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Mining Indaba Focuses on the New Science of Stakeholder Outreach

Kelly Alderson's picture

Mining Indaba 2014At Indaba Mining, the annual gathering Feb. 3-5 in Cape Town of leaders of Africa’s mining sector—from government, corporations and civil society—the words “sustainability” and “stakeholder outreach” were ubiquitous. This focus on sustainability issues reflects impressive progress made in recent years around how mining can contribute to shared value.

Many Indaba veterans commented that just five years ago, sustainability issues, and more specifically stakeholder engagement strategies, were barely discussed.  But one could have spent this month’s entire conference learning about community outreach, stakeholder engagement and communications.

The rise of stakeholder outreach to the top of the priority list at Indaba is a notable achievement. But more can always be done, as was pointed out by the “Alternative Indaba”, a counter-conference organized by civil society groups parallel to Mining

Indaba to press for a clear agenda to support mining communities.  What struck me, though, was that mining companies were asking for the same thing; clear guidelines on how to manage community engagement.

The focus on outreach to mining communities from both sides of the dialogue makes it clear that “stakeholder outreach” is the new science of the mining community.  While the science of environmental, health and safety management has developed into a structured and transparent system over the past decade, this process is now underway for stakeholder outreach— but it is at an earlier stage, still tentative and exploratory. 

Sir Paul Collier, the author, former World Bank economist and expert on African economies, focused his Indaba keynote speech on one clear message, “communications first” when mining companies enter the field.  Over and over again, companies emphasized the importance of listening to communities, rather than communicating from the top down. 

The next step in developing this science of stakeholder outreach is to focus the discussion on management structures companies need to guide  their efforts and evaluate performance.  Companies would benefit from case studies of stakeholder management structures that include good and bad experiences, common standards for measurement and key performance indicators for evaluation.  These metrics are needed to enable companies to show that they are managing stakeholder outreach systematically, rather than committing to communications and community outreach without evidence to prove that they are delivering.

One speaker highlighted the need for stakeholder outreach to be mainstreamed into corporate structures, as is done for risk management.  Risk management is a standard practice in almost all companies. It brings all employees to the table to identify, measure and assess risks they face,  along with their consequences and how these risks will be managed to minimize  their impact.  Each risk is quantified in terms of likelihood, impact and cost so that corporate leaders can budget for contingencies. 

Stakeholder outreach needs to be managed the same way, as a cross-cutting issue that is part of each employee’s responsibility and everyone must “own” some of the responsibility for making it work.  

While some companies already do this, the discussion at Mining Indaba should inspire more of them to make these management structures more transparent. Other companies, majors and juniors, can learn from them.  Due to the complexity of stakeholder outreach, in which diverse and sometimes contentious social, economic, cultural and environmental issues interact, a scientific approach may be difficult to achieve. But steering the discussion in this direction will make great strides in helping both companies manage stakeholder outreach and communities share the value of mining operations. One relevant tool is the EI Sourcebook (http://www.eisourcebook.org/) an online compendium of mining practice produced by the World Bank Group in partnership with the University of Dundee’s Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy. It includes a detailed section on Stakeholder Consultation and Participation.

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