Action Research highlight: A community’s ‘right to know’ – Adding practical support to the idea of prior consultation

An IM4DC-sponsored action research project acknowledges the vital importance of systematic community capacity building prior to the commencement of mining activities.

Stakeholder capacity to understand and take positive action around mining and sustainable development is a well-recognised challenge. The primary response to this challenge has been to build industry capacity to manage impacts and maximise benefits. More recently, the focus has broadened to include governments and civil society groups in developing countries. This reflects an acknowledgement that in-country leadership and national/sub-national frameworks are pivotal to achieving development outcomes from mining investment. Efforts to build community capacity have been less systematic than for government, and largely undertaken on a case-by-case basis. Where it does occur, community capacity tends to become a focus after mining activities have commenced, rather than as a preparatory step.

Most studies that consider community capacity focus on future needs; that is, what do communities need in relation to a current or proposed mining activity. This research is innovative in the sense that it asks the question retrospectively. It focuses on communities that have experienced the project development process and asks them to ‘look back’ and consider the question: what did you need to know in order to (i) cope with the change that mining brought, and (ii) make decisions that are in the best interests of the community?

The benefit of retrospective analysis is that communities will have a more concrete and ‘first hand’ sense of what would have been useful to know prior to the commencement of mining activities. Questions posed as future propositions lack this experiential dimension.

A collaborative approach using in-country research has recently focused on communities around the Ramu Nickel Mine in Papua New Guinea (PNG). This mine was selected on the basis that it has been operating for not more than three years, ensuring that the community’s experience is recent and accessible.

Senior researchers Dr Deanna Kemp and Dr John Owen from the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining at The University of Queensland conducted research over a period of six days in the field, working with IM4DC alumnus Lesley Bennett from the PNG Chamber of Mines and Petroleum to engage with local people in order to capture their perspectives. Select government, civil society groups and local universities were also interviewed.

This research will foster a trans-Pacific dialogue between two IM4DC countries – PNG and Peru, and will serve as a platform for a ‘comparative conversation’ about community capacity and prior consultation. The research will also support an initiative led by Mr Antonio Bernales from Peruvian-based NGO Futuro Sostenible – a Community Capacity Building Protocol for Mining Communities, enhancing the global application of this tool.