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Understanding community perception: mine builds trust through mobile phones

A pilot project in South Africa uses mobile phones to better understand how the local community views mine activity.

“Masazane” means getting to know each other in isiZulu. It’s a fitting name for the project that is enabling just that: a closer relationship between a mine and its local community, powered by technology. 

The Masazane Project trialled the effectiveness of mobile phone technology as a tool to successfully engage with communities on a real time basis. The 12-month pilot has been running for several months and community perceptions of the mine are provided on a real-time basis. 

The project sought to gain community members’ views on the mine’s impacts – both positive (ie employment) and negative (ie environmental) – the quality of the relationship between the mine and the communities, and the extent to which communities trust and accept the operation. 

Analysing the feedback

Starting in April 2015, field workers recruited survey participants in a door-to-door campaign in the eMalahleni area. More than 400 people ended up signing up for the programme, representing various demographics in the area. 

The survey was broken down into five questions a month over 12 months, with topics including dust, noise and vibration, the effectiveness of existing social investment projects, employment, skills training and enterprise development initiatives. 

The Australia-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) collaborated with Anglo American to conduct detailed analysis of the data.

“It was fantastic to see that, in feeding back the results of the work, community members felt heard, and as a consequence, more confident to engage in the public forum,” said Dr Kieren Moffat, a research scientist at CSIRO. “This is a genuinely powerful and positive outcome from this work to date – supporting a different kind of relationship between the mine and its communities.”

The pilot project included four sites in South Africa as well as an Australian operation.

Identifying key opportunities

“The survey suggests that we hold a strong position in the communities we impact most directly,” said Tina Malau, Landau Colliery’s community development superintendent in the eMalahleni area of South Africa. “However, there is much scope for us to extend and develop this relationship.” 

The survey results suggested participants had largely positive views of the mine’s impact on local business, community development, and the environment. The data also showed that community members believed that the mine listened and responded to their concerns and also showed high levels of trust and acceptance. Meanwhile, managing impacts relating to health and wellness showed room for improvement.

The mine held a feedback session, hosted at the SACE Recreation Club in eMalahleni, which gave respondents an opportunity to expand on the responses they gave during the survey as well as provide input to the design of measures that address their concerns and expectations.

“The discussions that followed were extremely valuable, and have presented us with several opportunities in which we can play a valuable role in addressing community concerns and expectations,” said Bonke Ntimane, Landau Colliery’s general manager.

What do you think about the Masazane Project? Is it an effective way at engaging with the communities local to our mines? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments box below.

This article was originally published by The Guardian.

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