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Introduction

You are a geologist or project manager working at the site level of a new mineral exploration project or an existing project that is new to your company. As part of your work, you will be responsible for, or on a team that is involved in, community engagement. You know it is important to the success of the project that your company is on good terms with local stakeholders, but your formal education and technical training likely didn’t cover this. It may be unclear to you what to do and where to begin. If this scenario is familiar, this guide is for you. It aims to be a practical and straightforward resource to support you in building a strong and positive company-community relationship at the site level.

Many guides on community and stakeholder relations have been produced for extractive sector companies. The PDAC’s e3 Plus: A Framework for Responsible Exploration was the first resource designed specifically for exploration companies interested in improving their social, environmental and health and safety performance. Recently, additional resources have been created to support extractive companies with their community engagement activities.
This guide is intended to complement existing publications. It was produced in response to extensive stakeholder consultations undertaken by PDAC in 2013 that identified the importance of developing a positive company-community relationship, and addresses the need for practical, step-by-step guidance to apply at the site level.

From a practical perspective, engagement is the central component of any relationship- building process. In this guide, we refer to community engagement as the process of dialogue and interaction that ensures all parties of interest are informed about, and have the opportunity to participate in, the decisions that affect their lives. After a brief explanation of why it is important to engage in the first place, this guide will walk you through a step-by-step process for community engagement. The steps are organized into four chronological phases:

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Community Engagement Phases

First Phase

Before You
Leave

What can you find out about the area before leaving for the project site?

Second Phase

When You
Arrive

What do you do in your first days and weeks at the project site?

Third Phase

While You
Explore

Once the relationship has been initiated, how do you build momentum and scale-up your activities?

Final Phase

When You
Leave

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

Why Engagement Matters

Here are a few practical reasons (the business case) outlining why it is important to develop a healthy company-community relationship:

Access to Land

Establishing and maintaining good stakeholder relations is often critical to securing and maintaining access to land, even when all of your permits are in order.

Access to Capital

Investors are increasingly looking at social and environmental risks when evaluating companies in the exploration and mining industry. The ability to demonstrate that your company has a good relationship with local stakeholders can help improve investor confidence in your project. Many major financial institutions now apply the Equator Principles to their investment decisions, which assess projects’ environmental and social risks.

Project Value and Sale

Prior to purchasing an exploration project, mining companies conduct above-ground assessments as part of their due diligence process, evaluating risks such as community opposition to the project. As such, an exploration company’s success in building a positive relationship with local communities and managing above- ground risks can increase the project’s attractiveness to investors or prevent the value of the project from being discounted.

Reduced Time and Cost of Operations

The time and energy required to establish a healthy company-community relationship is minimal in comparison to the resources required to repair a relationship once it is damaged. By engaging communities early, and opening the lines of communication, you are better able to identify and address issues before they become serious problems. This helps reduce the likelihood of project delays caused by community opposition, which can cost your company money. A recent report by the SHIFT project quantified the cost of social conflict for a world- class mining project (with capital expenditures of between $3 and $5 billion) at around $20 million per week in terms of delayed production.4 Proactively sharing information with communities also ensures you don’t leave a vacuum to be filled by misinformation about the project, which could create obstacles for you and your company in the future.

Beyond the Business Case

Exploration and mining companies have the opportunity to be part of the larger socio-economic development process at the community level. Engaging with local communities helps companies understand local socio-economic development goals and identify how they can contribute to sustainable growth in the community. And, obviously, it is much more enjoyable to work with others rather than to have to work around or against them.

Demystifying Engagement

Some misperceptions about community engagement exist. The following incorrect assumptions can lead companies to limit or avoid engaging with local stakeholders.

Myth:

Engagement is difficult; it needs to be done by experts.

Reality

Reality

You engage with people all the time: when you speak with local staff, have a drink in a bar, or buy something at a local shop. Community engagement is about being more aware of what you say and ask, and taking note of how people respond. Simple daily activities, such as buying a loaf of bread, can be an opportunity to share information, hear local perspectives, and provide the company with a human face.

Myth:

Myth:

Engagement only leads to requests for projects that cost money.

Reality

Reality

Especially during the first phase of an exploration project, what most local stakeholders want is a relationship with the company and access to information. Often the demand for projects or donations is actually the result of a lack of a healthy company-community relationship. 

Myth:

Myth:

Engagement only raises expectations. It is better to limit engagement as much as possible.

Reality

Reality

You can’t manage expectations by staying silent. Not engaging means risks are not addressed and misinformation is likely to spread.

Myth:

Myth:

We are a very small group of people. We do not have time to engage.

Reality

Reality

Engagement does not require talking to every person about every issue. It’s about being strategic when meeting with key groups on their turf in a respectful manner.

Myth:

Good Practice

The underlying elements of good community engagement are predictable across most contexts. In general, people all around the world are concerned about the same things and respond well to similar approaches. Regardless of timeframes and budgets, even a single geologist working alone can accomplish a great deal at little cost if guided by the following points on good practice:

Say what you do and do what you say.

Following through on promises and commitments is critical to building credibility and the foundations for trust; not following through can damage the company-community relationship.

Listen

Don’t make assumptions about what people think, need or feel. Let them tell you in their own words and at their own pace. Try to understand any underlying concerns, hopes and desires they may have. One way to encourage people to share these underlying interests is by asking follow-up questions like “Why do you say that?”

Show that you have listened

You can do this through your body language (looking people in the eyes if culturally appropriate, nodding, not looking at your watch or fidgeting during long comments or meetings) but also by summarizing the point the other person has made and asking if you understood correctly.

Engagement must be ongoing

If you only meet with stakeholders when there is a problem or when you need something from them you will not establish a positive relationship.

Manage expectations about involvement

Determine which stakeholders you simply want to inform, which stakeholders you want to give a greater say in decision-making, or whom you may look to for advice. Ensure that you are on the same page with these stakeholders about their expectations of involvement; if people expect to be involved in decision-making but you only inform them - no matter how well you inform them - the predictable result will be tension in your relationship.

You can also influence the quality of company-community relationships in three more ways:

  1. Take, and be seen to take, responsibility for project impacts, be they environmental, social, health-related, and so on.

  2. Distribute benefits (jobs, contracts, community projects) transparently so your efforts are perceived as fair.

  3. Demonstrate respect for local stakeholders and their concerns.

High level principles like fairness, transparency, responsibility, and respect can mean different things to different stakeholders in different contexts. It is critical that companies ask questions of local stakeholders to understand how companies can demonstrate these principles through their actions, in the specific context of your project.

Next Steps

What can you find out about the area before leaving for the project site?