Land acquisition and resettlement

Thoughts on ICMM’s Land Acquisition and resettlement: Lessons Learned

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ICMM recently published Land acquisition and resettlement: Lessons learned1, a very interesting and comprehensive document that offers great insights based on more than 40 projects worldwide, mainly in the mining sector. Although we’ve been exposed to the International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Performance Standard 5 on Land Acquisition and Involuntary Resettlement for years, we rarely see a more challenging area for companies trying to bring their projects to life in practice. With many things easier said than done – including the identification and documentation of all individuals that will be economically or physically impacted by a project – the definition of a transparent, inclusive and clear compensation framework is quite challenging. And let’s not forget as well the implementation of that process knowing that we’re frequently dealing with the compensation of several hundreds or even thousands of people over a short period of time. The paper refers to several specific modules, most of which are a phase of land acquisition. I’ve chosen a few of them for this blog: Impact Assessments, Engaging stakeholders, Resettlement packages and assistance, and Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting.

Impact assessments

From the drawing table it’s often clear that a project will impact people. Question is: what are these impacts likely to be? To identify them project staff must collect local baseline data, engage with project-affected communities and develop a social management and monitoring plan. Recommendations suggest “Companies should ensure that social experts play a central role in defining the project footprint and examining project alternatives in order to minimize the impacts of land access and resettlement.” (page 16). While I agree with this statement, I also feel that there is some risk regarding long-term sustainability of the data collected; as soon as social experts complete their assessments and leave, the information almost disappears with them, or is left in an unusable format to the project team. Why not put that baseline data to further use throughout the project lifecycle? After all tremendous efforts (and amounts of money) were necessary to collect it.

The challenge with collected data

How can we leverage it (data) to accelerate our passage to the next step? Too often we see companies struggling to take data from ESIA documents and use it as actionable information. Actionable information for… Well among others, reaching out to affected people, defining individual compensation agreements, and ensuring appropriate and timely compensation. Challenges include efficiently managing changes to the project footprint, using many groups of consultants for data collection, and “Poor management of survey data, including the use of an inadequate information management system [that] can lead to loss of data, speculative cropping and building, legal challenges and opportunities for fraud.” (page 17) The article also rightfully suggests putting in place an information management system (IMS) as part of the planning process. I certainly believe that an appropriate tool for data management should come with a great level of flexibility to support the project’s context, while it should not be a fully open, do-it-yourself type of tool either, as this makes risk of fraud very available. Furthermore a fully customizable tool won’t be deployed overnight or in a couple weeks, but in a minimum of 3 to 6 months from now. We know by experience that at this stage in your process, you probably want your IMS for yesterday anyway, so why wait months? As I understand from this article pertaining to 41 projects, there are common trends and lessons learned that can and should be taken into consideration for new or ongoing projects. What if there was already a tool ready to roll out, in which one can set the project’s parameters (entitlement matrix, budgets, performance indicators, etc.), and that could support integration between the project plans, environmental buffers, and affected and replacement lands? Wouldn’t this be an opportunity to save a lot of time, energy and money, as you’re moving forward into project development? I started this section by talking about the drawing table. From that moment on, people are assigned the responsibility of data collection as part of engagement activities or assets / socioeconomic surveys. While information managers can’t replace social experts on the ground, is it risky to ask social experts to plan, collect and manage data without involving information managers from the planning phase on? How much re-work will this create down the road? Is there an opportunity to leverage on potential synergies at this stage of the project?

Engaging Stakeholders

The paper stresses appropriately the importance of stakeholder engagement throughout the entire land acquisition process. It highlights several challenges project developers have to deal with and pertaining to community expectations or failure to engage with all relevant internal and external stakeholders. However from my perspective there’s another challenge that should be considered: if you don’t keep an easy-to-retrieve trace of your engagements, people will, or may, drive you in their own perception of reality. There are often dozens of local staff and external consultants that engage over several months with hundreds and thousands of stakeholders, thus leading to important volumes of information. How to track and classify these thousands of interactions without spending too much time? How can you measure the level of engagement? How to know if all high-priority stakeholders have been engaged with? How can you understand how a grievance raised a few years ago was dealt with if your senior community liaison officer is away, has left or is retired? What among all the noise is actually important – what are the top-5 issues from one month to another, from one community to another – how much time should you spend finding this out? Minutes? Hours? Days? Let’s face it, in today’s reality and economic context time is scarce. Even when it’s agreed on how much leaving a trace is crucial for project development that respects budget and schedule. So experts need to come up with solutions to provide fast data entry options, different entry points all leading to the same destination, automated assistance, quality control dashboards and performance dashboards. All of which act as a binder between all actors involved in that process from the community officer to the social performance department manager and the management team. While it seems most projects already build stakeholder engagement plans and find ways to communicate with key stakeholders, how can they measure the efficiency of their plan? How can they know what’s working well and what’s not before 3-6 months have passed and that it’s too late? ICMM’s article highlights many recommendations relating to record keeping and evidencing of key steps such as a compensation agreements. This is all true, and to add more value to this process our experience shows that the tool you will be using to support this must be flexible enough to support the project’s context (developed countries vs. developing countries, multiple languages, etc.) as this will directly influence the ways to engage, negotiate and compensate affected people.

Resettlement packages and assistance

When compensating thousands of people, one must not forget that the devil is in the details – especially knowing that most times there are several compensation options depending on the impacts to lands, houses, commercial structures, heritage sites, and more. I think it’s clear that implementation challenges must not be overlooked. There are many situations that occur in reality and while there must be flexibility around managing them, it’s also important to have minimum manual interventions (when possible) in order to reduce risks of miscalculations, inefficiencies and fraud. Compensation options often include cash payments – sometimes in one instalment, sometimes multiple, sometimes consumer price index has to be factored in for when payments are extending over a long period of time, sometimes you have to deal with fluctuating local currency even if your budgets are in USD, sometimes you need to split to total amount between 2-3-10 people, and the list goes on. Other options include in-kind payments – replacement houses, farming material, livelihood restoration programs extending over several months, or short-term employment opportunities. And the complexity is that no compensation should be missed, miscalculated or wrongly attributed as this is directly going to have a negative impact on project timelines and social acceptance. It goes without saying that whatever tool you are using to support compensation of thousands of people with the appropriate package in a restrained timeline has got to be secure, intuitive and flexible. It must allow for the definition of the compensation rules, the planning of projects and associated budgets, and the preparation of necessary documents witnessing agreements between communities and the project developer. This should not be overlooked and rarely can be managed in a do-it-all type of spreadsheet – it needs to support the entire program and at the same time must enforce quality checks and production of reliable reports without being open to fraud, a lot easier said than done. As we all know reality is often far from the original plan. Life happens. Better have a tool that can easily be adjusted as you go without compromising the integrity of what was done before and without reinventing the wheel for each new land acquisition project. There are things that work and they don’t need to be redesigned every time. If you’re required 3 months before being able to use your compensation framework for real payments, perhaps it’s time to look around for solutions that can help you today.

Monitoring, evaluation and reporting

The first thing to ask before collecting any data is “What are we going to do with this?” There is no point collecting data if there is no utility for it down the road. Surely this is one of the reasons why the ICMM paper refers to the definition of baseline and monitoring indicators during the planning process. As indicated, “The purpose of monitoring is to provide project managers, as well as directly affected persons, households, communities and project financiers with timely, concise, indicative information of whether compensation, resettlement […] are on track to achieve sustainable livelihood restoration […] or whether plans need to be adjusted.” (page 57) From my experience it seems that anything that can help save time and simplify production of performance reports for internal and external stakeholders is a very valuable asset to all. ICMM mentions challenges like the “lack of effective internal monitoring and record-keeping systems” or “inadequate reporting to stakeholders,” which are mitigated with “appropriate databases, reporting and collation systems.” (page 58) I’d like to tell you this is a simple task, but it’s not. And it cannot be 100% perfect from day 1. Each project and phase will drive distinct indicators and it’s important that a monitoring program can be defined and modified as the project evolves because this is what reality will be. Another challenge with disconnected solutions is the tracking and reporting on performance against these indicators in consistent manner. Unfortunately it’s still often the case that indicators and associated data are provided in the form of a baseline report, which is hard to turn into actions or impossible to allow for comparisons with future monitoring data. Toolkits used by consultants often differ or are specifically created for one study and this sometimes leads companies and communities to miss opportunities. Our strategy is to allow for an easy setup of any monitoring program along with its key indicators (it doesn’t matter whether they are environmental monitoring, local content, compensation or health and safety indicators), allow for seamless extraction of detailed datasets in order to assess performance and define a value against each indicator that can be imported directly in the monitoring program, and allow for the production of useful performance reports using an analytics reporting tool.

The risks and costs associated with unstructured data: our first-hand experience

Over my many years working with clients deploy effective information management systems, I notice similar issues mirrored in different clients’ realities. A common denominator is money. Over and over again I’ve seen organizations focus on short-term expenses while planning how they structure and maintain their data. Rather than investing a little more in a solution that will manage data for all aspects of their project (land access, local procurement, community relations, socio-economic surveys, grievances, compensation, etc.), they’ll either choose one or more for each – or use the consultants’ – sometimes ending up with as many as 10 different disconnected databases. In the end and every time, these companies end up paying more than if they would have if they had chosen a single IMS for the entire project scope. Plus, investing now for results and a ROI that’s tangible within the first years of implementation is non-negligible. We worked with a client based in Australia that had at least 8 different databases to manage stakeholders, land access, sub-contractor information, socio-economic contributions and more. Not to mention that for some areas they weren’t even using databases; they’d use their email boxes and scanned documents kept in folder cabinets. The situation was a nightmare for their team: although all the information was there to be found (if you knew where to look for it that is), it was impossible to analyze any of it. Even worse, the further the project got, the more it became a risk for commissioning. Financial obligations and commitments were falling through the cracks. When risks associated with unstructured data became too important, the company turned to an IMS provider trying to figure the mess out. After spending a few too many dollars on this provider with no ROI, they turned to us to take control of the situation. Another interesting case I’ve worked on was in West Africa. The team here had up to 12 databases and their pain was in the analysis and interrelation between data from grievances, resettlement action plan, surveying and data on small-scale miners. After years of surveying and of commissioning, all databases were still disconnected. Even when they’d talk with their different stakeholders, it was impossible to get a clear picture of the situation for each stakeholder. The risks on community relations were very high and it went as far as risks of downtime on production. The team tried to save money along the way and in the end structuring their data in an IMS seemed like a bigger challenge than it actually was. The third experience I’d like to share is also in West Africa, but this time it’s rather having the right system that saved the company a lot of trouble. Through our IMS they were able to spot the fraudulent activity of a particular individual over the course of several months. This person would raise compensation amounts before they would be distributed. When farmers and households would get their compensation, it was arranged with these stakeholders that this person would get a “commission” from the farmers. The whole thing was discovered using Boréalis’ IMS where in just a few clicks the history of months of fraud came to light. The company reinforced its quality control processes using the tools that were built in the software. With this situation taken care of, it set a precedent that discouraged even the most crooked employees to fraud the system.


I certainly recommend to anyone with the slightest interest for land acquisition in the context of a project in development to run through ICMM’s Land acquisition and resettlement: Lessons learned1 article and extract the most out of its lessons learned and recommendations. There are very good and pertinent insights and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the authors and contributors. Perhaps this is due to the initial objective of the study conducted which led to this document, but while we agree that these are meaningful observations of a reality, it seems there’s an opportunity to integrate experiences coming from developed countries where the context is often much different. Indeed we have been exposed to projects where existing information needs to be leveraged and not recollected (cadastre – land titles, socioeconomic baseline information, social media, etc.). Also many times the compensation framework is different – individual negotiations are the norm and no community-agreed-rates are being used, and often cash compensation is the only type of compensation possible. This is something to factor in during the planning phase and when selecting your information management system. I just came across an interesting article that exposes the current situation at a mine in Quebec2. Stakeholders are frustrated, getting tired of consultations. They demand the establishment of a protocol for land acquisition, compensation and livelihood restoration. They’ve been exposed to dust and noise for several years and the protocol would release them from staying in their houses or selling their properties at loss. Many actors are involved and people are having a hard time just agreeing on who should be included in the negotiations. Sounds like a good opportunity to explore this reality while reading through the ICMM paper to determine which of the lessons learned and recommendations are useful, and which could be adjusted to fit projects in developed countries.
An update of the situation was released on January 23, 2016, read it here3 (French only).

  1. Land Acquisition and resettlement: Lessons learned, ICMM;
  2. Malartic: des citoyens fatigués des consultations, Antoine Dion-Ortega, Les Affaires, December 5, 2016, page 20;
  3. Mine de Malartic : vers un protocole d’acquisition de maisons en mai, Antoine Dion-Ortega, January 23, 2016.