Building personal relationships that lead to better collaboration
In the Jan 2020 issue of Canadian Mining Journal, we wrote about the importance of partnership and collaboration to achieve sustained positive social outcomes in the mining context. 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.
But, the idea of partnership is much easier said then done. Many organizations want to pursue a collaborative approach, but don’t know how to get started. Often the easiest ﬁrst step is to build relationships at an individual level which can then support a broader, more systematic approach to long-term collaboration.
1. Identify who you want to collaborate with and why
We tend to get stuck working in silos. Yet collaboration with local stakeholders is critical, particularly when trying to achieve social goals, such as implementing an effective local content strategy or developing a local workforce for a mining project, is critical. The ﬁrst step to collaborating is identifying which organizations or individuals would be helpful to reach out to, get information from, or involve. Then, be clear on why you want to collaborate with them. You may not know yet what the end result of collaboration will be and your purpose for collaborating may be fairly basic to start, such as just gathering information. Taking the time to prepare and understand your own interests in collaboration will make any outreach you do more effective.
2. Look to your own personal and professional network
Often times we have individual relationships with people who can connect us to other organizations or stakeholder groups or at least provide the big picture understanding that makes new relationships easier. Who do you know in your personal or professional life that could give you insight into a government body, NGO, company or community?
3. Get out of your comfort zone
We often participate in the same type of events and conferences. If you’re interested in building new relationships think about who isn’t at the events and conferences you go to. Perhaps you want to build more relationships with community stakeholders but you only attend technical or industry events where community stakeholders do not attend. Where do other people gather or go to learn? Can you ask to join those activities? There are more and more multi-stakeholder forums such as the Devonshire Initiative and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative that offer opportunities to meet people from other stakeholder groups. These types of forums can be an effective way to hear from other stakeholders and understand their perspectives and experiences. The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada convention also offers opportunities to hear presentations or meet people from multiple stakeholder groups. It can be intimidating to go to a session that isn’t in your ﬁeld (and you might not know all the jargon!) but it is a useful way to hear different perspectives and ideas.
4. Spend time with people
Collaboration requires communication and a degree of trust between individuals. That is hard to develop if your interactions are transactional. Spend time with the people you want to build relationships with in informal or social settings. This gives individuals the opportunity to open up, get to know each other and build an understanding. When you’re invited to a community cultural event, a company social or asked to sponsor a sports team, use that as an opportunity to get to know people and build trust.
5. Be honest
Building relationships with new people can be awkward, especially if you don’t have any history. Be honest with people about your objectives. Acknowledge that you’re trying to get to know people from other stakeholder groups in order to support better collaboration. This will provide context and set people at ease.
6. Check your privilege
Every relationship has a power dynamic. It can be based in actual, codiﬁed authority (e.g. a boss or judge) or unseen power related to historical relationships, education, experience and identity. For example, in Canada as in many countries, mining companies and government ofﬁcials must be aware of the power dynamics between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities that is rooted in centuries of colonialism and governance systems that have excluded Indigenous communities from land use planning and decisions. It is equally important to understand the power dynamics within stakeholder groups, including the dynamics between elected people and community members, executives and managers and other employees. When you are interacting with someone new be mindful of the power dynamics. How are you contributing to a real or perceived dynamic that is unequal? Power dynamics can be overt, but more often than not they are subtle – rooted in speciﬁc words, body language and social norms. Acknowledging your privilege or role in supporting those dynamics is an important ﬁrst step in creating an open and balanced relationship.
Collaboration at an individual level – from person to person – builds the foundation for collaborative relationships on an organizational level. But it’s only the ﬁrst step. Achieving positive social outcomes (whether that be improved local hiring and contracting, greater economic growth, strengthened environmental impact management, or just better stakeholder relationships) requires more systemic collaboration between mining companies, communities, the private sector, government, and civil society groups. As such, there are limits to only relying on individuals to collaborate. When those individuals leave an organization, relationships may be lost. Or, new organizational strategies may emerge that don’t take into account the collaborative relationships and programs that have been developed. Collaboration between mining companies and their affected stakeholders in particular needs to be institutionalized and made a part of the company’s systematic approach to stakeholder relations and social performance.
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.