Trying to improve people’s understanding of the importance of mineral resources as the first and the most crucial step toward the public acceptance of a mining project
Manuel Nopeia, Group A
Interaction between the stakeholders is very important during the development of a mining project. The scope of the second day of Summer School 2019 was centered on important issues which dictate the success or failure of a mining project, including the role of communication about resources, and the nature and importance of stakeholders’ engagement. All these aspects are crucial when it comes to public acceptance of mineral extraction project.
During her talk about the nature and role of communication, Dr. Hazel Gibson unravelled one of the questions that intrigue many geoscientists and mining companies: “why can’t we get the public understanding what we want them to understand?”. There is a huge gap between experts and non-expert people, a fact that is sometimes given less importance than it should be. Knowing the type of audience is as crucial as selecting the appropriate “language” to communicate, since what we call “public” can be broken up into different subgroups. To identify the audience is as important as to define what you are trying to achieve through the communication: whether you aim to only transfer information to the public or get them involved/engaged in the project.
The quality of the communication may have a direct impact on the level of engagement of different stakeholders during the implementation of a mining project, which was well discussed by Dr. Ian Thomson. It’s impossible to talk about stakeholders’ engagement without referring to "social licence". A social licence is an informal and unwritten instrument granted by the local community. Social licence is crucial during the implementation of a mining project and it must be addressed from the first stages of the project, and throughout the mining life. Absence of social licence may have drastic consequences, including loss of money and time, loss of access to land, etc. In my personal opinion, less attention is given to social licence in most African countries characterized by centralized governance. In Mozambique for instance, companies are just worried about getting the “political” mining license of a specific area which “allows” them to carry on the project shielded by the political acceptance. Conflicts between the mining companies and communities are very common in Mozambique and are highly influenced by the absence of a social licence. In 2015, a local community guessed to be mostly artisanal miners, attacked a tantalum mine in central Mozambique and destroyed millions of dollars’ worth of equipment. This is just one among a lot of sad histories that happen as a consequence of underrating the importance of social license.
Social licence leads to public acceptance of a mining project which is the core topic of workshop A. On our second day, we discussed "to what extent do people understand the use or importance of natural resources (minerals, oil/gas) and whether the level of understanding changes or not the level of support". People can be divided into different categories. When it comes to the level of understanding of any particular issue, it is important to consider the degree of educational attainment. In this sense, people can be grouped into categories, e.g. people who are highly educated compared to people with low educational attainment. We restricted the importance of natural resources in consumer/social use point of view, which includes the quality of life, things we buy and use, etc. The level of understanding is highly determined by the quality of communication, how we inform people. It is important to bring up unexpected examples of the use of mineral resources that can arouse interest in people.
In general, the level of understanding may or may not change the level of support or engagement in the mining industry, which can be passive or active, and negative or positive. However, scenarios, where people stick to their thinking even after being informed about the importance of mineral resources, are common. Some countries or governments rely on the idea that peoples’ minds may change with time, during the implementation of the project, thus, they don’t care about their first impression. This assumption sometimes results in catastrophic events, especially when the people expectations are not met. The most important thing is trying to find out the most appropriate method of communicating or making people understand the role of mineral resources in order to get them involved.
Engaging the community in the mining field
Josphat Nguu, Group B
Do we sufficiently inform the communities of our intention to extract minerals from the land?
Often there is a relationship breakdown between mining companies and the communities. A simple explanation for this is the lack of proper communication or information misrepresentation. By this, we are just scratching the upper surface of the underlying root causes of these breakdowns. To tease out this mystery, the ReStoRe Summer school brought together professionals from all over the world to find a solution. In the first day diving into this topic, several interesting issues came up. One such is the tendency to use broad words such as “public stakeholders” which can be interpreted differently by people with varying background.
To overcome this challenge, it was suggested that it is better to breakdown the word into different parts and tailor the style to everyone’s understanding. This way all the participants of the group can contribute to the dialogues. Another issue that came up was the method of delivery of the information falling between communication which is a one way of passing information or dialogue which allows back and forth feedback. If this is got right the next step to finding the key issues and to effectively sort out the interplay between the community and the mining companies.
Further, it is important to identify the key stakeholders to engage with and using different approaches to tackle an issue. For example, defining the community in terms of being affected by mines or benefiting from the mine. Also asking questions that bring up meaningful dialogues such as the community’s knowledge of their resource and their attachment. Apart from that what do they know about other aspects that might be connected such as biodiversity, conservation, and geosciences?
It is no doubt that people need mineral resources, but how do we tell them about this safely.
Watch out for more in the coming days of the week.
A route towards a circular economy
Alejandro Delgado, Group C
On our second day in RESTORE Summer School, we had two conference sessions. The Morning conference was conducted by Dr. Thomson, who presented what stakeholder engagement is and how it works. Based on some conceptual definitions, models and case studies, Dr. Gibson illustrated the elements that defines stakeholder engagement, as a continuous dynamic process that needs to be constantly validated.
In the afternoon session, we had Dr. Yakovleva, who presented us with some elements of institutional analysis from the perspective of international business, corporate and institutional positions in relation to the relationship with stakeholders.
In our workshop, we had three work sessions where we continued with the development of our proposed ideas in the previous exercise of divergent thinking. With active participation, the members of our group have actively discussed how we understand the system on which we intend to develop our proposal, based on its stages, components, and interactions.
After an intense day of work, we have built a proposal that integrates our system, the factors, and influences in each stage. We also identified the most significant groups of stakeholders and the potential opportunities for each of the stages of our proposed model.
This teamwork has integrated our individual creativity into a collective work, which allowed us to discover elements that challenge traditional thought models and motivate new reflections on the use of materials in the circular economy. Through our teamwork discussion, we identified some challenges for the different industries that make up our current economy.
Our work will continue in the maturation of our ideas and in the tuning of the proposed model. Our objective is to present a route that promotes the changes in our economy towards a circular economy, where the extractive industries participate as relevant actors integrating into their system reduction of waste, recycling practices, increase of lifetime horizons, and efficiency.
Collaboration wins the day
Luke Viljoen, Group D
Day two’s workshop on ethical and responsible sourcing of earth resources started off with an impromptu lecture by Dr Natalia Yakovleva regarding the definition of ethics and a basic overview of supply chain management. This provided the workshop participants with talking points as they refocused from day one to try and define major areas of interest and potential gaps of knowledge in responsible sourcing.
Using brainstorming techniques, students came up with a range of ideas that were both difficult to define and potentially unique. Concepts that were addressed included the possibility of balancing ethics with the right to develop, the potential need of a marketing campaign on the ethical sourcing of resources to change consumer behavior, and the overarching notion that perhaps all this talk about responsible sourcing is too “western” orientated.
While students grappled with a tricky subject, one thing that has surfaced is the value of collaboration among a diverse group of people. With eight nationalities represented from both industry and academia, it is inspiring how ideas can be formed and developed through simple discussion. None of the participants are experts in the subject matter, but through shared experiences, insightful concepts can be created. The rest of the week is certainly going to prove enlightening.