Natural resource development is a catalyst that brings together individuals and groups with divergent worldviews.
When this happens, there is an increased opportunity for tension and conflict, which makes it difficult for people to work together as partners, make decisions collaboratively, and address issues that affect social outcomes.
A worldview is the set of values and beliefs that influence the way that an individual or group behaves and makes decisions. A person or group’s worldviews are influenced by many different elements, such as life experience, religion, economic standing, history, geography of an area, experience with land tenure, social systems, and institutions, media, social rhetoric and civil society. Groups of people can share worldviews, especially groups that have shared histories, positions, religions, and economic opportunities, or people from similar generations or geographies. Every society is based on a certain set of worldviews. As a result, the systems and structures that we use to function as a society, such as free-market economics or capitalism, are based on and reinforce worldviews. Worldviews are often deeply held and the group that holds the most power often wants their worldview to dominate.
The role of worldviews is relevant to many aspects of mining. Worldviews affect corporate culture and often play a subtle role until they’re thrown into the spotlight. For example, worldviews and corporate culture are central to the push for diversity in the mining sector. As scores of workers retire, the industry will need to attract new workers. These workers are likely to have very different worldviews, based on age, culture, gender and other work experience. A corporate culture that supports diverse worldviews (as opposed to promoting one type of worldview) will attract and retain this talent. Worldviews and culture are also at the core of successful mergers and acquisitions. Many people are curious about how the Barrick Gold and Randgold merger will play out in terms of corporate culture. Will one dominate the other? Will a new culture emerge?
The tension between divergent worldviews is often seen in company-community relationships. The extractive sector has historically been dominated by company worldviews. This is because companies usually have more control than communities over decision-making and set the tone for their relationship. The mining industry does not have a good track record of respecting the worldviews of the communities and governments it works with. This has had a long-term impact on relationships. It has contributed to longer permitting timelines, protests and mining bans. At the end of the day, our inability to manage tensions between worldviews is affecting the future of the industry.
It’s important to remember that community worldviews are not necessarily incongruent with extractive development. There are many beliefs and values that influence community decision-making, such as concerns about livelihoods, spiritual and cultural land use, and desires for economic growth. These play out in the mining context regularly. Community members are eager for jobs, education opportunities and the other benefits that come from mining activities. But at the same time, they are concerned about impacts on water and the ability of future generations to use and connect to the land and the environment. They are concerned about new people moving into their community and the pressure that can put on services, infrastructure, and family dynamics.
When stakeholders are aware of and manage the tensions between their worldviews, it is easier to develop partnerships and work together towards a common vision. Managing tensions between worldviews refers to finding ways to meet in the middle and to achieve common goals in creative ways. Understanding your own worldview and that of others is the first step. Here are some practical suggestions for how mining professionals can do that:
Take the time to listen to other people’s perspective. Try to understand the objective of the person or group you are talking to, negotiating with, planning with. Try to identify their main concern and the values that underpin it. Why does the community take environmental monitoring seriously? Why is land access to that specific area so important? Why do community employees want certain weeks off?
“Don’t close the door on [employees] that mess up – accommodate different schedules, don’t make communities stick to your way of thinking. When companies are hiring people, ask about time off and how to accommodate cultural needs. Industry often sets targets or is forced to hire locally, but then they get away with saying that people don’t work out and have the excuse that they don’t need to hire locally.
This just confirms the company’s way of thinking, as opposed to trying to work with local context.”
– Community member
Don’t assume your way is the only way to do something. For example, if you are planning an environmental monitoring program, how can you ask the local community for their advice? Or, can you partner with communities to build monitoring programs based on their knowledge? When you are developing a mine plan, how can you include community perspectives? Can you adjust where a haul road is positioned to accommodate concerns about land access? This not only demonstrates respect, but you will likely find better ways of working in the local environment where the community has more experience than you.
“We need to listen and understand. We need to acknowledge that we’re not from here and don’t know much. We just have a concept for some work we want to do.”
– Company representative
Remember that people and groups don’t have one homogenous worldview. Try to identify the various concerns, hopes and values that a person or group has. Communities can be both for and against a mining development. They can be concerned about cumulative effects on the environment and excited for the economic and job opportunities. People and groups have many overlapping and sometimes conflicting priorities and experiences that result in complex worldviews.
“Everyone is dealing with the same evolution of their worldviews and from their own angles. If leaders and opinion makers could drive those discussions more openly in society it would lead to better outcomes.”
– Government representative Quotes are excerpted from some of NetPositive’s collaborative research projects (see HYPERLINK “http://www.netpositivenr.org/”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.