Canadian Mining Journal

Feature

40 questions miners need to ask themselves

Approach local communities with deliberation and forethought



Mining companies should want to support sustained positive outcomes for local communities. But, doing this effectively is easier said then done. It requires a deliberate, thoughtful approach. How do you know if you’re on the right track? Here are the top 40 questions you should ask if you and your organization really want to support sustained positive outcomes for local communities.

These questions are based on 150 interviews with a broad range of stakeholders involved in extractive development. You can read more about those interviews at www.netpositivenr.org.

  1. Why does it matter to you? Why do sustained positive outcomes for impacted communities matter? Why are you invested in making it happen? Is it in line with your values or the ‘way you do business?’ What is the business case?
  2. What do you know about the local community? What are their priorities, concerns, dynamics? Who makes decisions? What are their constraints and pressures? Understanding the local context is the foundation for building relationships and participating in informed discussions.
  3. Do you get the local context? Mining often takes place in areas with limited infrastructure and services, a history of colonialization and/or conflict, and few alternative economic drivers. Do you understand how this context influences community dynamics, decisions and your relationships?
  4. How do you learn about the community? Are you thinking outside the box to get more involved in community life or build new connections and relationships? Do you attend community events and invite community groups to company events?
  5. Who holds the relationships with community representatives? Do those people have the right level of authority, skills and resources? If you are working with Indigenous communities, do you have a ‘chief to chief’ relationship?
  6. Do you know the right people? Do you have relationships with both formal and informal leaders, as well as with women, youth, and people from marginalized groups?
  7. Did you show up early enough? Have you invested time upfront in relationship building? Have you made sure you are engaging with the right people (e.g. diverse groups, traditional land users) from the beginning?
  8. Are you giving the community enough time and information to plan, make decisions, and take advantage of the benefits of mining?
  9. Does the site take community input seriously? Do your permitting and investment decision-making processes include steps to support this? How have you adapted your ways of working to align with community ways of doing things?
  10. Are communities part of decision-making? Do they have the time, resources, and access to information to participate?
  11. Is the community at the table and do they really have an equal seat? Have community members been able to develop the skills required to equally participate in decision-making? Have you acknowledged power imbalances that might exist?
  12. Can you address power imbalances? Can the company help bridge any gaps in resources, capacity, or expertise? If the company is not the right organization do this, can someone else such as an NGO or government agency?
  13. What value does the community bring? In addition to local business and local hiring, what community knowledge, expertise, or resources can add value to the project/operation?
  14. Are you prepared to pull the plug? It is possible that the impacts of an operation are too severe. If so, are you ready to change direction? Would you change plans for an expansion, or a new road, or a tailings facility?
  15. Do you behave like good neighbours? How do you cultivate a culture of respectful behaviour within the organization?
  16. Do you tell the truth? Are you honest about how decisions are made? About potential impacts and benefits? About the inherent uncertainties of mining?
  17. Are you scared to share information? Are you open about risks and opportunities? How do you respect materiality or proprietary information while being open with stakeholders?
  18. Other than community leaders, who do you have a relationship with? Civil society groups often play an important role in supporting communities, managing impacts and sharing benefits.
  19. Who holds who accountable? Successful relationships with stakeholders depend on accountability. How is the site held accountable? How are local leaders held accountable?
  20. Do you see the situation as a zero-sum game? Do you feel like giving something to one stakeholder group means giving something up or taking something away from someone else?
  21. How do you value the ‘soft stuff’? Companies tend to focus on quantitative performance (such as share price, production, schedule, and budget). How are qualitative successes, like partnerships, acknowledged and rewarded?
  22. Can people come to you? What are the entry points for a community to build a relationship with you? Are there real or perceived barriers, either tangible (fences, language differences), or intangible (power dynamics, cultural differences, fear)?
  23. Achieving sustained positive outcomes for local communities from mining requires having a vision and plan for the future. Is there a community vision or plan? Is there a joint company-community vision or, how has mining been factored into the community’s plans?
  24. Who owns the plan? Who tracks progress? How are groups held accountable?
  25. Can you talk about the future? This can be difficult for mining companies given the inherent uncertainties in the industry. It can also be difficult for communities when there are pressing day-to-day issues to address or when they don’t have enough information. How do you try to overcome this?
  26. Are you leveraging other stakeholders? Are you working with other organizations and leaders to meet common objectives? Who else is committed to improve social outcomes and positive mining activity? What academic institutions or civil society groups could you partner with?
  27. Have you thought about cumulative impacts? Do you work with other resource development teams? Are you leveraging the way you share benefits and manage impacts?
  28. What are your systems? How do you make decisions? Are they codified and prescribed like permitting or consultation frameworks? Are they more informal like gut-check decisions made at a boardroom table? Are your systems well understood by your team? By other stakeholders?
  29. What are the community’s systems? Do you understand the formal and informal ways the community make decisions?
  30. Where do your systems align? How you have found ways to align your ways of working with community and external stakeholders’ ways of working?
  31. Can you get creative? Can you work with other stakeholders to co-design systems (e.g. for consultation, environmental monitoring) that work for everyone?
  32. How do you manage life of mine changes? Is there a smooth handover between the exploration, construction and operations team? How do you share information about impact mitigation, relationships, and the local context for example?
  33. Who is in charge of social performance? Is there a senior person who is accountable? Is social performance siloed or well-integrated?
  34. Are the right departments or people accountable? This is important for impact management but also for managing external relationships. Are roles and responsibilities clear?
  35. How is social performance incentivized? Are responsibilities integrated into employee annual performance reviews and bonus structures? Does this conflict with other goals/incentives?
  36. Where are your blind spots? Company systems are often designed with technical and production objectives in mind, not social objectives. Have you thought through they way your systems inadvertently impact sustained positive outcomes?
  37. What is the company’s worldview? Our worldviews influence how we see the world and others and affect how we build relationships. What are the company’s priorities, constraints, values and beliefs? Where are the differences in worldviews across management, corporate and site, field employees, etc.?
  38. What are communities’ worldviews? There are many beliefs and values that influence the way mining affected communities see the world. How do livelihoods, land use, spiritual practices, the local economy, and history affect this worldview?
  39. Does the company worldview set the tone for mining activity? In mining, profit-based worldviews often dominate and shareholder requirements drive many decisions.
  40. Is it possible to find a balance? Can decisions about mining activity consider different local community perspectives and worldview? Where are there shared values, beliefs, and priorities?

CAROLYN BURNS is director of operations at NetPositive, a non-profit that works with diverse stakeholders to help local communities see sustained positive outcomes from mining. JANE CHURCH is a co-founder and director of collaboration with NetPositive.


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