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Listening to Local Voices – a systematic approach for understanding what a social licence to operate means for Rio Tinto in the Pilbara


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Author K Moffat, L Dawson, S Carr-Cornish, N Boughen and S Masterson


The risk and consequences of community rejection and loss of a social licence to operate is well articulated (Moffat et al 2018), however, the means for systematically managing this risk are less established. At the local scale, a mining operation is said to have a social licence to operate (SLO) when it achieves ongoing acceptance or approval from the local community and other stakeholders who can affect its profitability (Graafland, 2002). Without this social acceptance, it is very difficult for a business to operate effectively or profitably. It is well understood that social (or community) acceptance of a mine and its associated operations is a reflection of the quality of the relationship a company has with their host community (Thomson & Boutilier, 2011; Lacey & Lamont, 2014; Parsons et al., 2014; Moffat et al., 2015). Community relations are an integral part of successful mining operations and where these interactions are effective, they tend to foster mutual understanding, trust and support between a company and the host community (Kemp et al., 2006; Holley & Mitcham, 2016). Research further demonstrates that where such interactions are perceived to be procedurally fair, the increased trust created in these company-community interactions tends to lead to higher levels of acceptance of mining operations (Moffat & Zhang, 2014; Lacey et al., 2017).

The challenge, however, is how to listen systematically to communities that mining and associated operations; communities that are often located across vast geographic areas and with diverse demographics. To date, traditional methods deployed to both guide and evaluate community engagement and social investment activities have been challenged to reflect the nature of the phenomenon they seek to observe, the voice of community. For example, detailed baseline surveys of community attitudes every three years by companies, as is the requirement within the policy frameworks of most large miners, provide rich insights but do not reflect the dynamic, temporal nature of the relationships that underpins their SLO. These processes typically are largely opaque to communities and distinct from the company’s engagement activities. The CSIRO Local Voices project was developed with Rio Tinto to go some way towards meeting this challenge of how to listen to the voice of community systematically.


Moffat, K, Dawson, L, Carr-Cornish, S, Boughen, N and Masterson, S, 2018. Listening to Local Voices – a systematic approach for understanding what a social licence to operate means for Rio Tinto in the Pilbara, in Proceedings Life-of-Mine 2018, pp 8–11 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).