3.1 A systematic approach to community engagement and development

Developing sound relationships with local communities and other stakeholders requires consistent performance. For some companies, poor social performance at one site can affect their reputation and ability to perform at another. A systematic approach will help to maintain consistency within and between operations over time. Systems provide institutional memory so that commitments made by key personnel at a particular time, such as during exploration, are captured and managed appropriately for the entire life cycle of the operation, instead of information being lost when individuals leave or the operation moves on in its life cycle.

Some mining companies have invested considerable resources in developing and implementing management systems for community engagement and development. The elements of those systems typically include the use of socioeconomic baseline studies and social impact assessments; planning; the documentation of procedures and program delivery; regular reviews and audits against defined standards and objectives; and a strong focus on information management. Those elements apply to all stages of mine life, including closure.

Some key components of a systematic approach to community engagement are outlined in the following sections, under the headings of:

  • community and stakeholder identification and analysis
  • socioeconomic baseline studies and social impact assessments
  • risk and opportunity assessment
  • engagement and development plans
  • monitoring and evaluation

The overarching element of all community development undertakings is inclusive engagement. Identifying stakeholders, gathering baseline data, conducting impact assessments, developing projects and plans and monitoring and evaluating all of these activities should be as inclusive and participatory as possible. That is, involve community stakeholders in designing and implementing research studies and monitoring programs as much as possible, so that community knowledge and understanding of the mine and its operations and impacts and how they are managed can be enhanced.

As depicted below, community engagement and development should be a cycle of continuous improvement in which assessments informing planning and human and financial resourcing decisions and monitoring the improvement of all aspects.

Figure 2: Continuous improvement cycle of a community engagement and development system

Figure 2: Continuous improvement cycle of a community engagement and development system

The most important element of all, the process that embraces all the others, is inclusive engagement. None of the activities should be undertaken in isolation, and all should involve community members and other stakeholders whenever possible, working towards the empowerment end of the IAP2 Spectrum explained in Section 1.2.3 of this handbook.

The following case study demonstrates the importance of inclusive engagement, as women often raise concerns different from those of men.

Collapsed - Case study: Gender-sensitive community engagement-Exploring for coal in Mongolia

Footnote 1

In late 2005, Rio Tinto Mongolia LLC began an early-stage exploration program for low volatile coking coal in the vicinity of Khuren Gol village in Gobi-Altai Province in the south-west of Mongolia. In May 2006, two camps (one for exploration and the other for drilling) were mobilised near the village. A community relations officer (CRO) also visited the camp at that time. The exploration camp comprised about 20 people, including the catering and logistics team, and the drilling camp about 40 people.

After the camps were established and the CRO was on board, Rio Tinto Exploration held a series of public meetings to introduce the team and explain the plan of work. The first was held in June 2006 and was chaired by the village governor. More than 30 people from the local area attended. Rio Tinto Exploration prepared an information sheet about the exploration activities. The Rio Tinto Exploration team observed that, while there was some good discussion about the information being provided, there were misconceptions because information about the exploration activities had previously been received only by word of mouth, and some rumours had started. Nevertheless, the first meeting recorded queries and responses to the information sheets and the discussion.

In the second meeting, Rio Tinto Exploration confirmed the program of work and responded to the issues and questions raised at the first meeting. The company also suggested that the community establish a community advisory group (CAG) to open communication channels between the company and the community. During the meeting, the community nominated and elected members. The CRO ensured that there was equitable representation among family groups. In the end, the membership comprised eight men, two of whom were young men. The third meeting continued the discussion and the CAG began its work. It was the CRO's role to liaise with the village governor and the CAG and build relationships with local community members, including women and youth.

In May 2007, the CRO was permanently based in the exploration camp. She began door-to-door consultation at the household level with the village's 114 families in total, which fell into five groups. She spoke to individual family members wherever possible, not just to the head of the household, who was usually a man.

The CRO found that, while the men agreed that the CAG and the information provided by the company about the exploration program were adequate, many of the women had additional questions and concerns. Those questions had not been raised with the company previously because women tended not to speak openly in the public meetings and were not represented in the CAG. Many of the women complained that they were not being adequately consulted and wanted a separate committee to voice their concerns.

A women's group was never formally established, but the CRO began a formal program of consultation to gather perspectives from the women. She organised a women's meeting at the village centre in late July 2007. All the women from the five family groups were invited. A total of 20 women attended the meeting. The CRO reported that the women appreciated the chance to meet collectively and voice their issues and concerns.

During the exploration activities, Rio Tinto Exploration hired men to help with groundwork but there were no opportunities for women, who wanted to know what employment opportunities there would be for them if a mine were to proceed. Other concerns raised related to their children's education, employment opportunities for their children and husbands, the livelihoods, income generation, and pasture and vegetation. Some women said that they would be sending their children to university for education in mining so that they would have a job in the future. They saw mining as their children's future.

At that meeting, women also suggested that it would be better if the company aimed to have significant consultations with women in winter because they do not have as many household responsibilities in that season. In spring, women have to take care of baby animals, in summer they are busy processing dairy products, and in autumn they are focused on preparing their children for school and preparing for winter. The women also asked far more specific questions than men did about possible threats to pasture and about rehabilitation methods and plans, as they are responsible for processing milk and other dairy products and pasture affects the quality of those products. Although men raised some of the same concerns, both individually and in the CAG, women were more detailed in their line of questioning about the pasture.

As a result of this work, Rio Tinto Exploration learned to be more responsive to the issues and concerns raised by women, and to undertake any significant consultations in the winter months.

Footnote 1
A version of this case study originally appeared in DRET, Social responsibility in the mining and metals sectors in developing countries, 2011.

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