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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
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.
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.