Community Development

1. Defining communities

If there are going to be agreements with communities, or programmes to benefit communities, a key question is how communities are defined.

Stakeholder mapping and identification is one of the more challenging aspects of community development. When seeking to identify “the community,” companies and governments may struggle to find appropriate guidelines. The World Bank has provided guidance for identifying “qualified communities” to be part of negotiating and implementing Community Development Agreements.

The process involves:

1. Self-identification

2. An assessment of risks and impacts 

3. Ongoing monitoring and adjustment

Ideally, this is conducted following a broad stakeholder mapping process. Self-identification gives community members the opportunity to identify themselves as potentially affected by or interested in the project. It does not automatically mean that they will be members of “qualified communities”, but provides an opportunity to include individuals with special circumstances who might otherwise be overlooked.

Outcomes of impact and risk assessments should be analysed and carefully considered, including information from Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA) and other studies. Ongoing monitoring and assessment allows parties to adapt to changes in the project or the community over time, and respond to these. Changes to a mine plan, for example, may result in additional community impacts and additional qualified community members. Identification of “the community” or “qualified communities” should involve a multidisciplinary team. This team may include anthropologists or other social science experts, legal expertise, supported by objective third parties.

Kinds of communities 

Local populations have very different internal and external characteristics. Community development efforts should be based on a clear understanding of these characteristics. 

Externally, communities may have legal recognition, with established rights recognised by law and the national political system. Or they may have no legal recognition at all. They may be in the middle ground between these two extremes.

Internally, communities may have very cohesive organisation, with clear social hierarchies, well understood decision processes, and a clearly-defined leadership selected through means accepted as legitimate. Or, they might simply be a collection of people living in the same place, such as where a resource development project has attracted migrants seeking economic opportunity.

In reality, extractives projects can affect a number of different communities, some of which may fall into each of the categories discussed in this section. For example, projects may affect longstanding municipalities with clearly established legal rights, as well as squatter camps of economic migrants, or indigenous communities with limited recognition of their traditional lands, on which the squatters are camped. There may be bands of artisanal miners, with interests opposed to local farmers.

Navigating this complexity requires clarity of purpose and persistence. The purpose must be to build durable community relationships in a structure that facilitates sustainable forms of development.

The following pages give some examples of community structures that may be encountered.

Communities with internal structures and legally established roles

There are multiple actors involved in the development of a large natural resource project. These may include national and local government bodies, the company, contractors, consultants and society organisationss. Many of them are seeking ways to interact with “the community,” from a variety of motives.

This interaction is much easier when it is clear who the community leadership is, and how the community makes decisions. When the legal rights of the community are clear, and fit in to the decision-making process, the interaction may be even smoother.

This is not to say that it is easy to reach agreement. A major project may require decisions of a kind that communities have not previously faced, putting stress on its institutions and resources. For example, leadership that is well accepted in the community on ongoing issues, such as the regulation of irrigation water or land boundaries, may not be accepted when it comes to taking decisions on the proposed resettlement of the entire community.

Communities with internal structure but inadequate legal recognition

Many communities may have very clear internal organisation. They know who their members are, they know how they make decisions, and they know who their leadership is.

But these communities may not have external recognition of their legal existence, their institutions, or the rights they claim. This can create a host of problems.

One example of communities in this situation is indigenous communities. In some countries, these peoples may have strong legal recognition of their rights. But in many parts of the world there is at best limited recognition in national law of legal rights over traditional or ancestral lands and territories. This contrasts with their established rights under international law, which recognises that traditional lands and resources should not be developed without free prior informed consent.

In their interactions with such communities, external actors need to respect the internal decision making process of the group, and to find ways (perhaps negotiated agreements) that create a legal component to the relationship that the legal system itself has failed to deliver.

Communities with limited internal organisation

Trying to negotiate with groups of people who have no understanding of the internal decision-making process and no recognised leadership is extremely challenging, particularly for external actors. In their rush to show results, they may identify ‘leaders’ who have no real mandate. They then negotiate ‘agreements,’ which are not accepted by the whole community, and conflict can follow.

Dealing with large numbers of communities with limited organisational structures is bound to be a slow process. It often requires waiting while leadership and internal structure emerge. This is often very uncomfortable for external parties, such as companies and governments. It means that the legal component of the relationship with the population must be delayed until the community has established a leadership and decision making structure. Any agreement or decision will be unstable until that occurs.