Are Your Community Relations Healthy?

Personal relationships need to be nurtured. They change all the time. And the relationships with the neighbors and your community relations around your operation and the influencers in the community are no different. Often, our operations fall into the trap of thinking that if we don’t hear anything, if no one is complaining, we’re all good. Oh boy… that’s like when your six-year-old and his buddies go down to the basement and you don’t hear anything…

So how do you stay on top of what’s going on around your operation?

Here’s where you start:

Question assumptions: A healthy community relations program should regularly challenge your assumptions. A great way to start is with a community audit. We developed this concept for the construction materials and aggregates industry in the early 1990s. It has become a regular program for operations throughout the country. Auditing is an excuse to check in with neighbors and influencers in the community to see how you are doing.

Here are some tips:
  • Find out what they think about your company, the role it’s playing in the community, what’s new.
  • Make sure people aren’t simply telling you what they think you want to hear.
  • Help make them feel safe to give constructive criticism and advice.
  • Don’t be defensive or try to justify past practices or behaviors.

Quite often, the best way to get around this is to use a third party, knowledgeable of the issues and the challenges. And keep in mind that this is a great time to be listening for opportunities for your business to make a positive impact on issues important to your community.

Create a community relations program that people will care about.

Every operation has an opportunity to do good in the community—to make a positive contribution. And in today’s world, companies must do more than merely exist within the community’s footprint. There’s a wide range of ways to make that positive contribution. School involvement, Junior Achievement, Scouts, Habitat for Humanity, volunteering and/or contributing materials to a host of other worthwhile initiatives. The activities your company is involved with outside your gate truly reflect your character and values.

Another way to think about it is that mining operations usually have some kind of an impact that neighbors are forced to put up with—so why not try to mitigate it with a community relations program that goes above and beyond? It’s really the right thing to do.

Engage in the dialogue.

Face facts, there is a constant chatter of communications swirling around your operations. Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, and of course, all the other networking communications are constantly going on around your company, employees, neighbors, and community influencers. It’s a lot. So is it worth the effort joining the dialogue? Do you just try to monitor it from the outside? Our experience is that you’ve got to jump in and join the discussion. Then YOU get to determine what people can learn about what you do, how you do what you do, and why it’s important.

Top three things to Know Before You Start

How has the community challenged other projects in the past? This gives tremendous insight into the community’s priorities as well as its concerns. It may also reveal whether past projects have violated the public trust. In other words, you may have to rebuild trust or deal with baggage from a previous project that had nothing to do with you or your company.

What are the shifting demographics, and what does that mean for your project? Like everything else in today’s world, communities are in a constant state of change. Either schools are bulging at the seams hoping to pass a levy to expand, or they are contracting and neighborhoods are fighting to keep their school open. These issues help to define the priorities and can present opportunities to make a positive difference.

Why does your project fit into the community’s future plan? This means more than just checking out the ten-year land use plan and looking for conflicts. This is making sure your project makes a positive contribution. This is where the hard work happens. You need to position your growth to work alongside the community’s growth and communicate the effort effectively.

So, Let’s Dig into the Community Audit Concept

Ever head out the door at dusk and have that thought in the back of your head that you should have grabbed a flashlight? Maybe you think it’s not a big deal—you’re only going out to turn off the backyard hose spigot. Or, you know you need the flashlight, but it’s too much trouble to get it out of the basement and you just want to get into your pajamas and get to bed, already. Or an even less logical thought – that you’ll go back to get it if it turns out you need it.

Why do we do that? Truth is, our natural impulse is to try to get by without taking the precautions that—in the long run—make the job easier.

Community auditing—taking the pulse of your surrounding community—is just like grabbing that flashlight.

Before you even think about the pit expansion or the new plant, take the time to audit the community that surrounds your operation. Not knowing the priorities, concerns, and hopes that your neighbors might have, is essentially the same thing as heading out the door in the dark without a flashlight.

Pay attention to that nagging voice in the back of your head that’s telling you the decision makers may be new, or that you might not be as connected to the neighborhood as you should be. Perhaps the community recently rallied to oppose a landfill or pass a school levy, so they already know one another. In today’s ever-shifting communities, communication is omnipotent. And because there are so many voices, it is critical to know which ones are trusted and influential and which are outliers.

Think about community auditing as that flashlight that lights up the path to your project’s success.

Know before you start.

We can help you get started, let’s talk!

Bronwyn Weaver
Chief Strategy Officer