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.”