A new study has used a mobile phone survey to reveal how better relationships can be formed between mining companies and local communities.


Many mining and resource companies experience significant costs every year due to conflicts with local communities. In the oil and gas industry, project delays have nearly doubled in the last decade due to community conflict. Goldman Sachs estimated this cost about $6 billion; around a quarter of the total investment.

Trust is a crucial component of any good relationship. In business it is an invaluable asset which can make the difference between success and failure. Building trust is not always easy. Once lost it becomes even harder to regain. This is especially true for mining companies and the communities they work alongside who understand that with trust comes acceptance.

Dr Kieren Moffat from our Resources in Society Group, and his team of social scientists, have been working with mining companies and communities to redefine and improve these relationships for the benefits of all. Understanding local issues and factoring them into business decisions is proving to be a powerful way to prevent damaging conflict.

Listening to communities

In a pilot study in South Africa working with Anglo America, Dr Moffat and his team used mobile phones to collect data to understand local community views on mine activity, in real time.

‘We started by doing an in-depth survey of around 450 community members per site, then  used mobile phone technology to deliver a series of regular short surveys to a select group of community representatives over a 12 month period,” said Dr Moffat.

The scientists’ tracked response to a range of issues related to the mine including dust, noise and vibration, the effectiveness of existing social investment projects, employment, skills training and development initiatives.

“This transparent approach created a safe space where the company and community could interact,” said Dr Moffat.

“This is what we call ‘reflexive’ listening: seeking to understand the view point of another by reflecting back their idea to confirm they are understood correctly.”

Learning, earning and maintaining trust

Survey results found that participants generally viewed the mine’s impact on local business, community development and the environment in a positive light.

“Community members felt listened and responded to by the mine which in turn increased their trust and acceptance,” said Dr Moffat

“We saw women in those communities stand up and speak in public forums for the first time to tell the company what it was like to be their neighbour, and work to co-design strategies for addressing these challenges”.

The survey results were aggregated and analysed using sophisticated models by the research team. These insights were then reported to an interactive dashboard. Using data collected from mobile phones meant the information could be communicated in real time.

We are now developing this approach into a commercial tool we call Reflexivity.

“We have collected data from more than 14,000 community members in eight countries, including the 12-month pilot at five mine sites in South Africa and Australia,” Dr Moffat said.

“Our job now is to scale this model up to realise its full commercial potential and give voice to the tens of thousands of community members living around large mining and infrastructure projects.”

See more information about Reflexivity and our work charting attitudes to mining.


  1. I agree with the comments above. Australia is a quarry to be exploited by these companies. Cleaning up must be an integral part of their enterprises and if this is not possible they shouldn’t be given access. Our water is also irreplaceable and they waste and pollute it with importunity.

  2. Absolutely shocked that CSIRO is catering to the mining companies. Please stop and think about the communities that are made up of very educated people.
    It appears that no matter how much research is done, and facts presented it is ignored. Rehabilitation of mining sites in most cases is nonexistent. Bonds don’t cover costs and land is left desolate.
    Thank you Helen and Jenny, I agree with you both.

  3. If this non science propaganda is the new face of the bowed-to-sabotage-the-future-for-commercial-interests CSIRO, then it is time to send this organization to the dustbin of history

  4. I think this is ludicrous. Just because you open a dialogue between two parties it does not mean that one of those participants is going to change their environmentally wrecking ways. There is no way I would trust a mining company. Take a look around the world and see the damage they have inflicted on many communities. Lock the gate, send them on their way and you will not have to clean up the mess they leave.

    1. Agree with Jenny. Feel good obfuscation is the norm these days but fools few. ‘Our’ gold mine pretends that its sulphide ores alone will not be acidic, and cites an official paper that said no such thing. All mines leave a desert behind, and governments accept tiny bonds, Furthermore many mines simply go on care and maintenance which means no rehab at all. CSIRO should not be aping big business. There is much written on the effects of mining- how about doing your research, citizens everywhere have done. Shame on you.

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