Using technology and data to strengthen your social license to operate
In this digital age there are so many opportunities to use technology and data to improve stakeholder engagement. From video calls to social media platforms, mobile apps, group chats and data portals, it has never been easier to connect with a wide group of people. In 2021, 88% of Canadians used mobile internet. Globally, almost 66% of the population has a cellphone and 60% were active internet users.
Here are five of the best ways you can use technology and data to strengthen your social license to operate.
1 | Share more information with more people.
Companies can use digital platforms to provide updates on mine site activity, summaries of meetings, as well as access to company reporting and grievance mechanisms. In many cases, it might also be appropriate to share pictures or videos of mine site visits or meetings with community members.
At the corporate level, most companies now use data portals to share annual sustainability and ESG information. These portals are being expanded to include more timely data related to mining impacts, community concerns and the company’s social performance. We can also use video and virtual reality (VR) tools to share visual representations of mine plans or current mining activity. Videos are also an important way we can summarize complicated information or show the significance of incidents.
The great thing about communications for local stakeholders is that they can be re-purposed for other stakeholder groups like investors and governments to highlight your approach to communication and engagement.
2 | Learn about the people you are engaging with.
Social media also presents opportunities to gather more information about the people you are engaging with. Desk top research through LinkedIn, Facebook and community websites can give you a good sense of who you are working with, what their background is and how to connect on a more personal level. Regularly listening to local stakeholders on social media can provide useful information about the issues and opportunities that are important to them.
3 | Get feedback from a broader set of people.
In-person discussions and events are extremely important and provide a certain type of information about community dynamics and interests that you cannot get from technology. But social media and technology can help balance out the power dynamics that play out at in-person events and allow us to reach a much broader group of people. This is particularly true when it comes to connecting with women, kids or racialized people. It can provide opportunity for them to voice their opinion and be especially helpful if their opinion differs from community leadership. You can use the usual social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to build polls, or questionnaires for people to respond to.
Work with community representatives to make sure that digital tools are appropriate for the group. In some regions, communities are super comfortable with What’sAp groups, or online polls and surveys. In other regions you might have to use specific apps that work on basic phones, with limited internet, and use the right terminology and language. Ulula is a great example of an organization that works with companies and community groups to design and implement apps so that communities can provide feedback on impact assessments, grievance mechanisms and health and safety audits.
4 | Learn more about yourself.
Social media and data can provide a company with great insight about their relationships with stakeholders and how effective their social performance is. As noted above, listening to community comments and discussion on open social media platforms will give the company a sense of community concern about a broad range of activities including mining. Some mining impacted communities in Canada have closed Facebook groups, but many also use Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to express their opinions. Using these tools, you can get a sense if you are sharing the right information, if it is resonating, and what are the general opinions or questions that community members have.
Companies can also use their own data to determine if they are meeting commitments and expectations around social performance. Regular tracking and reporting on impacts like local hiring and procurement, water, community development programs can help track how well you are hitting targets. Likewise, tracking and reporting grievances, attendance at community meetings, social incidents will tell you much about how effective your engagement with communities is. For example, a decrease in the number of grievances might mean that less people are aware of or using your grievance mechanism. Growing attendance at community meetings can indicate that more people are interested in learning about mining activity and people feel comfortable and confident to engage with the company.
5 | Work with partners.
NGOs are also using technology and data to connect with communities and hear about specific issues. Over the past six years, UNICEF has used RapidPro and UReport as a real time tool to collect credible, up-to-date information from youth. Their tools integrate with popular channels, including Facebook Messenger, Telegram, WhatsApp and Viber to help them reach people in 36 countries. UNCIEF then works with governments and the private sector to interpret massive data sets and share results that can drive action. This is a great example of an entry point for companies and NGOs to work together, to form relationships and share resources required to support good outcomes for communities and build a strong social license to operate. CMJ
CAROLYN BURNS is executive director of the Devonshire Initiative. The Devonshire Initiative is a multi-stakeholder forum focused on improving development outcomes in the mining context. You can learn more about the DI at www.devonshireintiative.org.