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19 April 2022 4 min read

Building trust in mining and resources

Trust is the foundation to all good relationships. In business it is an invaluable asset which can make the difference between success and failure.

Building trust is not always easy. Once lost it becomes even harder to regain. This is especially true for mining companies and the communities they work alongside who understand that with trust comes acceptance.

Referred to as a ‘social licence to operate’, mining companies succeed when they secure local and ongoing acceptance by the communities and stakeholders affected by their operations. Projects plagued with community conflict can cost companies billions of dollars in delays and in some cases halt operations completely.

Growing and maintaining acceptance therefore becomes a priority in the boardroom. But how can companies achieve lasting trust?

Bringing communities into the conversation

Australian company Voconiq has pioneered a new specialised social science process, based on research by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, which redefines social licence to operate. Their approach brings voices of community members inside the boardroom though data analytics from community surveys. Using survey data collected in person and online, Voconiq provides its customers with deeper insights that go beyond ‘what’ community members think. It seeks to understand ‘why’.

Voconiq has expanded from mainly servicing the mining industry to significantly growing its presence in the agriculture, infrastructure, renewable energy and transmission infrastructure sectors, and local government.

Tracking issues over time delivers data that delves into the dynamic relationship between companies and communities. It allows companies to shape and evaluate their social performance strategies to focus on what matters most in their relationship with communities.

Founding member and CEO of Voconiq, Dr Kieren Moffat, says the data-driven insights are enabling stronger and more constructive relationships.

“Organisations we work with want to have meaningful relationships with the communities they operate within,” Dr Moffat says.

“They want to be good neighbours, and not just listen, but actively engage and work with communities to create mutually beneficial outcomes.”

Powered by data

Voconiq’s data-driven approach captures deep social insights into community sentiment across time and locations and in real time.

“We use world leading data analytic techniques enabled by proprietary technology to aggregate and analyse survey data to provide actionable insights in real time and over time,” Dr Moffat says.

“Our data visualisation dashboards are customised in collaboration with our customers to meet their needs.”

With many large resources companies headquartered far from their operations, having oversight of issues affecting local communities in a time responsive way can be tricky. The Voconiq approach can track community engagement goals in real time across multiple scales and locations: from remote and regional areas to international locations. And even a global pandemic didn’t get in the way.

“Having spent the last couple of years working with the challenges and risks associated with COVID-19, Voconiq has managed to grow strongly, demonstrating our resilience and commitment to ensuring communities everywhere are still able to be heard,” says Dr Moffat.

Beyond mining and resources

Over the last three years, Voconiq has also expanded from mainly servicing the mining industry to significantly growing its presence in the agriculture, infrastructure, renewable energy and transmission infrastructure sectors, and local government.

It has also grown its international footprint and is currently delivering its Local Voices service in 11 countries on five continents with a strong development pipeline.

“Voconiq provides a unique global service affecting real change in more than a hundred communities,” says Dr Moffat.

“Our aim for Voconiq is to continue growing sustainably and deliver truly valuable service to our expanding client list,” says Dr Moffat.

In the last year, the Voconiq team’s capability has increased dramatically.  They have added an advisory arm to provide additional services and value to customers.  For example, Voconiq data is being used to inform social impact assessments and develop social performance frameworks which prioritise the needs of communities.

A successful spin-out

The growing success of Voconiq demonstrates the value of CSIRO’s investment in science and innovation to address the challenges of industry. Building upon a foundation of science excellence and expertise, this new Australian enterprise is providing valuable services to an expanding range of industries to benefit the triple bottom line of prosperity, people and the planet.

The path to Voconiq

Voconiq (originally known as Reflexivity) was born out of the research capability of CSIRO’s social science expertise.

Recognising market demand for social science insights to support social license to operate objectives, a project team including Dr Kieren Moffat, Naomi Boughen, and Dr Rolf Fandrich participated in the second cohort of CSIRO’s ON program. ON was an accelerator program designed for researchers to develop the skills they needed to fast-track their technology and ideas into the market.

After participating in ON, the team won several significant contracts with large mining companies, including Rio Tinto and BHP, to deliver what became known as Local Voices. Local Voices was developed as a way for community members to confidentially speak into the mining companies working alongside them in multiple regional and remote locations across Australia and Latin America.

The team also made its first inroads into the agriculture sector in Australia with a national project for the Australian egg industry while in CSIRO.

In April 2019, Voconiq emerged as a standalone business with the three original CSIRO teammates becoming founding members.

As part of its agreement with CSIRO, Voconiq continued to deliver projects on behalf of CSIRO. This allowed Voconiq to navigate the ‘valley of death’ for new start-ups and focus on growing the business.

In the last three years, Voconiq has grown significantly. It now has 17 employees and a dozen more contractors that work in partnership with Voconiq in Australia and overseas.

Voconiq now delivers its Local Voices service in 11 countries on five continents.

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