Mining is a catalyst that brings together people from many different stakeholder groups including local communities (who also may be rightsholders) and all the sub-groups that make up local communities; different levels of government; companies; civil society organizations and NGOs. An approach to mining that supports sustained positive outcomes is not possible without collaboration and partnership. It is not enough that stakeholders are willing to work together – they must put that willingness into practice. True partnership and collaboration means being honest, working together to make decisions, having the time to build trust and relationships, addressing power imbalances, and holding each other accountable. Since 2017, we have interviewed over 150 people from different stakeholder groups involved in mining activity globally to ask what collaboration and partnership means to them. Here is what we learned:
1. Engage with each other as early as possible.
It is best to engage from the beginning, but it’s never too late to open up the channels of communication. Each stakeholder group has a role to play in engagement. Local and regional governments can facilitate discussions in the early days of prospecting. Companies must do their homework to understand who are the stakeholders and rightsholders. Communities can use tools like engagement protocols to be clear about how a relationship with the community should proceed. NGOs and civil society organizations should leverage their local presence and connections to act as conveners and host brokers, to connect with companies that work in the communities they serve.
2. Make time and share the information required to plan, make decisions, and take advantage of economic opportunities.
Building partnerships takes time, and extractive development timelines are not always conducive to providing the time needed to develop partnerships before decisions are made. In addition, those stakeholders involved in mining activity are often running on different timelines. For example, companies may be focused on quarterly and annual budgeting cycles, governments on elections, and NGOs on maximizing often time-limited funding. Communities are responding to both short-term pressures while trying to manage long-term interests.
3. Be honest about the likelihood of extractive development, decision-making processes, the potential impacts and benefits, and the inherent uncertainties of resource development.
There is an important balancing act that needs to take place when it comes to information sharing. Companies, governments, and communities should be open with each other about the risks and opportunities of mining development. Companies are often afraid and/or unwilling to share information because it may be material or proprietary or provide a competitive advantage. There can be also be risks involved with communicating information, such as causing or influencing in-migration and land speculation after communicating a project design. These risks can negatively affect companies, communities, and governments. Yet by being open about these challenges, and working with communities, instead of in isolation, companies can co-develop decision-making processes that meet the interests of the company and community.
4. Recognize that there are power imbalances and put the resources in place to address these dynamics.
The mining development process is not inherently set up in favour of groups working together as partners. The balance of power often sits with companies and governments. Increasingly, companies (and governments) realize they need to address resource or capacity deficits on the part of local partners if they want to be able to get projects off the ground. Addressing power imbalances might look like providing the resources to hire independent technical advisers or conduct independent assessments. In contexts where achieving free, prior, and informed consent is required, this is often the bare minimum needed.
5. Hold each other accountable and be willing to give something up in pursuit of a broader goal.
Stakeholders often see extractive development as a zero-sum game, where giving something to one stakeholder means giving up control or taking it away from another stakeholder. For example, a company sees giving a community more information as giving up control, or a government sees respecting Indigenous peoples’ rights as reducing the opportunities available to non-Indigenous people. True partnership and collaboration require each group to compromise and hold each other accountable for commitments. This can be most difficult for communities, who need to have the power, influence, information, and sense of safety to do so. Companies and governments can enable this.
6. Trust each other. Partnership does not necessarily mean all stakeholder groups will agree with each other all the time, but it does require them to trust each other.
Building trust is not simple when there are complex histories and legacies between communities, companies, and governments. Colonialism, historical trauma or conflict, past marginalization by government or other groups, political allegiances, or prior natural resource development, may affect a community’s relationship with the government, extractive companies, or outsiders of any kind. We must understand and be sensitive to these legacy issues because they can have lasting effects and influence future relationships. Starting from a point of listening to communities and respecting their rights is critical.
7. Be a leader.
Leadership is the foundation for effective collaboration and partnership. Good leaders are willing to partner with others in a meaningful way – to put leadership into action and go beyond rhetoric. They also have the courage to do something different or controversial. This often means they are willing to take a risk, to listen to, or to try to trust the company or the community or the government. It also means they might have to give something up, such as information, an equity position, or a revenue stream, in the pursuit of hopefully greater gains in the form of economic opportunities, an improved quality of life, a smoother or more efficient permitting process, or cost savings and higher share prices.
To learn more about this please visit www.netpositivenr.org.
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.