Many interesting topics were covered during the Boréalis Conference 2013, held in Brisbane on September 18-19. Community Benefits – Creating a positive change was the main subject of the conference and this allowed us to cover a number of unique case studies, best practices, in addition to raising a few questions and even debating issues specific to the extractive industries. There were three main threads to the conference sessions: the CSR model, Organizations and Time.
The CSR Model
Discussions frequently led to the conclusion that we must change the model used in our approach to company-community relations. On one side, we need to reach out to communities, open our systems and share information in a view of increasing transparency. Technology is an enabler of such change. On the other, we need to define and agree on common boundaries that can help outline and support increased transparency, and build relationships of trust.
We also need to talk about the “inreach” approach, as opposed to the outreach approach. Until recently, we have focused a lot on outreach and getting the community to understand company activities. Now, what we should really focus on is ourselves, and getting our people to really understand the communities in which we operate through detailed inductions, ongoing training, and awareness programs. This needs to apply to all departments and throughout the organization.
There are three barriers within our organizations that must be broken to maximize our positive impacts on communities.
- Silos exist between departments that have direct impacts on communities. Human Resources, Procurement and Community Relations all work towards different objectives, which leads to internal misalignments and mixed messages.
- Social Performance has to be a primary consideration up to the executive levels. Also, priorities related to social performance will change with the project life cycle. For instance, they are quite different during project development vs. operations…
- Internal stakeholder engagement: corporations are communities, so we need to use our social skills to engage internally with all departments. As one delegate mentioned, there are role takers and role makers. We need to make this change to build awareness around community benefits.
This thread was very strong throughout all the sessions. Time is a concept that differs greatly for a company that wants to develop a project using a very definite schedule and a community that has been evolving for decades or even hundreds of years. One delegate mentioned that projects are actually two-phase developments as the concept of time is misaligned between stakeholders. There are at least three issues we should pay attention to:
- Common language: we need to agree on common languages with communities and time is an essential piece of the puzzle.
- Exit strategy: it must be well understood and the timing has to be clear in order to ensure the proper focus on sustainable community benefits.
- Community contracts or agreements are a vehicle that has been used successfully to define benefits, outcomes, as well as common language and timing.
In addition to these main threads, we did cover a number of technologies that Boréalis has been working on over the last year.
- SaaS : Software as a Service offering that will provide a standard platform encompassing the main Boréalis modules in a subscription and web based approach. This was developed following requests from junior mining and exploration companies during last year’s conference.
- Boréalis Analytics: analysis tools to create ad hoc or specific reports based on existing data in the Boréalis Application. Again, this is a development that followed an important thread from last year’s conference.
- Mobile Solutions: modules from the Boréalis Application are now available through iPhone, iPad and Windows applications to consume data as well as to create information while offline. Data is synchronized once a network connection is available.
Lastly, a number of Boréalis modules that assist in the management of community benefit were discussed and presented:
All of these discussions led us to look at our work that was done in the area and how through the subjects discussed, we could build industry specific solutions that would help and assist the changes identified. Industry platforms could support specific industries such as Coal Seam Gas in Queensland or the Oil and Gas sector in emerging markets. Combining multiple players in an industry platform could help and address cumulative impacts amongst other things.
Technology can assist in making a positive change but will always only be a part of the puzzle. As seen during the sessions, process, the CSR model, but most importantly people are essential pieces of the puzzle. These pieces must be optimized if we truly want to achieve the most out of community benefits programs, leading to the successful development and operation of our projects.
Thanks to all the delegates and invited speakers for the very rich discussions, and for your participation in the sessions and debates. We are looking forward to seeing these changes being implemented in the next few years and hope to be contributing actors in the process.