AIMEX Panel: Identification of Community and Understanding Real Value Propositioning
AIMEX panel: Image of Industry - How can the mining sector and the community work more collaboratively together in the future?
During AIMEX, Austmine’s CEO, Chris Gibbs Stewart, chaired the ‘Image of Industry - How can the mining sector and the community work more collaboratively together in the future?’ panel with speakers Mark Jacobs, Executive General Manager, Yancoal Australia; Anna Littleboy, Programme Leader, University of Queensland (UQ); Dr Kieren Moffat, CEO and Co-Founder, Reflexivity; and Ngaire Baker, External Relations Manager, Mach Energy. They provided insights on various areas surrounding community, value proposition, the image of industry and true collaboration and partnerships.
Concept of Community
The panel discussed the importance for mining companies in defining their communities. Mark Jacob, Yancoal, pointed out that community is not only about a group of individuals.
“When we talk about community, we are referring to people who live in the vicinity of the mine… the nearby regional centres, and that varies from location to location. Our concern is much wider than just those who are in the immediate vicinity of our mine site,” said Mark. “I cast community much more widely.”
Anna Littleboy, UQ, noted the plurality of the concept of community in the context of the industry. “Effort needs to be put into engaging the community and continuing to engage the community as it grows and changes,” said Anna. The individuals who make up a community will change and adapt over time, so it’s important not to think of community as a static, unchanging concept.
Both challenges and opportunities can arise from the fluidity of community. Sometimes a loud, oppositional community voice can change over time into a loud advocate, especially if they’re met with patience, understanding and information.
Engaging and communicating with the community is not an area where historically the mining industry has always excelled, so it’s important to know what good community engagement looks like.
Ngaire Baker, Mach Energy, distilled this down to one activity, listening. As an External Relations Manager, Ngaire understands the importance of listening to the community’s needs. In her line of work that can happen anywhere, even in a supermarket or just accessibility via her phone. In fact, on the opening morning of AIMEX, Ngaire had a conversation with a community member about their cattle. Despite not being a subject matter expert, , it was important for her to listen because it was important for the individual to be heard.
Kieran Moffat, Reflexivity, built on this concept by discussing a common problem facing companies, being resource constrained. When a company finds themselves constrained by resources, they are only able to engage with the loudest problems or the loudest voice. “The challenge is to reach beyond that and reach all of the community”, said Kieran.
One of the easiest ways to increase engagement with the community is to utilise your strongest advocates, your employees. Mark Jacob, Yancoal, highlighted that whilst the best influencers are unique in each community, your workforce can spread the message in non-traditional avenues where people are more receptive. Mark urged companies to “equip the workforce with appropriate information and messaging”. Your employees can champion your company in relaxed formats and in natural channels where the community is the most receptive, such asat the local football or in social settings.
Changing Community Perception
In order to change community perception, you need time. Beyond that, Ngaire Baker, Mach Energy, believes there should be understanding and visibility. The best way to change ill-will is to understand where it is coming from.
In terms of bringing a community around, Mark Jacob, Yancoal, explained there isn’t a one size fits all solution. “The solution needs to fit the local community... You need to be able to demonstrate that you have taken their concerns to heart and are taking active steps to fix the problem,” said Mark.
Understand the Community
Companies investing back into a local community naturally has a positive influence on the company image, however, it isn’t always the total dollar spend that matters. The panel noted that understanding your community well allows companies to be more effective in this area. Mark Jacobs provided an example where $500 spent on wool for a local quilting group could end up having a bigger impact than $155,000 spent on an x-ray machine depending on the community. Understanding your specific community is vital to ensure the impact is truly felt. Smaller investments can be equally important and have significant impact on how the community perceive the company and industry.