Meaningful community engagement in the extractive industries

Emma Wilson; Sarah Best; Emma Blackmore; Saule Ospanova


What is the relationship between extractive industry projects and the local communities living in close proximity to such projects? Stakeholder engagement is central to extractive industry companies securing a social licence to operate. While there is lots of guidance on how to do stakeholder engagement well, this paper draws attention to the major implementation challenges community engagement brings, and also the need to ensure that this engagement leads to positive outcomes for local communities. It finds that there is broad-based support for emerging definitions of ‘meaningful engagement’ but some think this could go further to include partnerships, community-led initiatives and negotiation. It also calls for a greater focus on outcomes, not just processes.

This paper should be understood as a scoping study. It draws on: 25 interviews carried out in 2014 with a range of actors involved in the extractive industries in the UK, USA, France, Romania, Rwanda, Kenya and Kazakhstan; an interactive seminar with students in London; an expert meeting in Paris; as well as a half-day workshop with a group of mixed stakeholders to present initial findings.

Key findings show that:

  • despite improvements in guidelines and advances in debate and practice, community consultation and engagement processes still frequently go wrong.
  • there is a lack of shared understanding of what counts as ‘meaningful’ engagement varies between communities, civil society, companies and development agencies.
  • people’s perception of community engagement processes as not being meaningful remains a key challenge.
  • standards and indicators of meaningful consultation typically focus on process with much less systematic thinking around what outcomes make a consultation meaningful and how to measure them.
  • there are a number of well-known implementation challenges still to be tackled. These include: senior-level leadership  and integration of good practice throughout the company and along the value chain; importance of building capacities on effective engagement processes for those working in government, civil society and companies. Interviewees also noted the role of emotion in stakeholder engagement and the ways that local politics can affect community engagement.

The study identified seven success factors for meaningful community engagement which its recommendations and research priorities are based on, and offers brief case study examples from across North and Latin America, Central Europe, and West Africa.

  1. Clarify and align government and industry roles:
  2. Understand the local context
  3. Start early with a long-term perspective
  4. Build capacities and prepare well
  5. Embed community engagement in the organisation and value chain
  6. Build trust in the information-sharing processes
  7. Assess the effectiveness of processes and the value of outcomes

Recommended actions include: integrating the principles and practices of meaningful community engagement into legislation; hiring local staff and/or staff with skills and experience in anthropological research; conducting government-led, in-depth community engagement prior to major industrial development; and combining systems-thinking with context-thinking by development broad comparable systems and site-specific indicators.

Recommended research priorities include: developing and testing criteria for effectively measuring both processes and outcomes of community engagement; studying positive experience and promising ways to build trust around information, accessible and trusted formats of information, and information-sharing processes; building understanding of skill gaps in government agencies and and companies in different socio-political contexts.


Wilson, E. et al. (2016). Meaningful community engagement in the extractive industries: stakeholder perspectives and research priorities. London: Institute of Environment and Development.