Summary of Key Findings

Introduction

What we learned

Toolkit

On this page we outline key findings from a 2020-21 research project addressing CRC ORE’s Program 4 emphasis on understanding and managing the complex network of stakeholders whose internal drivers and interactions potentially impact social licence to operate (SLO).

In 2018-2020, Ernst and Young identified SLO as the number one risk for mining and metals, noting an evolving stakeholder landscape along with increasing stakeholder capacities and influence. Understanding this current and future dynamic environment is crucial to making informed decisions, avoiding costly disruption to mineral extraction, and maximising the benefits of mining for all. 

Why this research?

Understanding the dynamics of the stakeholder social and political environment is crucial to:

  • making informed, socially accepted/supported decisions about the development of mining operations;

  • avoiding costly disruption to mineral extraction;

  • minimising adverse stakeholder impacts;

  • co-creation of good mining practice; and

  • maximising the benefits of mining for all. 

What we did

This research deployed a multi-perspectival approach to understanding stakeholder networks as a means to:

 

  1. Map the drivers and interactions of the multiple stakeholders operating in the Australian mining sector’s socio-political environment.

  2. Understand stakeholder perceptions and expectations around what might constitute good mining.

  3. Develop tools to enable multi-perspective understandings and approaches to improving achievement of a robust social licence.

 

Our multi-perspectival approach to understanding the socio-political landscape and drivers and interactions of stakeholders focused on the Adani (Bravus) Carmichael Coal Mine (CCM) as an empirical exemplar of a mine with complex stakeholder interactions operating across local, state and national scales, and unfolding across time.

In line with the aims, our research questions focused on understanding stakeholder perceptions of:

  • the key drivers informing engagement with debate around the CCM;  

  • the positions and interactions of diverse stakeholders, and importantly,

  • what might constitute good mining.

 

The aims and research questions were addressed across three stages undertaken with the approval of the QUT ethics committee (Approval Number 2000000218). 

Stage 1 involved substantive desktop identification, collation and analysis of public documents, submissions, and news & social media, to identify social and political drivers of key mining stakeholder groups involved in debate around the CCM. 

Stage 2 centred on the conduct and analysis of 42 semi-structured interviews with identified stakeholders active in the CCM case. Interviewees were asked for their personal perspectives and experiences as opposed to speaking on behalf of official stakeholders and groups. Participants were asked about what ‘good mining’ would look like and if they could think of any tools that might be useful in achieving good mining. The research team thanks the participants for their generosity in participating, and for the richness of their shared insights.

 

Stage 3 encompassed the development of tools identified in the research process to distil research learnings and enable nuanced stakeholder navigation of the social and political environment attending mining in Australia.

The contemporary Australian mining social and political environment is characterised by a number of interrelated factors that together work against efficient, transparent and beneficial stakeholder engagement:

  • mining approval processes are now taking longer;

  •  Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) documents require more information, yet work against transparency;

  • court action is expected as matter of course;

  • it is becoming harder to get financing and insurance for mining operations in the absence of a SLO;

  • stakeholder identities cannot be considered fixed; and

  • stakeholder views on specific mining operations and/or the specific sectors of the industry seem to be increasingly polarised in the public sphere

  • information deficits and misinformation are perceived by a wide array of stakeholders to undermine transparency needed for open debate and problem solving. 

 

Patterns of stakeholder engagement are complex and demonstrate:

  • disruption of business-centric stakeholder engagement, and substantial influence on the part of stakeholders that were not initially identified by the company in the EIS process.

  • a dynamic hierarchy of stakeholder drivers in terms of influence and emphasis, and divergences at the regional, state and national levels.

  • that process limitations associated with the EIS process play a key role in shaping debate around mining operations.

  • a strong perception of the importance of the role of public media in shaping (mis)understandings of mining operations.

The complexity of stakeholder interaction is demonstrated in the below case study of the endangered Black -Throated Finch. The finch emerged as a highly influential local environmental impact for a range of stakeholders, and intersected with many other key themes in often unexpected ways.

Importantly, stakeholder groups appear to have limited communication with people who have significantly differing views. Further, there is a significant and consistently evident mismatch between a given stakeholder group’s stated drivers and key issues and external perceptions of the stakeholder group’s drivers and key issues

This mismatch hampers the trust and transparency, and open dialogue, central to good mining. 

 

This research demonstrates that questions of power, and relatedly of truth and transparency, are central dimensions of the socio-political landscape and shape stakeholder interrelations.

POWER: Interview participants highlighted that power imbalances lie in the influence a mining company might have on a stakeholder to make decisions that stakeholder might not have otherwise made. This power might be exerted through the control of material or financial resources, or through more symbolic forms of power such as drawing out negotiations or limiting opportunities for two-way stakeholder engagement.

TRUTH AND TRANSPARENCY: Almost all community and civil society research participants emphasised the need for high quality independent reviewers and representatives to oversee all aspects of the approvals process.

 

GOOD MINING: as perceived across the spectrum of stakeholders interviewed, encompasses an interconnected and dynamic set of best practices involving both industry and government centred on:   

  • increased transparency and trust;

  • improved engagement;

  • accessible information; and

  • independent processes and forums to facilitate conversations among stakeholders who may not recognise shared values.

 

Central to good mining, in the view of almost all community and civil society research participants, is the need for high quality independent reviewers and representatives to oversee all aspects of the approvals process and to thus build trust in the information given and decisions made.

 

Correspondingly, there was a perception from those same categories of participant that mining organisations: (a) are selective in their provision of information to external parties; (b) do not consistently conduct adequate research into areas of importance to a range of stakeholders; and (c) that the independence of external consultants that are currently contracted by companies to conduct additional research and analysis is inherently compromised by their financial attachment to the company.

In response to the research findings, and drawing on the expertise and experiences shared by interviewees, the project delivered a suite of three interconnected tools to enable multi-perspectival understandings and approaches to improving the achievement of SLO:

  1. Interactive Timeline;

  2. ANT Stakeholder Action Planning Tool; and

  3. PREDICT Principles of Good Mining.

You can explore these tool under the Toolkit menu.