To build positive relationships ahead of exploration, start with stakeholder mapping
Mining exploration doesn’t happen in a silo. During exploration, stakeholder engagement is important because it sets the expectations and the tone for relationships throughout the life of mine. This includes relationships with the many people and sub-groups that make up the local community, local governments, and civil society organizations. A good relationship with local stakeholders during exploration builds the foundation for a site’s social licence to operate and a company’s capacity to meet permitting requirements throughout the life of mine. In recent years, there has been an increased interest from investors, mineral and metal end-users that engage with product consumers, home and host governments as well as civil society in companies’ relationships with local stakeholders. All of these groups want to see evidence that miners are building a quality relationship with local stakeholders and that this relationship is informing their social and environmental performance.
Despite its beneﬁts. there are a number of reasons why stakeholder engagement doesn’t happen. People don’t have the skills or resources, it’s not well planned, there is a general ‘fear’ of talking to people and sometimes we just lack the creativity to get out there and build relationships with new people. A great way to address these barriers is to plan for and schedule stakeholder engagement. Stakeholder mapping and analysis can kickstart good engagement with the people and groups you need to reach.
There are ﬁve main steps to effective stakeholder mapping and analysis:
1 – Understand your objective. Why are you doing this exercise? Most companies map stakeholders to identify people who are impacted by and can influence their project. Identifying these priority stakeholders will help you focus your time and resources on building relationships with the people and groups who matter most.
2 – Identify all possible stakeholders. List out every group, sub-group and person you can think of. Remember all the sub-groups that make up the local community, including Indigenous Peoples, people who have land rights and groups that may be disproportionately impacted by your project and future mining activity. Remember that Indigenous groups may have rights to land and water that they don’t use everyday. Once you’ve made your initial list, identify stakeholder positions (what they say they want) and interests (why they want it). Don’t think of the local community as one group with the same positions and interests. They can have overlapping and conflicting feelings about mining activity. They may have many different positions based on their current land use and the history of mining (and other land-based activities) in the region. Start to record what you know, but don’t assume you know the full story. Review all the documents at your disposal, spend time googling and visiting local social media sites. Talk to peers, permitting ofﬁcers, land departments and other stakeholders you already have a relationship with. When you start engaging with people, you can learn more and update your stakeholder register.
3 – Map the stakeholders. Once you’ve identiﬁed all the stakeholders, start to map them out based on who is highly impacted by your activities and who has influence. Don’t forget about groups with informal influence. Local governments and informal community leaders don’t always have formal decision-making authority over permitting processes, but hold signiﬁcant soft power.
4 – Map the connections. Once you’ve mapped everyone’s impact and influence, use lines to visually represent how they are all related. This will help you understand who has influence over whom and understand the nuance and sub-text between groups. You won’t have access to all the priority stakeholders, so you may have to be thoughtful about building relationships through stakeholders with lower impact and influence. You also have limited resources and identifying a group that has influence and connections with multiple stakeholders can help you scale engagement activities.
5 – Plan your engagement. Once you’re done mapping, you can plan to get out and talk to people. Think about who is most important and if you want to inform, consult, involve or collaborate with them. You should seek to build a strong relationship with any person or group that is highlight impacted by your work as well as those that can influence your activities. We don’t have unlimited amounts of time to talk to everyone, so be sure to prioritize. Engagement activities can include formal meetings and consultation, but also rely on informal interactions between you, your team and anyone you identiﬁed on the map.
Tips for building local relationships
Now that you have a plan, you’re ready to start building relationships. Here are some last thoughts and tips.
Mapping and planning doesn’t have to be fancy or take a ton of time. It does require you to be intentional and document your thoughts. Especially at the early stages of exploration, you can use basic charts and notebooks, you don’t need special software.
Just by being present in an area, you’re starting to build a relationship with local stakeholders – so make sure it’s a positive one. Train your team and let them know who the priority stakeholders are, their expectations for how the team should behave, and the main messages you want to share with local stakeholders. Lean on people in your team who are extroverts and enjoy getting to know people. If you’re invited to a community event or meeting, see it as an opportunity to learn something and have fun.
Don’t forget civil society organizations. Non-proﬁts, community-based organizations and religious groups are important stakeholders. They often have strong ties to the community and know the dynamics. Even if you don’t agree on everything, they can help you build relationships with community groups and be an advocate for you. If you leave them out, they will likely ﬁll the void with their own information or opinions of your mining activity.
Look for complementary interests. Local communities and stakeholder groups will have many different positions about your activities. Don’t take it personally. Understand that there are many interests that drive these positions. By understanding and respecting them you’ll start to see where people with divergent positions, actually have complementary interests. This will help you understand the real nuance and complexity of peoples positions and build strong and lasting relationships.
CAROLYN BURNS is executive director of the Devonshire Initiative
(www.devonshireinitiative.org), a multi-stakeholder forum that supports cross-sector collaboration to support sustained positive outcomes for mining-impacted communities.