Ever read something in the media about public outrage when a big, bad mining company steamrolled local community needs? Chances are, if you’ve touched a newspaper or clicked in social media in the past decade, the answer is yes.
Mining can be an issue of great contention and conflict. While an important source of economic revenue, mining can also bring costly social, economic, and environmental impacts to the local areas in which mines are developed.
Calls have frequently been made to make the voices of community members and other relevant stakeholders heard in the processes of mining development. This is done in an effort to mine in a socially sustainable way – with benefits for both companies and local communities.
Social licence to operate
In recent years, the concept of ‘Social Licence to Operate’ (SLO) has gained popularity. SLO aims to ensure social accountability for mining companies in the view of the communities and other stakeholders who are impacted by mining.
The social accountability and social acceptance of mining created by SLO requires engagement and relationship-building efforts by companies with their stakeholders. One form of engagement that is important is two-way dialogue. While a lot discussions around the importance of two dialogue have taken place, less research has examined exactly what that dialogue looks like, and what it can achieve – in the context of social licence.
Understanding meaningful engagement: Dialogue
Recent research by our team proposes two main ways in which dialogue – as a reciprocal process involving diverse stakeholders – is implemented in SLO.
The first is a free-form process of two-way engagement that focusses on both sides learning: this is the ‘learning model of dialogue’. The second is a more structured process of dialogue that has a predetermined goal to serve a specific purpose: this is the ‘strategic model of dialogue’.
Each model comes with its own pros and cons but both are likely to be useful in developing the kind of opportunities that are important for social licence: that is, for community members and other stakeholders to make their voices heard in shaping mining development processes. So what can dialogue actually achieve?
Outcomes of dialogue in mining
Follow up research explored exactly that question by interviewing expert stakeholder engagement professionals in the mining context. Findings indicate that there are two main types of dialogue: informal and formal dialogue – each with different kinds of outcomes.
Informal dialogue – the kind of conversations had over a cup of tea or glass of beer – was seen to result in relational outcomes. These included, for example, the building of meaningful relationships, trust, an understanding of one another, or learning from others’ diverse experiences. This is the kind of dialogue that might best fit under the learning model of dialogue.
Formal dialogue – taking place, for example, in consultations or committee meetings – was seen to have a lot of structure and specific purpose. This resulted in more ‘concrete’ outcomes such as shared decision-making, consensus, or solving problems. This is the kind of dialogue that might best fit under the strategic model of dialogue.
These two types of dialogue are both important and ultimately, best practice would include one to support the other. There is a lot of complexity in this research, but one useful way to apply this information is to ask whether any meaningful dialogue is occurring at all, for a particular community and mining company! If there is no dialogue, how could it start? And if there is a sense of ongoing dialogue being fruitless or stale, leaders and community members can ask whether the balance needs to be adjusted to allow more openness, informal talks, and mutual learning, on the one hand, or to give more structured, formal processes that aim to achieve concrete outcomes, on the other.
It is important for researchers and those involved in mining development to understanding the complex nature of achieving meaningful engagement and social acceptance around mining to ensure that multiple stakeholders groups can make their voices heard – to shape the mining processes that impact their livelihoods.
- Lucy Mercer-Mapstone
A new system of supporting environmental advocacy is urgently needed: Does Universal Basic Income offer a solution?
Over 15,000 scientists from 184 countries recently co-signed the ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’, highlighting the continued deterioration of the health and stability of our global environment. Since the first warning was penned twenty five years ago, there have been some glimmers of hope, such as the impact of citizens engaging in advocacy to demand the protection of our biosphere.
Volunteers sustained and formed iconic campaigns in Australia’s environmental history, however building organised grassroots movements requires time, skill, and money.
In Australia there are hundreds and hundreds of grassroots groups who together – group by group, person by person – form the backbone of the environmental movement. They have had successes with the Daintree Rainforest blockade and the Franklin Dam occupation, and are mobilising across the country on the modern Stop Adani campaign.
However, the high cost to voluntary advocates is overlooked. These costs can include financial instability, unemployment, a criminal record, and in some countries, even death.
Luckily for our communities, and our planet, engaged citizens willingly bear individual costs to fight for our collective rights, equality and power.
With the escalating threat of climate change, we need a substantial percentage of our population dedicated to taking action, whether that’s through planting trees, raising funds for community solar projects, or organising and attending rallies and protests. A crucial factor in increasing the number of advocates is ensuring that current and future environmental advocates have the time, financial stability and equal access opportunities to be the active and engaged citizens we so desperately need.
Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the traditional model of paid advocates to do this work for us. Jobs in the environmental advocacy sector are few and generally unsecure. Advocacy can be silenced because of fears of political, legal or financial retribution against both the advocates themselves and those who fund their salaries or support their voluntary organisations. Furthermore, in Australia, a hostile Federal government has spent years attempting to gag non-profit advocacy work by trying to impose restrictions on their tax deductibility status.
We need a different way of supporting our social and environmental movements.
Universal Basic Income (UBI) may be the key to enabling more citizens to devote their time and skills to advocating for our environment. With the State providing a set basic income for all citizens to cover their basic needs, those who are able to devote their time to advocacy may finally have the opportunity to do so without risking their livelihood. Additionally, a UBI system increases the ability of citizens to retrain, start businesses and have more time as caregivers. However, a UBI system, is not a panacea. Many philosophical and practical questions still need to be answered about its effect on social and economic systems.
Fortunately, with Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland currently trailing versions of UBI, we are a few steps closer to answering these questions. As a result we may be closer to a system that better supports grassroots and unpaid advocates to continue to speak up for our biosphere and our collective future.
As the World Scientists’ Warning notes, ‘with a groundswell of organised grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing’. We all have an opportunity to contribute to this effort.
One of the best ways of contributing is by better enabling the powerful and persistent voices in our communities the resources to advocate for us and the environment.
It is only through that groundswell of grassroots strength that we have any hope of safeguarding our environment and guaranteeing a healthy future for generations to come.
- Robyn Gulliver
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.
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