Getting more from your baseline studies

ESG Performance |  20 August 2023

  1. If you are serious about managing social risk then establishing a quality social baseline is an absolute necessity. After all, if you don’t know the starting point you can’t measure the change. 
  2. Social Baseline Studies aim to ensure that enough of the right data is collected and analyzed to enable the company to make informed decisions at each stage of project assessment, development and operation and should have a framework for measuring effectiveness of future interventions and programs.
  3. Studies cost (a lot of) money and you need to get the biggest bang for your buck. One way to do this is to get them done early enough to influence project design because avoiding a problem is always cheaper than fixing it.
  4. Front end loading - kicking off the scoping phase and the desktop work during exploration – gives the best opportunity to get in front. If you’ve missed that opportunity it isn’t the end of the world but it means you need to move quickly. The later you start the further you are from the pre-project state and the harder it becomes to claim credit for improvements or defend against accusations of causing harm.
  5. Starting as early as possible also helps to overcome the common challenge that the timeline to complete the social studies is often longer than the timeline for completing the technical studies. In the past this meant that the social studies suffered by being cut short or having their scope reduced but increasingly governments refuse to grant permits and lenders won’t sign on until the environmental and social studies are complete.
  6. It is worth remembering that not every social aspect requires the same level of study on every project. So while the list of issues – environment, demographics, socio-economics, in-migration, health, human rights, conflict; – might seem overwhelming it may well be that some are not required for your project. Taking a little time upfront to think through and identify the issues will help to put you on the right track. 
  7. All social studies have a core of common demographic and social information that ideally should be collected once and used everywhere. Unfortunately what tends to happen is that the various studies are run in parallel using different specialists who all want their own data, so you end up collecting the same information many times, which not only costs money but annoys the community people you repeatedly survey. So thinking a little bit about how you structure the scope of work for each study and doing what you can to streamline the process can save you money and get a better result.
  8. It is also worth remembering that every type of social baseline study is staged, with a scoping phase followed by a rapid assessment and then more in-depth studies. As with the technical studies, the scoping phase is when you need the ‘grey hairs’ – people who are experts in their field and have been around the block and can quickly get to the issues that matter and get you focused on looking at fit-for-purpose solutions.
  9. Last but not least when designing and implementing social baseline surveys it is critical that the end points – restored livelihoods, effective impact mitigation and a measurable net benefit to the community, are firmly kept in focus. The old adage ‘garbage in – garbage out’ is particularly applicable. So ask your consultant how the study he is proposing to carry out is going to answer those three questions. If your selected expert can’t explain what he (or she) is doing for you in a way that you are able to understand then you owe it to yourself to find someone who can. 



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