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Practices to people

Community–company relationships are critical to the success of mining projects. An accessible workshop aimed at honing the communication skills of exploration geologists highlights the importance of cross-disciplinary perspectives and knowledge exchange.

Words by Rowan Halkes and colleagues
15 September 2022
Potassium salt mine (Pixabay)

Negative perceptions of the mining industry are largely driven by the impacts of mining on local communities, which rightly face great scrutiny. Mining practitioners are aware that social and environmental impacts present a great risk (and opportunity) to the industry. Exploration geologists—who are positioned at the frontier of mining projects—can set the scene for responsible and positive community engagement. Yet, while geologists hold an important communication role, they are rarely equipped with the skills needed to build community–industry relationships.

To help address this gap and build communication skills within the sector, the organisations People and Mining, Ore Deposits Hub, and the Social Practice Forum collaborated to deliver the workshop ‘Practices to People: An Introduction to Community Communication for Exploration Geologists’. The seven-hour virtual workshop was held over two days in April 2022, and involved 60 participants from 22 countries across six continents, with experience ranging from undergraduate students to seasoned professionals. While similar training exists, it is often expensive and tailored towards the needs of large mining companies’ employees. In contrast, the ‘Practices to People’ workshop offered a starting framework in which to operate, based on the perspectives of social scientists, sustainability practitioners and exploration geologists. The workshop was the first of its kind to offer truly accessible and inclusive communication training for exploration geologists who will shape the future of the mining industry.

A multidisciplinary team from the Social Practice Forum, including Liz Wall, Luc Zandvliet, Laura García Jaramillo, Simon Wake and Ian Thomson, together with experienced exploration geologists, led interactive sessions, discussions and teamwork activities based around real-world scenarios. The sessions focused on three themes: 1) What to know, what to do, and how to behave; 2) Putting it into practice: how to get started and what it should look like; and 3) How to leave properly.

Techniques and tips

Prior to work at a new site, it is common practice for exploration companies to plan their technical activities and develop an overview of the existing infrastructure and geography. However, social planning is just as essential. The team must understand local customs, procedures, and ways of working, as well as tangible and intangible power hierarchies. When boots hit the ground, exploration geologists should have a baseline knowledge of land ownership, official and unofficial leadership structures, and just compensation strategies. Afterall, no matter what the exploration permit says, mining companies are guests in the community—the community does not owe you anything.

check your assumptions and understand that context is everything

One of the key points raised was to check your assumptions and understand that context is everything. This was demonstrated with the example of young men in Greenland as an unexpectedly vulnerable population because they are especially susceptible to suicide and highlights how talking to locals of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, classes and ethnicities, provides details about a community that are not available elsewhere.

Integrating the exploration programme into the pre-existing fabrics of the community is crucial for developing positive community relationships, and foundational to this is local procurement and collaboration as a means to build trust. It is also important to manage expectations by, for example, concluding community meetings with a summary of key points that clarify any commitments made, or not made, for the project’s current stage.

Once the exploration campaign is concluded, it is important when leaving to ensure that all aspects of the project and community engagement are satisfactorily resolved, any commitments made are delivered upon and outstanding grievances are resolved. The ‘leave no trace’ principle should be standard. A ceremonial event marking the end of the exploration campaign for both the company and community, such as a BBQ, can act as an opportunity to celebrate the campaign and thank the community.

Communication Challenge

The workshop participants put their skills to the test during a Communication Challenge. The Social Practice Forum team, together with exploration geologists Lucy Crane (Cornish Lithium Ltd., UK), Benedikt Steiner (University of Exeter, UK & Xplore Global Ltd.) and Benjamin Teschner (Colorado State Board of Land Commissioners, USA) came up with exploration scenarios from around the world and challenged the participants to work together in teams to answer questions relating to community communication issues that can arise during exploration programmes. Groups also worked through the reverse scenario with Benjamin Teschner, imagining an exploration company exploring near their home communities, bringing into focus the importance of empathy for the community.

geologists have the potential to be a positive interface between the community and the corporation

These exercises brought home the practicalities of community interactions, providing the participants with a deeper understanding of the role of exploration geologists, as well as a framework of extensive exploration experiences to learn from. While many of the communication challenges are similar regardless of location, they are nuanced by local cultures and settings, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. The exploration programme must integrate and build positive relationships based on open, honest, consistent and realistic communication. Above all, the workshop emphasised the need for respect—for culture, land and customs—underlining that an exploration company is a guest.

Positive interface

Exploration geologists have the potential to be a positive interface between the community and the corporation. Equipping geologists with communication skills is crucial for the healthy development of this relationship, and is imperative to earning and maintaining the social licence to operate, both on a project and industry scale. Open communications from the beginning builds a foundation for the responsible development of a resource project.

It was inspiring to see students, early career and senior professionals striving to improve their communication skills and eager to drive positive change in the mining industry.  The workshop also highlighted the progress that has already been made, as one of the workshop facilitators said: “if I’d suggested a workshop like this 20 years ago, I would have been laughed out of the room”.

 


Supporting communities

Half of the workshop funds were donated to the Pact-led Moyo Gems Project, which supports women artisanal and small-scale miners in Tanzania to get a fair price for the gems they extract, and will be used to provide personal protective and mining equipment for the women miners.

We are committed to offering future workshops that further facilitate the exchange of knowledge across traditional disciplinary boundaries and professions, and aim to provide financial assistance to those less privileged to attend. Planning has started to build on the foundations of this for future workshops.

To collaborate and/or participate, contact us at team@peopleandmining.com


 


Testimonials from participants

“Thank you so much guys! It was fantastic as a junior geologist to have this experience.”

“An incredible experience for young professionals who want to work in the area.”

“Such a fantastic two days… it was one of the best training sessions I’ve had in the past few years!”

“The event was excellent, I didn’t expect it to be but the team blew my mind. I enjoyed it and learned a lot”


 

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the speakers and facilitators of the workshop whose invaluable life experience and expertise provided a socially responsible exploration framework to work from moving forward. We would also like to thank the workshop participants, who helped create an open and inquisitive space for the much-needed discussion on the role of geologists in a sustainable future. Ten workshop places for those in need were generously sponsored by Sínese.

 

Authors

Rowan Halkes, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, UK and Core Team Member of People and Mining. @RowanHalkes

Cassia Johnson, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, UK. @cassiajohnson

Dr Alannah Brett, Institute of Geological Sciences, University of Bern, Switzerland, and co-Founder of Ore Deposits Hub. @EarthDocAlannah

Joshua Sandin, Centre for Research into Sustainability, School of Business and Management, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK and Core Team Member of People and Mining.

Correspondence address: team@peopleandmining.com

 

This article is an edited version of the original event blog post written by Cassia Johnson with help from Alannah Brett, Rowan Halkes and Joshua Sandin, available at: https://www.peopleandmining.com/community-communication-for-exploration-geologists/ 

 

 

 

 

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