Power, participation, and exclusion through dialogue in the extractive industries: Who gets a seat at the table?

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Resources Policy, 2019, 61 pp. 190 - 199
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© 2018 Power inequities are omnipresent in contexts like mining where companies have the capacity to significantly impact the wellbeing of community stakeholders. One aspect arises in attention to Social Licence to Operate (SLO), which – conceptually and in practice – supports a greater provision of power to certain stakeholders by privileging their voices in the decision-making and approval processes of resource developments. How such voices are included involves processes falling under the banner of stakeholder engagement. One form of participatory engagement in the context of SLO – dialogue – was studied to examine how such power dynamics are seen to play out in early stages of resource development. We examined empirically the perceptions of stakeholder engagement practitioners involved in extractive industries regarding which community stakeholders tend to be included (or not) in dialogue. We also asked how they see decisions around such inclusion are being made and what other factors they sense facilitate or inhibit engagement in dialogue. Existing ‘top-down’ frameworks for stakeholder engagement were described to be particularly troublesome drivers of exclusion, particularly of minority groups, such as first nations peoples. Practitioners argued for more nuanced, emergent means for stakeholder identification to promote inclusivity. They also noted that a more equitable distribution of power in the dialogue process and more meaningful engagement required development of the capacity of dialogue participants, both company personnel and community members, to understand information, communicate effectively, and to deal with conflict. These results imply a need for further consideration of how inclusivity and diversity can be promoted in dialogue to better balance power asymmetries in mining contexts.
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