SLO Guide to Community Engagement
Why this matters: Engaging constructively with local communities is critical to every part of your business which means that it needs to be done well by everyone who works for you or with you. Good community engagement is as important to your bottom line as good design, attitude to health and safety and how you manage costs. How you engage sets the tone for your relationship with local communities and works best when it is a shared responsibility and an explicit part of every person’s job. The way your employees and contractors engage with local communities is important because it is the only opportunity your company has to listen, to learn and to share ideas, concerns and solutions with local people. Most importantly if engagement is done well you will be able to stay on top of issues and respond more effectively to changing circumstances. This is turn will help you use available resources – people, time and money - more efficiently and effectively by doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done in the best way possible.
|WHAT TO DO:
||HOW TO DO IT:
- Use language that people understand: A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t explain your policies, processes and practices to your wife or partner or son or daughter they are too complicated;
- Use your local staff (see “what else” for some ideas);
- Always be prepared so you can make the most of opportunities if and when they arise;
- Avoid the trap of only speaking with a narrow range of people –listen widely, triangulate what you are hearing and make well informed decisions;
- Time project updates for local stakeholders to immediately follow any disclosure to the market or regulators (see “what else”) for some ideas.
|Aim for consistency
- Ensure good internal information sharing and coordination between employees, consultants and contractors;
- Provide clear guidance to staff and contractors – what can and cannot be said, and what can and cannot be promised – and explain your processes to the community;
- Develop a fact sheet(s). Topics could include a description of the company and its activities in the country, uses of the product you are hoping to make, an outline of your company culture - vision and values and how you work, key points from your engagement activities with local people – who you have been speaking to, the issues raised and your responses, an explanation of recent activities (drilling, sampling, baseline studies) and how people can contact the project team. You can decide how often you update the information – monthly or quarterly are common practices but it is important the information is kept up to date.
|Be responsive to community inquiries and questions
- Provide easy to use contact points – drop boxes in town or at the office, a free call telephone number, contact email address take very little effort;
- Allocate someone to coordinate responses;
- Keep track of promises and commitments and provide feedback.
WHAT ELSE YOU CAN DO:
Good Engagement has 3 parts:
Preparation is equally valuable whether it is for an informal discussion, a single meeting, a serious negotiation, a campaign or to develop a broader strategy. It can be as simple as 3 people around a whiteboard or on a conference call for 10 minutes and as complex as an all-day retreat for a large group with an external facilitator. It all depends on the complexity of the issue, the level of risk or the size of the opportunity. Being prepared means knowing why; what; how; who; where and when. How the company and your employees Act is just as important as the issues. Maintaining a focus on interests; behaving in a respectful manner; dealing with people who are angry and upset, handling conflict; managing expectations and having the right people in the room all influence the outcome. How the company maintains the relationship in between physical meetings determines how successful the next time you touch base will be. Effective and timely Follow-up allows the company to be seen as reliable and interested in the relationship. It the last impression the company will leave. It also ensures that the valuable knowledge gained is captured, shared and acted upon and the investment of time and effort is fully rewarded.
Use your local staff: The community does not start outside the gate. You engage with it every day through your local staff. You have a captive, easily accessible and influential stakeholder group. Many community members base their perceptions of the company on the stories of friends or relatives who work with the company so make the most of the opportunity. Use the fact sheets described above to ensure your staff know the what, why and how of the project. Think about how to use your staff to test out your messages and delivery before going out into the community . Learn from their insights. Use the daily toolbox talks to discuss issues and kill off rumors. Chat over lunch. Get to understand their connections – yours wouldn’t be the first place where the most junior person on site is a respected opinion leader in the community. And don’t forget to include your contractor’s staff – drillers, caterers, drivers – you’ll be surprised how many internal stakeholders you have and the depth and breadth of their interests and knowledge.
Community Committees: Community consultation / advisory / development committees can provide a safe and easily accessible venue for community members to raise and resolve issues. The success of these committees depends heavily on how they are structured and whether their mandate is clearly defined and understood. Defining roles and responsibilities up front; using a third party / independent facilitator; ensuring the process used for selecting representatives is endorsed and enforced by the community(s); active sharing of information and ensuring members communicate with their constituencies all play an important part in successful committees. Holding committee meetings in the communities not only makes it easier for people to attend but also demonstrates that the company is willingness to actively participate in community life. Using a local NGO skilled in building local governance capacity and community mobilisation can be helpful when putting these structures in place.
Using the right tools: The very nature of good engagement means appealing to, and communicating with, a diverse audience, so there can be no one-size-fits-all solution. Picture books, fact-sheets in the local language, story-telling sessions, traditional street theatre, community radio and sharing of video-taped community committee meetings are all techniques that have been used successfully at different times in different places.