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
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 starting 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.
Key points raised included the importance of checking your assumptions as well as understanding that context is everything. These were demonstrated with observations of when the engagement process might unintentionally miss key sections of a community, due to timing or format of engagement, and it was highlighted how talking to locals of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, classes and ethnicities, provides details about a community that are not available elsewhere.
Integrating an exploration programme into the pre-existing fabric of the community is crucial for developing positive community relationships, and essential 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 the location 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 barbecue, can act as an opportunity to celebrate the campaign and thank the community.
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), Benedikt Steiner (University of Exeter, and 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.
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.
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.”
Half of the workshop funds were donated to the Pact-led Moyo Gems Project, which supports women artisanal and small-scale miners and their male allies 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 mostly 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 so those less privileged can attend. Planning has started to build on the foundations of this for future workshops.
To collaborate and/or participate, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We thank the speakers and facilitators of the workshop whose invaluable experience and expertise helped provide a socially responsible framework for exploration to work with moving forward. We also thank the workshop participants who helped create open discussion on the role of geologists in a sustainable future. Ten workshop places for those in need were generously sponsored by Sínese.
Cassia Johnson, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, UK. @cassiajohnson
Rowan Halkes, Camborne School of Mines, University of Exeter, UK, and Core Team Member of People and Mining. @RowanHalkes
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.
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: www.peopleandmining.com/community-communication-for-exploration-geologists/