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CSR Snapshot #6 – Site-level community response mechanisms engagement

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An in-house, site-level community response mechanism (CRM) can help a company effectively respond to and resolve issues raised by stakeholders and enables companies to operate within local communities. If well designed and implemented, a CRM is a key element of a community relations management system that allows a company and its stakeholders to address and mutually resolve concerns before they escalate into more serious conflicts.

What exactly is a grievance and a CRM?

A grievance is a type of community issue that has become a source of resentment and/or one that is more formally registered with the company. A company that is concerned about its relationships should demonstrate that it takes the matter seriously by investigating the issue and responding to the aggrieved party. A company’s formal process of responding to, and to jointly seeking to resolve such concerns, is referred to as a grievance or community response mechanism (CRM).

Phase-appropriate CRMs are essential business tools that reduce risk, strengthen the community support to operate and drive business value.

Practical First Steps

Find out how local groups raise and resolve issues. A company may wish to design a similar system in-house or link its internal mechanism with an existing local one.

Conduct a thorough stakeholder mapping and analysis. This is usually done as part of a broader, systematic community relations strategy exercise and tells a company with whom it needs to be raising and resolving issues.

Involve key stakeholders right from the start. Involving communities and other stakeholders in the design of a CRM and in the investigative process demonstrates openness and transparency. This in turn builds trust in the CRM and the company over time and enhances the privilege to operate. In addition, it will almost certainly improve the quality of the mechanisms that are put in place.

The Business Case

A practical and effective site-level CRM:

Any community concern, up to and including a grievance, is analogous to a customer service complaint. Consumers expect any business to listen to complaints, validating and responding in a timely and respectful fashion. Companies already understand the value to business of customer service. When we consider the power and capacity imbalances that often exist around large projects, coupled with a lack of respect for the rule of law and potential for rights abuses in some jurisdictions, it is clear that CRMs are a valuable business tool.

Essential Elements of a CRM

Effective CRMs share the following basic design elements:

  1. Receive grievances
  2. Classify
  3. Acknowledge receipt
  4. Investigate
  5. Respond
  6. Close out and sign off
  7. Monitor
  8. Report
  9. Review and improve the CRM process

Myth Busting

  1. Responding to community concerns generates legal liability. Acknowledging mistakes and apologizing can go a long way to building trust with stakeholders. A purely legalistic approach can lead to mistrust and cynicism. Most community concerns and grievances will not generate legal liability unless they remain unresolved.
  2. Dealing with frivolous and/or vexatious claims could set precedents. The potential for vexatious claims can never be eliminated. The most effective way to discourage the submission of such concerns is to have a clear, transparent and consistent CRM process that objectively evaluates the validity of complaints against established criteria, their severity and how they will be handled.
  3. CRMs encourage a flood of complaints, creating risk. Experience clearly demonstrates that having an effective CRM reduces risk.

Best done early in the project cycle

Establishing a CRM should be undertaken as soon as possible for any project. In the resource development sector, this means the exploration stage. By the time there is business activity in proximity to local residents that could lead to a complaint being generated, a CRM should be in place.

Consider

Working with local people to map out which mechanisms (the company’s as well as existing local and international) are most appropriate for what issues.

Core Attributes of Effective CRMs

The following are the generally accepted attributes common to successful CRMs:

Consider

The formal nature of CRMs in no way diminishes the value of internal company management systems (standards, procedures and guidelines) that are in place to record, evaluate and respond to broader types of community concerns and incidents. The relative severity of grievances demands a formal approach to ensure that the community support to operate is not only maintained but enhanced. The CRM is also not designed to negate the option of community members or other stakeholders raising concerns and issues with other non-judicial or judicial mechanisms that may exist in that jurisdiction or internationally.

Scaling the CRM to Specific Situations

Scalability is an important element to consider when designing a CRM, especially for junior mining exploration firms and smaller producers who may have fewer financial and human resources with which to deploy a CRM. Scalability should be evaluated and built into site-level CRM after considering:

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