3.4 Community involvement in monitoring design

Building and maintaining community trust and the social licence to operate are essential ingredients of sustainable development (the leading practice Community engagement and development handbook addresses these concepts in detail). Including communities in the design and implementation of monitoring programs is one way organisations can strengthen relations with key stakeholders and build trust through transparent information exchange and inclusive decision-making on issues that affect them.

Including the community also allows the organisation to tap into local or traditional knowledge of social and ecological systems.

Community involvement in monitoring design can include working with:

  • indigenous communities and traditional owners on identifying and monitoring species that have cultural, food or medicinal significance
  • adjacent communities in the design of air and water quality monitoring programs
  • farmers or other land users on monitoring impacts of mining on current or potential land-use options
  • naturalist groups on the current or previous known presence of rare or threatened species
  • community leaders on matters relating to historic and traditional cultural heritage.

The starting point for conversations and the inclusion of the community in monitoring design and implementation is often the environmental and social impact assessments; however, leading practice companies seek to engage the community at all stages, even for already operating mines. The ICMM’s Community development toolkit provides useful tools to assist organisations to plan, design, and implement inclusive monitoring and evaluation processes (ICMM n.d.).

Collapsed - Case study: Co-management of impacts of below-watertable mining on culturally significant and ecologically sensitive Weeli Wolli Springs and Creek system by traditional owners and Rio Tinto

The Weeli Wolli Springs and Creek is a unique hydrological and cultural feature in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia. The area is listed as a Priority Ecological Community (PEC) by the Western Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife. It is also an area of high cultural significance to the traditional owners of the land who believe that the spirit of Yurduba, the rainbow serpent who is guardian of permanent waterholes, is in the creek.

Hope Downs Mine, a joint venture operation between Hope Downs Iron Ore and Rio Tinto, is about 5 km to the west of the springs. Operations at the mine are managed by Hamersley Hope Downs Management Services. Mining commenced in 2007.

Because the developing pit went below the watertable, the mine required dewatering and the discharge of large volumes of groundwater. A considerable section of Weeli Wolli Springs is within the cone of depression from the dewatering, so most of the groundwater is subsequently discharged into the springs and down the creek. Dewatering and discharging could have an impact on the hydrology and ecology of the Weeli Wolli ecosystem.

Comprehensive environmental and heritage management plans and wide-ranging monitoring and evaluation mechanisms have been developed by Rio Tinto in cooperation with traditional owners. The cooperation goes back to July 2006, when traditional owners and company representatives held a bush meeting at the creek to discuss managing environmental and heritage issues and to identify culturally appropriate ways to include the traditional owners in issues relating to mining operations and the creek. An outcome was the formation of the Interim Weeli Wolli Creek Co-Management Board, which comprises five members each from the Nyiyarparli and Banyjima peoples and four Rio Tinto representatives.

Notwithstanding that the traditional ownership of the Weeli Wolli Creek area has not been fully resolved, the co-management board has had periodic composition reviews to ensure that traditional owners are appropriately represented.

The role and the objective of the board is to oversee and provide advice and guidance to Hamersley Hope Downs Management Services and conduct leading practice environmental and heritage monitoring and management for water discharges from Hope Downs Mine and their effects on Weeli Wolli Creek and its environs. Meeting every three months, the board discusses emerging and ongoing issues in relation to the ecological and cultural values of the springs and creek. The board members also evaluate progress made by Rio Tinto in monitoring and managing the identified threats and review the findings of independent scientists. The feedback from the board plays an important part in the development of adaptive management plans for the area.

The board members and others from the two traditional owner groups participate in ecological monitoring of the springs and the creek system. The program is known as the Living Water Survey and is held twice a year. It involves monitoring and measuring a wide range of parameters, such as the water quality, biota (algae, macro- and micro-invertebrates, fish, other animals and plants found in the water and creek bed).

The board also oversees several subcommittees that deal with specific issues, and the findings and recommendations of the subcommittees are ratified at the meetings of the full board. More broadly, the board sponsors a wide range of projects aimed at conserving the traditional knowledge and values of the creek system and informing the wider community about them.

This is one of the first instances in the Pilbara of a large mining operation and traditional owners working together to mitigate environmental impacts associated with important aspects of mine development. The concept of co-management, in which all parties learn from each other and work collectively towards achieving sustainable outcomes, is emerging as a leading trend among mining operations in the region.

3.4.1 Elements of a socioeconomic monitoring framework

Coinciding with the emergence of sustainable development reporting requirements such as the GRI and voluntary codes such as Enduring value, there is increasing recognition among leading practice companies of a need to develop robust and transparent social performance monitoring. This should be rigorous, context driven, socially engaged and locally relevant, and should:

  • provide systematic and consistent information that can be a basis for the assessment or quantification of community change and development at various stages of a project’s life cycle
  • inform both operational and community decision-making and feed into key community investment and development programs
  • integrate with broader operational strategic planning and management frameworks, thereby making it easier to include community considerations in a whole-of-operation approach to sustainable development
  • include external stakeholders at all stages of the development, implementation and reporting of the framework
  • engage community aspirations for regional development and benefits transfers
  • acknowledge, identify and respond collaboratively, where that is locally appropriate, to the broader cumulative impacts and benefits arising from mining or other local industrial activity.

3.4.2 Monitoring framework for indigenous (traditional owner) communities

Particular consideration should be given to ensuring that monitoring systems adequately address the impacts of mining operations on indigenous (traditional owner) communities. Historically, the economic and development benefits that accompany mining have often failed to have substantial positive flow-on effects for indigenous communities. In the past two decades, there have been moves to redress the imbalance. In Australia, mechanisms such as Indigenous land use agreements, community investment and development funds, and employment and training programs are now providing opportunities to formalise mining companies’ commitments to Indigenous communities and meet their development aspirations. The aim is to ensure long-term, sustainable and culturally appropriate outcomes for Indigenous people.

For these initiatives to be successful, understanding the changes that can take place in Indigenous communities affected through mining and community development programs is important for both mining companies and the affected communities. Timely, rigorous and transparent social performance monitoring has an important role in providing stakeholders with the capacity to influence, steer and promote development programs in a culturally appropriate and responsive manner.

The leading practice handbook Working with indigenous communities (DIIS 2016c) gives detailed guidance on indigenous engagement and economic development.

3.4.3 Criteria for selecting socioeconomic indicators

Socioeconomic indicators should be selected with the goal of providing a consistent, reliable and valid dataset that can be sustained over time. Ideally, indicators should comply with the general principles of:

  • validity—logically measuring what they are supposed to measure with appropriate sensitivity
  • reliability—remaining consistent over time and involving consistent community engagement in data collection
  • simplicity—not being overcomplicated, particularly if the community is to participate in data collection (which will also need to be manageable to maintain reliability)
  • comprehensiveness—encompassing all the complexity likely to exist in the sampled population
  • availability—being easy to collect
  • practicality—not being onerously resource intensive (adapted from Black & Hughes 2001).

However, in a real-life operation, where there are many competing demands on time and resources, the rigid application of these criteria can be too constraining. Socioeconomic frameworks therefore need to be developed with considerations of cost and availability firmly in mind. Rather than developing a suite of purpose-built indicators, it is sometimes more effective and practical to use information that is already being collected by other, preferably locally operating, agencies (for example, local environmental surveillance groups, local or state government bodies or community organisations) or can easily be generated from the operation’s standard operating procedures (for example, employment or procurement data for sources of hired labour or for local spending and benefit transfers).

Furthermore, rather than relying solely on ‘objective’ quantitative measures, the inclusion of qualitative feedback from local experts or community groups, collected in a consistent and replicable format, can substantially enhance the usefulness of the information obtained. This approach, which might not always lend itself to conventional statistical analysis, nevertheless has the substantial advantage of being practical and capable of capturing a range of community inputs and voices. Finally, using multiple indicators for each of the primary mine domains or community assets also minimises the risk of misreading or ignoring significant trends.

3.4.4 Monitoring for social performance over project stages

As indicated elsewhere in this handbook (sections 3.2 and 3.3) and other handbooks in this series, planning and development for an effective monitoring framework should occur as early as possible in a project’s life cycle. The earlier the operation is able to establish the regional socioeconomic starting point, or baseline, the more that operation will be able to clearly delineate, track and understand the changes that take place in a community as a result of the project.

It may be necessary over the course of a project to adjust a monitoring framework and enable indicators to take into account shifts in operational circumstances, such as major transitions from construction to operations; expansion programs; changes in workforce delivery mechanisms, such as the introduction of fly-in/fly-out; or unplanned contraction. For projects with a long life, such as 25 years or more, or operations established in a greenfield environment, the indicators of high importance during construction may diminish in importance as the operation matures and the community adjusts to changed circumstances, and will certainly differ from the suite of indicators of importance during closure. While the fundamentals of a monitoring framework may remain intact for the life of the mine, elements of a framework must be adjusted where necessary to accommodate shifts in project life cycles and community perceptions and drivers, as well as expansions and contractions.

Share this Page