Jack A Caldwell
A provocative observation regarding community relations before we begin: maybe the term and concept are irrelevant and all you should do is practice responsible mining. This thought is prompted by reading a new report available at www.frameworkforresponsiblemining.org. The report is Framework for Responsible Mining: A Guide to Evolving Standard compiled by Marta Miranda, David Chambers, and Catherine Coumans and date October 19, 2005. While this excellent document covers much more than the focused issue of this review, it clearly and comprehensively establishes the basic principles for mine-related community relations. Please read it if this topic interests you and implement it if you are responsible for community relations on a mine. That said let me return to my personal perspectives and observations.
The most successful mining-related community relations campaign I know of involved unlimited funding of a personable young fellow to do what he liked best: drink with the locals in the pub. At much the same time as the geologists hit the field, he hit the bars. He drank and listened and talked. Lest the moralist brand him a drunkard, let me record that he always stayed sober enough to lead the conversation and go home to make coherent notes. During the entire period of mine permitting and development, he knew the pulse of the community, understood their concerns, talked to the opinion makers, and befriended the community movers and shakers. He was never “under-cover”. All knew the source of his unlimited bar funds. It was common knowledge that he arrived at the mine office between ten and two depending on the evening’s activities. He wore plaid shirts and kept his ginger hair trimmed and there was always a mischievous smile and energy about him.
At community meetings, the little old ladies would come to catch his kiss and share a groan; the laborer would come to press his case for a job; and the environmentalist cornered his girl friend who was writing the section on biology for the Environmental Impact Statement. They married and went away and I have not seen them since.
Compare this success to the sad story told me last fall of the mining company that brought in an aristocrat from a neighboring country to tell the locals why they would benefit from a mine. The locals responded by vetoing mining in the area. I know that two world wars are supposed to have wiped out the aristocrats; but this is not so. There is a new breed of privileged that grew up in expensive neighborhoods and went to private schools and travel continents on a whim. They are urbane and affable but innocent and sublimely ignorant of what motives a person born and bred to the earth and a single place. They also underestimate the intellect of locals from poor schools. Avoid them in working with the community around your mine.
Surely community relations for a mine consist of more than finding somebody who is of the salt of the earth and understands the sociology of isolated places? To the extent it is more than the right person in the right place, there are innumerable books, articles, courses, and indeed this review on the matter. But recall that, in my opinion, if you have the right person in charge you have no problems and if you have the wrong person, invest your money in a different property.
I know of no law that says you must undertake community relations when developing or operating a mine. International norms do, but as I have written before, international law has no police or courts to back it up, so I will not delay here on the morality of good behavior other than to say that I believe that in the long run it makes good economic sense to do the right thing. If your project involves an Environmental Impact Statement (or similar) you will be required by the governing regulations to undertake community relations, or at least hold public meetings and provide opportunity for comment by the public.
In every community there is a company that claims the ability to run community relations programs. These companies are usually staffed by folk who studied political science or sociology and like talking to people and compiling lists of supporters and detractors. Employ one of these companies for their local knowledge. But I recommend that every project team have a senior member of the project staff assigned the responsibility of community relations. You simply cannot hand so important a task to an outsider [a consultant]. You must have an insider who is loyal to the company, who has ready access to top management, and who has inside insight to company strategy and procedure.
In choosing a consultant, look to their success record and knowledge of the industry. I have worked with ugly old men and beautiful women on successful community relations campaigns; they all had the toughness and drive and industry understanding required to deal with the public. Kindness and concern for people are not necessarily a virtue. Rather seek hard-nosed realism and skepticism about human nature in your community relations consultant. Beware of the earnest young lady or lad who tells you how good they are at convincing the locals because they have empathy or relatives in the community. What you want is the drive and energy to arrange meetings, get out newsletters, seek compromises, and produce results.
The community relations staff must have what I would call an
inherent integrity. The public is quick
to see through the charlatan. Consider
the dilemma of the new graduate charged with balancing a discussion between
those who wanted the radioactive waste removed from their community and those
who protested that they would rather die than let radioactive waste be shipped
along their roads. In Santee Fe,
Part of a successful community relations program is the regular newsletter or fact sheet (as it is sometimes called). The best examples I know of are those produced by the U.S. EPA. They are generally models of clarity and focus and achieve a good balance of information versus technical complexity. I recommend a study of the many that are available on the internet.
The frequency of issue of a newsletter depends on governing regulations and on the speed with which things are changing on the project. Every six months is about as long an interval as seems proper. I prefer a quarterly newsletter.
The contents of the newsletter must reflect the project and
address the concerns of the community; staff members of the project; the
technology involved; and the goals and objectives of the project. And for a mine, there must be something on
the long-term prospects, and this should not be a trotting out of the mantra of
sustainable development. Rather this is
where the truth should be told. All
mines come to an end and the community is different during the mining and after
mining than it was before mining. A
drive through the Colorado Rockies or northern
This is not an easy tale to tell, but it must be told. You cannot expect the average person to read the dull details of the environmental impact assessment. You must distill this story to a few paragraphs and photos and maybe a visit to a district that has benefited from mining. I spent fun days in the Sierras going from vineyard to vineyard with miners persuading out-of-state community leaders that a mine is not the end, just the beginning of something new and lucrative.
Once a year or better still every few months, hold a community meeting. Use an on-site facility if one is available or select a comfortable local venue with easy access. The meeting must be carefully planned and tightly executed. It may be formal with selected and practiced speakers or it may be informal with lots of simple exhibits. The most successful meetings I have been associated with involved both: in the entry hall were selected posters and exhibits that set the stage and in the main hall from a podium were presentations by speakers who knew the project and could address the issues. There were of course refreshments.
Prior to these meetings, the community relations folk had prepared issue papers and long lists of questions and answers. Everybody from the project at the meeting had been versed in these papers and questions and answers. The trick is the positive perspective unburdened by excessive detail or personal emotions. Screen out the whiner and the activist [give them the day off].
The human part of the project must be there for the public to meet and speak to. The project manager, i.e., the person with the power and authority to say yes or no, must be in attendance. Senior technical staff should wander the hall and talk to the public. The community relations professionals must be everywhere and predirected to seek out the community leaders and opinion drivers.
Have an assigned telephone number for the pubic can to call you. Have your community relations officer available at this number or by quick reference from this number. They must be ready every day to respond to calls, to chat incessantly with the concerned local, and to bring issues to management for action at a moment’s notice.
Survey local opinion if this information will help; but the silliest community relations report I ever saw listed the number of locals who supported the project and the number who opposed it and proposed a new opinion survey of questions designed to elicit more positive answers. That project is stalled.
Get the regulators on your side. How to do this is a large and contentious topic. It has been done, it must be done, and without it you will have no mine. My only mantra is: talk more and write less.
It is sometimes hard to think of the regulators as an integral part of a mine community relations program. In some jurisdictions public meetings associated with the environmental impact documents are officially run by the regulators. This is minefield of worry; you generally have no control over which regulator chairs the meeting or which junior staff makes presentations. You are but another participant in the process. It is at times like this that a long-standing, good relation with the regulators comes into play. If there is mutual trust, you may be able to help them with presentations, handouts, practice sessions, and technical support. I have seen projects flounder and die because of subtly expressed anger from the regulator in his public presentations. Conversely, I recall meetings where the skill and conviction of the well-disposed regulator carried the day.
Where I grew up, the mine was the community and the community was the mine. This is not so in many places today; maybe some of those sun-drenched small towns of the south west are a happy exception. Today we read of outreach programs, local hiring preferences, school building programs, community health centers, new access roads, small business loans. In some places where communities do not think enough is done, they take over the mines—we all have our favorite example, mine being dusty Kimberley, South Africa where but yesterday I read that the government is moving to take control to benefit the community. Select a community benefit program that is consistent with the revenue potential of the property and make it work.
I have made no reference in this review to any internet sites, unlike other reviews you may read on Infomine.com. This is a purposeful choice based on the plethora of sites that appear depending on the key words you use. Another reason is my belief that community relations are successful because the right people work diligently in the right way that is appropriate to the impacted communities. I do not believe there is a formula or even a set of agreed practices. If you think me wrong, and I am sure there are those out there who will, write me and let us expand this review for the benefit of all readers, mines, and communities.