Seven success factors for meaningful community engagement

As someone who is a bit of a ‘jack of all trades’, for some years in the field of responsible business in general, and more recently specialising in supply chains, I’m constantly amazed at how incurious executives in almost all sectors of big business are, about lessons learned the hard way in others.

I’ve conducted various polls live at conferences for five years or more, and because my company, Innovation Forum, works across different sectors and issues, creating debate-driven conferences and tight analysis of news, trends and shifts, I’ve believe I can say this is true.

For example, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, well understood in the heavy industry and extractives sector, is little-discussed by apparel firms or even retailers.

And when we host our “how to prevent deforestation” event series, the next of which is coming up in DC soon, few big agriculture and forestry companies, struggling with similar issues to the extractives sector, are familiar with the long-standing work many mining companies have done on community engagement and issues around Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

There are, of course, some exceptions. The Fast Moving Consumer Goods sector is generally one of them, at least amongst the top ten firms. Partly that’s because they are engaged up and down the value chain, from production to consumer engagement, and partly it’s because Oxfam’s “Behind the Brands” campaign has helped them create competition around ethical and sustainability issues, at least amongst the leading firms.

I have been heartened this year, in particular, as we’ve started to see apparel retailers signing up to our forthcoming extractives event, presumably in recognition of the need to break out of industry silos. We’ve not seen that in reverse, with mining companies signing up to our sustainable apparel event, but we wouldn’t really have expected that anyhow, industry turmoil aside.

A new report by IIED, the International Institute for Environment and Development, helps demonstrate some of the key lessons companies can take from other sectors, particularly the extractive industry.

The report, entitled “Meaningful community engagement in the extractive industries: Stakeholder perspectives and research priorities” suggests there are success factors for meaningful community engagement, summarised below:

1. Clarify and align government and company roles

2. Understand the local context at all levels

3. Start early with a long-term perspective

4. Embed community engagement in the organisation and the value chain

5. Build capacities and prepare well

6. Build trust in the information-sharing processes

7. Assess the effectiveness of processes and the value of outcomes

These sound like quite general lessons for engaging in emerging markets overall, but the report drills down into each, and makes useful reading for companies engaging in communities at the end of their supply chain, or in the case of mining, right at the start. Here’s another link to it, and it’s objectives are summarised briefly below:

“The term ‘meaningful’ has started to appear in international standards and guidance for stakeholder consultation and engagement that are applied to the extractive industries, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (2011) and the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises (2011). This paper explores whether there is a shared understanding of what ‘meaningful community engagement’ means in the context of extractive industry development. It discusses the challenges faced by companies, governments and civil society organisations in ensuring that community engagement processes are meaningful in practice; some of the good practices that are now emerging; and what is required to ensure that ‘meaningful community engagement’ leads to better sustainable development outcomes.”

Finally, here’s a list of what we have got coming up until June, at Innovation Forum. I hope to meet readers at one of the below events soon:

P.S. You can also sign up to a three month free trial of our new regular publication “Supply Chain Risk & Innovation“, it’s a really very useful regular briefing, in which we summarise the key trends, analyse the news, campaigns and look into solutions that work in making corporate supply chains more sustainable.