize that even if sites seem abandoned or forgotten, they may still have some cultural significance
Environmental or Health Impacts
Discussion Points
  • Are there concerns about impacts of exploration on water quality, traffic safety and other areas?
  • Does the community have any particular environmental concerns (e.g., legacy issues)?
Recommended Approach
  • Recognize that environmental issues are often manifested as health con- cerns
  • Explain company policies and practic- es to avoid and mitigate these risks; take steps to let community members see this in action
Community Involvement
Discussion Points
  • What are the types of activities that bring people together or that they share or have in common?
Recommended Approach
  • Each effort should have an exit strategy so that dependency is not created
  • Avoid providing free services (e.g., water and health care)
  • Develop a policy that explains what you are prepared to fund and – more importantly – what you will not; make sure this is broadly available in a format people can access (e.g., on notice boards, in newspaper ads, through radio announcements)

The Importance of Explaining Exploration Activities

In a Latin American country, a gold mining company was conducting drilling activities. There were two geologists, a project manager, and a driver on site for a period of five months. The project manager met with several key people in order to secure the necessary permits. He arranged with the mayor to use the main road through the town at night to transport samples in order not to contribute to daytime traffic. In the fourth month, there was a major protest and a roadblock of burning tires that appeared at midnight during a scheduled transport. The protest was a surprise to the mayor and to the team. The protestors were part of an indigenous group furious that the team had been secretly “transporting gold out of the town” during the night without providing any benefits or compensation to the community.

The project manager then held an open meeting with community members where he explained what activities take place at the exploration stage, what it means to take samples, and why they were doing it at night. He agreed to meet with the indigenous group and the rest of the community regularly and provide progress updates. Exploration activities continued uninterrupted afterwards.

Throughout all of your engagement activities with groups and individuals, be sure to discuss the best venue for future interactions and tell people how they can reach you. You may want to create a formal “community feedback mechanism,” such as a telephone hotline or email address people can use to report their concerns anonymously. You could also schedule regular community forums where anyone can ask a question that may be on their mind (e.g., the first Saturday of every month from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. in the town square). Junior companies working in the same region could discuss pooling resources and developing a regional grievance mechanism to ensure that limited funds and staff time are used efficiently. Where appropriate, juniors could also partner with majors in the area and piggyback on their grievance mechanism.

When designing complaint or grievance mechanisms, it’s important to involve community leaders. Doing so will reduce the risk of the community seeing such mechanisms as intimidating or lacking local legitimacy. Some companies have used information kiosks staffed by local (and trusted) people to help communities navigate company processes, which are often new to people.

Where the need for a formal grievance mechanism was not yet evident, companies have used their ongoing engagement as a de facto feedback or grievance mechanism. As an example, one exploration manager regularly ate supper at the same local café so that he could be available in a familiar, non-intimidating setting to community members who might have questions. Ensuring you are accessible to community members will help build a sense of transparency; acknowledging and addressing the concerns that are raised through the feedback process will build a sense of accountability and eventually trust.

You can find information on more formalized approaches in section 1.6, Grievance and Complaints Mechanisms, in the e3 Plus Social Responsibility Toolkit. You can also explore related resources produced by the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA).

Step 10: Manage Expectations

A common cause of breakdowns in relations between companies and communities is the failure of one or both parties to deliver on commitments that have been made, or that were perceived to have been made. It is very easy for intentions to be misunderstood. Phrases like “I will think about it”, “I will discuss that with my boss”, or “I am sure that you will benefit from our presence” can easily be taken out of context and considered to be a promise.

You can manage expectations systematically by using a combination of the following approaches:

1. Establish a policy for making promises and/or commitments

  • For example, decide at the outset that only certain people can make a promise and that all promises or commitments will be made in writing.
  • Ensure the company maintains a written list of all commitments made (with the date and name of the person(s) the commitment was made to).
2. Educate your team as well as your contractors and sub-contractors
  • Share the policy and discuss who has authority to make promises in writing.
  • Explain how easy it is to inadvertently make a commitment.
  • Emphasize the need to use clear and careful language.
  • Explain that the team should only give answers to things they are certain about.
  • Agree together on what they should say when they don't have the answer or authority to provide an answer.
  • Stress the need to manage expectations.
3. Explain the policy repeatedly and through more than one format (e.g., verbally or in brochures) to the broader community
  • Explain to local stakeholders how your company defines a promise – this will help prevent misunderstandings while also establishing accountability (e.g., if a contractor makes a promise, the community knows to insist it be given in writing).
  • Explain and reiterate the unpredictable nature of early exploration. Be transparent about the fact that long-term commitments cannot be made until you have more clarity about the viability of the project.
  • Provide communities with contact information for the company’s senior manager and encourage them to reach out if they feel that a promise has not been fulfilled (make sure that the senior manager answers or returns calls or emails).

4. Be transparent wherever you can about the exploration activities you are conducting or plan to conduct

  • Hold open days or guided visits to a core shed to dispel rumours that the company is already mining or is “stealing” minerals.
  • With the exception of commercially sensitive information, encourage your staff to discuss the project with community members who ask questions about the project. Sharing general information could help dispel rumours and manage expectations.

Tips for Clear Communication

One engineer described communication as “sending a message from a transmitter through a medium to a receiver.” While this may be technically accurate, in the context of engagement, it’s not a complete picture. You should think not only about sending a message, but also about how the message is received, ensuring that the receiver of your communication understands it as you intended. Be sensitive to subtle signs that demonstrate whether your message was clearly understood. Here are some tips for clear communication:

  1. Place yourself in the position of other people: what lens do they see the situation through? How will they convey the message to their constituency?
  2. Look at the body language of other people (“read” the mood). Are they defensive (arms crossed, leaning backwards) or open (seated comfortably, relaxed posture)? Are they disengaged (looking at their watch, playing with their phone, eyes wandering) or engaged (nodding, making eye contact)?
  3. Listen for hints of approval/disapproval and adapt. Do not insist on continuing with your scripted presentation or agenda if people are not being receptive to it. Try to avoid jargon or using short forms that are not well known or understood.
  4. Ask questions about how people are feeling: “Is this what you hoped to discuss?” or “I see from your reaction that I might be missing the point, is that correct?” Never blame someone for not understanding.
  5. Ease into the discussion by starting in a “light” way with small talk. This can help you gauge the mood of other people and build rapport. Easy topics are the weather, sports or agricultural season. If you have met someone before and spoke about personal or family issues, follow up on those topics.
  6. Be aware of, and sensitive to, the dynamics in the room. Engage with everyone so they feel acknowledged, even if they are not actively participating in the discussion.
  7. Make sure you always allow people to save face. There will be no good outcomes if people feel embarrassed, dismissed or offended.
  8. Acknowledge any tension in the meeting, and end it by saying, “That was a tough meeting, but I’m glad I have a better understanding of where you are coming from.”

Step 11: Evaluate Your Effectiveness

Evaluating the effectiveness of your engagement efforts is fairly simple. Be aware of any changes in the tone of meetings with leaders and community members. If they become less friendly, more demanding or send accusations flying your way, then you‘ll know that things are heading in the wrong direction. On the other hand, if people extend a friendly welcome and demonstrate a shared sense of purpose, then you’ll know the relationship is healthy and positive.

Another way to assess your effectiveness is to review the visual observations you made when you first arrived and the notes you made at your first meetings. Have you seen any changes in the behaviour or habits of local stakeholders? If so, are those changes positive or negative? You can also gauge the effectiveness of your engagement efforts by noting changes in people’s attitudes and actions. Consider these indicators:

  • New notices from the company remain on the bulletin boards without being defaced
  • Theft levels are lower; there is less or no destruction of company property
  • There is no upward trend in community incidents or complaints
  • People associate improvements in their quality of life with the presence of the company
  • Outsiders campaigning on an anti-corporate platform get no local support
  • Community requests for assistance focus on skill development instead of demands for material things
  • Little or no public outrage occurs following accidents
  • Community members identify troublemakers and inform company staff about rumours in the community
  • People feel they have access to site management and say the company is responsive to their concerns
  • People wave back when greeted
  • Attendance levels at public meetings are consistent
  • There is a trend (noticeable increase or decrease) in the number and type of issues brought to the attention of the company through a grievance mechanism

You can explore more indicators of effective engagement in the Preventing Conflict in Exploration Toolkit.

If you feel you’ve implemented good engagement practices but still see signs that your efforts have not been effective, consider asking a trusted member of the community (e.g., a school principal or religious leader) to provide feedback. You could also ask the advisory group to comment on your practices. You will usually get an honest response when stakeholders see your efforts are sincere.

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Whether or not you plan to return, how do you leave the project with your relationships intact?