Mining companies and community engagement: Getting it right

Mining companies are under more pressure than ever to meet community expectations, or face the prospect of projects being delayed or even blocked. In one example, the coal seam gas industry in eastern Australia has battled to win public support, with the resulting regulations imposed by government threatening to crimp investment and jobs.

How can the resource and energy industry improve its engagement with the community?

Start early

According to Robyn Willey, executive director of BWH Communication, companies can no longer “go under the radar” when undertaking projects which affect the community.

“As soon as an organisation decides on a project location, whether it is rural, regional or near a capital city, community relations should commence, recognising the community’s values and aspirations,” Willey said.

Ignoring or poorly managing community concerns can impose costly time and financial delays, or in the worst case, stop a project completely.

It is important to understand the priorities of the affected community – are more jobs essential or is the main requirement the preservation of the existing environment?

Project proponents must assess the short and long-term social and community impacts, as well as ensuring consultation outcomes are built into the project’s development. By engaging with key stakeholders early in the process, companies can establish strong relationships which can continue through the construction and operational phase.

Regular engagement

Engagement should be a dynamic process which includes feedback throughout all stages of a project. Regular consultation is more likely to reveal important issues and provide valuable information as the project develops.

Companies also need to be consistent in their messaging and their engagement, as those that choose to engage only at a certain point have the “least opportunity of success,” Willey said.

Importantly, the process must be genuine and allow real communication between the project and community. Taking predetermined decisions under the guise of consultation will inevitably erode goodwill and be seen as token.

During construction, make sure the project team understands their responsibilities to the local community and is proactive, rather than simply reacting to issues as they arise.

By engaging early and often, resource companies can ensure they build trust and win genuine goodwill from their local communities. This will ensure the award of that crucial but hard to obtain ‘social licence to operate,’ which ultimately is also crucial to business success.

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