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Extractive IndustriesThe Management of Resources as a Driver of Sustainable Development$

Tony Addison and Alan Roe

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198817369

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198817369.001.0001

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Towards Contribution Analysis

Towards Contribution Analysis

(p.369) 18 Towards Contribution Analysis
Extractive Industries

R. Anthony Hodge

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Since the early 1990s, at least forty-five initiatives have been mounted to improve the environmental and social performance of the mining industry. Many changes in the formal legal and regulatory systems have also been introduced. However, no systematic approach has been adopted to test whether this effort is making a difference. Without such monitoring of success, the tension between companies, communities, and governments regarding the role of mining in society will continue. This chapter makes the case for using ‘contribution analysis’ to fill this gap, a systematic means to assess and track mining’s contribution to human and ecosystem well-being over the full project and product life cycles. This is a higher test than current practice. It brings out a fuller picture of the positives and negatives of natural resources and their management, provides greater opportunity for the perspectives of all interests to be heard, and is fairer.

Keywords:   environment, mining industry, legal and regulatory systems, contribution analysis, ecosystems, product life cycles, sustainable development, natural resource management

18.1 Introduction

The mining industry’s boom–bust pattern is well recognized. During the last twenty years, the swings have been particularly extreme: the 2002–12 super-cycle was followed by a precipitous fall.1 By late 2016, recovery seemed evident. 2017 has been marked by much global uncertainty and has seen fluctuations, depending on commodity. Societal attitudes towards mining are nested in these swings. However, they are more fundamentally governed by the evolution of two factors: (1) deeply held values related to human and ecological well-being, and (2) the perceived role of various human activities (such as mining) in contributing or not to that well-being.2

Through the past fifty years, the mining industry has found itself subject to increasing levels of criticism, accusations of unfairness, and resulting regulatory and public scrutiny. The industry has been ill prepared for these ‘perfect storm’ conditions and for many, it has brought discomfort and a defensive reaction; see Hodge (2017) for a more detailed discussion of these trends.

At the turn of the millennium, the industry mounted an unprecedented initiative. This was the Global Mining Initiative, with its flagship project, Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development. Over two years, multi-interest (p.370) discussions about mining practices were convened across the world. Many thousands participated in an examination of mining practices. An action plan for improvement was developed and the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) established to serve as a change agent in its implementation and further development (MMSD 2002).

As part of this evolution, a remarkable number of initiatives in addition to many changes in formal law and regulation in countries across the world have been mounted to improve industry performance. Table 18.1 lists forty-five such initiatives, nine from within the industry, thirty-six from outside. There may be others. The majority of these are multi-interest collaborations involving companies, civil society organizations, and government.

Table 18.1. Forty-five initiatives aimed at improving the performance of the mining and metals industry over and above the formal legal system

a. Multi-interest performance-enhancing initiatives within the industry




1. International Council on Metals and the Environment; 29-company international coalition aimed at strengthening mining’s environmental performance.


2. Multi-interest Whitehorse Mining Initiative; Leadership Accord to govern mining practices


3. The Global Mining Initiative (GMI) with its central element, the Mining Minerals and Sustainable Development (MMSD) and subsequent creation of the ICMM


4. ICMM Principles and Sustainable Development Policy framework (with further position statements: 2003—Mining and Protected Areas; 2003/5/6/9—Transparency and Mineral Revenues; 2004/10—Mining: Partnerships for Development; 2006/9/11—Climate Change; 2008/13—Mining and Indigenous Peoples; 2010—ICMM public reporting first completed including independent assurance and consistent with GMI reporting requirements)

2003, 2009–ongoing

5. Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) e3 Plus, a web-based inventory of recommended good practice for environmental and social management of mineral exploration projects


6. Towards Sustainable Mining initiative of the Mining Association of Canada


7. Principles of Enduring Value established by the Mining Council of Australia based on the ICMM Principles, revised in 2015


8. Aluminium Stewardship Initiative


9. Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI) Smelter Program (CFSP)

b. Performance-enhancing initiatives outside the industry aimed at influencing industry practices



Broadly focused, multi-interest initiatives from outside the industry

1976–2011, ongoing

1. OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Annex to OECD Declaration on International Investment and Multinational Enterprises


2. AccountAbility AA1000, Assurance Standard


3. Social Accountability SA8000

1998–2000; 2014–15, ongoing

4. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000 and then the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015


5. Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI)


6. United Nations Global Compact (First Leader’s Summit convened in 2004) (voluntary initiative based on chief executive officer (CEO) commitments to implement universal sustainability principles (human rights, labour, environment, anti-corruption) and to take steps to support United Nations goals)


7. United Nations Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (designed explicitly to guide extractive industry companies in maintaining the safety and security of their operations within an operating framework that encourages respect for human rights)


8. Global Reporting Initiative (mining supplement issued in 2011)


9. FTSE4 Good Index


10. Extractive Industries Review by the World Bank Group concluding that extractive industries can contribute to poverty reduction and that World Bank Group involvement can positively influence industry standards


11. Equator Principles established in 2003, revised in 2006 (a risk management framework, adopted by financial institutions, for determining, assessing, and managing environmental and social risk in projects)


12. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) principles agreed on in 2003; Tripartite (governments, companies, and civil society organizations) International Advisory Board established and six key criteria established marking the beginning of implementation in 2005; Secretariat established in 2007. Current ‘Standard’ launched in 2013


13. Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC)

2006–12, ongoing

14. International Finance Corporation Principles and Guidance on Social and Environmental Sustainability established in 2006, revised in 2012


15. Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA)


16. Devonshire Initiative


17. Equitable Origin, EO100Standard


18. Responsible Mineral Development Initiative, RMDI (WEF)


19. Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) Dialogue (The Forests Dialogue)


20. Natural Resource Charter launched (a set of principles for governments and societies on how to best harness the opportunities created by extractive resources for development); now part of the NRGI


21. OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas


22. Responsible Mining Index, under development by the Responsible Mining Institute

Issue or commodity focused multi-interest initiatives from outside the industry


23. Global Business Coalition on HIV–AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria—GBC Health


24. Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS)


25. Business and Biodiversity Offsets Programme (BBOP)


26. Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM)


27. Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI) of the World Economic Forum


28. Responsible Jewellery Council


29. International Cyanide Management Code (ICMC) for gold mining


30. Diamond Development Initiative (DDI)


31. Public–Private Alliance for Responsible Minerals Trade


32. Solutions for Hope


33. Conflict-Free Tin Initiative


34. Better Gold Initiative


35. New mining code from the World Initiative of Mining Lawyers (WIOML)


36. World Bank Social and Environmental Framework

Source: this compilation builds on those compiled in Resolve Solutions Network and the World Economic Forum (2016). There may be others.

The obvious question that arises is whether all this effort is making any difference. Is mining and metals’ contribution to human and ecosystem well-being more aligned to the values and expectation of society as a result? These questions are largely unaddressed: there is no accepted, systematic way to assess and track a mine operation’s contribution through the full project life cycle, let alone the whole industry. Given this gap, it is not surprising that industry champions and detractors disagree, sometimes vehemently, on the nature of mining and metals’ contribution to host communities and countries. Questioning of the legitimacy of current project approvals processes continues for communities, governments, and project proponents alike. Filling this gap is the challenge taken up by this chapter—how to understand, assess, and track mining’s contribution to human and ecosystem well-being over the full project and product life cycles. As will be seen, the task is far from trivial: the ecological, social, cultural, political, and economic setting of mining is global and complex, and requires a synthesis of many perspectives.

A values-driven conceptual foundation is offered that addresses: (1) both ends and means; (2) inputs, outputs, and results; and (3) not only the substance of decisions and actions (the what), but also the process used in implementation (the how). Importantly, a four-part generic assessment cycle is introduced that explicitly links measurement, story, synthesis/judgement, and communication. Central to the approach is a conceptual shift from the current deeply entrenched practice of focusing on the identification and mitigation of negative impacts (or effects) to a ‘higher test’ based on the achievement (or not) of a net positive contribution to human and ecosystem well-being over the long term.

Implementation will build on more traditional environmental and social impact assessment including cumulative effects assessment. However, contribution analysis will require a significant evolution in the culture of decision-makers, proponents, and assessment participants.

Some important steps towards contribution analysis have already been taken by communities, by governments, by companies, by academia. In sum, a start (p.371) (p.372) (p.373) has been made. But significant distance remains on the path ahead. This chapter attempts to go beyond that start.

18.2 Conceptual Foundation

As with most aspects of human activity, in the arena of mining–society relationships, it is not only what is done that matters, but also how it is done. For assessing contribution, both substance and process are essential considerations. In the paragraphs below, a conceptual foundation for each is summarized.3

18.2.1 Substance

The origins and definitions for ‘sustainability’, ‘development’, and ‘sustainable development’ that are used in this chapter are provided in Box 18.1.

In summary, the three definitions described in Box 18.1 translate to the use of a value set that is best stated as ‘parallel care and respect for the ecosystem and people within’ (Hodge et al. 1995: xiii). To judge mining’s success at achieving a positive contribution requires testing mining for its compatibility with that value set.

The higher test of achieving a ‘positive contribution to sustainability’ was first articulated by Gibson (2000, 2002). MMSD North America (2002: 7) points out:

The above ‘positive contribution to sustainability’ criterion is different from, though built upon, the ‘mitigation of adverse effects’ criterion that is the focus of traditional environmental and social impact assessments. The implications of the shift are twofold. On one hand, the positive orientation opens the door to a much fuller treatment of the benefits that result from mining activities than has traditionally been the case with impact assessment approaches. On the other, the same positive orientation sets the assessment bar higher.

These assertions do not negate the fact that mining causes impacts, or that human and/or ecosystem well-being might be degraded, and permanent ecosystem or social change might occur. However, when the full life cycle of projects/operations and products is considered, a net positive contribution to human and ecosystem well-being should be realized. If not, the mining/mineral activity will not be contributing positively to sustainability.

(p.374) From an engineering design perspective, the achievement of a positive contribution to human and ecosystem well-being over the long term serves as a kind of two-dimensional design criterion. From the perspective of ‘results-based management’, achievement (or not) of human and ecosystem well-being is the result or ‘end’ that is to be sought and designed for, and whose achievement (or not) is to be tested over time, and publicly reported on.

MMSD North America (2002) points out that these ideas veer sharply away from seeking a ‘trade-off’ between human and ecosystem well-being. There are obviously many small trade-offs in any practical application: between interests, between components of the ecosystem, across time, and across space. And Gibson et al. (2006: 130–41) propose a carefully considered set of six rules for dealing with such trade-offs. However, in an overarching sense, (p.375) the idea of sustainability calls for both human and ecosystem well-being to be maintained or improved over the long term. One without the other subverts the concept.

Contributing positively to that ‘two-dimensional’ improvement provides the conceptual starting point for assessing the substantive aspects of mining’s success. Figure 18.1 draws these ideas together to provide the fundamental conceptual framework for assessing contribution.

Towards Contribution Analysis

Figure 18.1. Conceptual framework for assessing contribution

Source: Hodge (2014a).

In Figure 18.1, the two upper bubbles show the sought results or ends and the lower bubble captures the means. The central bubble summarizes essential considerations: (1) both process and substance; (2) both short- and long-term time horizons; and (3) the effectiveness of systems that are in place to facilitate continuous learning.

The means we have at our disposal include: (1) actions within the formal economy; (2) actions outside the formal economy (a broad range of unpaid work (e.g. housework) and volunteer activities); and (3) governance systems which span all the written and unwritten rules—sometimes entrenched in law, sometimes not. In assessing these means for a mine, these ‘means’ activities must be assessed for the benefits they offer to people and ecosystems and the stresses (costs and risks) that are imposed.

Figure 18.1 is a broad systems analogy of the results-based management approach to tracking and assessing inputs, outputs/outcomes, and results/ends. (p.376) For any organization (company, community, civil society organization, government) or society, each of these is important for different reasons:

  1. 1.inputs to establish commitment for action and set the needed level of resources (budget)

  2. 2.outputs/outcomes to track the success or not of meeting commitments and holding those responsible to account

  3. 3.results/ends to test whether the overall goal and the specific objectives are being met—and if not, to signal a need for adjustments.

Combined with an effective feedback mechanism, these processes together facilitate continuous learning and performance improvement so efficiencies can be achieved over time.

In contribution analysis, the concept of sustainability is seen to be much more than environmental protection in another guise. It is a positive concept that addresses both: (1) achieving well-being for people and ecosystems; and (2) reducing stress or mitigating impacts.4 Or, as articulated by Gibson et al. (2006: 165), ‘the aim is to deliver multiple, lasting, mutually re-enforcing gains rather than just mitigation of environmental damage’. Dietsche (this volume) similarly calls for a transition to focus on the positive, not just the negative.

Figure 18.2 translates the concepts of Figure 18.1 into the form of a high-level hierarchical system. It maps elements from the most general (above) to more detailed (below). At the lowest level, each element can be further disaggregated. Note that such a hierarchical form does not imply that the most important element is at the top. Rather, following the concept of ‘panarchy’ (p.377) proposed by ecologists Gunderson and Holling (2009), the most important element at any given time may turn up anywhere in the ‘hierarchy’. For project-level application, the above general conceptual approach translates into four questions: Means assessment

  1. 1. What is the project’s contribution to human well-being over the full project life cycle, taking into account the full suite and distribution of benefits, costs, and risks?

  2. 2. What is the project’s contribution to ecosystem well-being over the full project life cycle, taking into account the full suite and distribution of benefits, costs, and risks? Ends assessment

  1. 3. What is the resulting state and distribution of human well-being (recognizing that there are other contributors)?

  2. 4. What is the resulting state and distribution of ecosystem well-being (recognizing that there are other contributors)?

Figure 18.2 diaggregates these four questions in a high-level hierarchy of data and information that must be considered. In fact, this hierarchy is generic and would apply to all scales and foci of analysis, though the details of each would vary depending on the scale, boundaries of enquiry, and application.

Towards Contribution Analysis

Figure 18.2. Assessing contribution—hierarchy of data and information

Source: author’s illustration.

Human well-being is categorized by ‘decision-makers’.5 This approach is particularly useful because: (1) if the well-being of these four decision-making groups is high or is threatened together or individually, it closely reflects the overall state of human well-being (regardless of scale from local through regional to national); (2) each of these groups or interests (to varying amounts depending on a given society) plays a critical role in bringing change and improvement; and (3) data and information are often gathered and stored by these categories.

Ecosystem well-being is disaggregated in four parts: (1) land, (2) water, (3) air, and (4) biota (living organisms). This categorization is useful in that it reflects the regulation of human activity and the organization of many relevant departments of government, business, and civil society organizations. However, ecologists have rightly pointed out that such a compartmentalization of the ecosystem does not effectively capture the state of structure, (p.378) function, and diversity. Nor does it address systemic flows (e.g. of energy, nutrients, and materials) within the ecosystem or the holistic nature of the ecosystem itself. It is thus deficient from an ecological perspective. Another option is to use this categorization (to facilitate a link to governance and decision-making) but include an additional form of analysis and synthesis that speaks to ecologists’ concerns.

The third, means or activity assessment, captures the benefits, costs, and risks produced by the project. Here it is articulated as both ‘support for’ well-being and ‘stress on’ well-being. Human activities always generate some balance of ‘support’ and ‘stress’ (the positive and the negative) that add up to some degree of contribution to human and ecosystem well-being. Not to be forgotten, however, is that the natural ecosystem not only provides the nourishment needed by human society but also generates significant stress from extreme natural events such as drought, extreme rainfall, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and explosive diseases (Berger 2007).

Assessing benefits includes not only the typical measured quantities (jobs and taxes) but also the citizen/societal perspective on the very fabric of their family and community lives. Many of these aspects are outside the market economy but contribute massively to well-being. Examples include housework, volunteer/not-for-profit activities, cultural activities, and so on that may be touched (positively or negatively) by the project. A useful description of the nature and richness of volunteer/not-for-profit activities is provided by the United Nations/Johns Hopkins University classification of not-for-profits (United Nations 2003).

An approach that greatly facilitates navigation of this maze can be borrowed from the auditing profession who use concrete and specific questions for which answers can be sought in practical terms. This approach is championed in the 2003 multi-interest work Seven Questions to Sustainability: How to Assess the Contribution of Mining and Metals Activities (MMSD North America 2002). Figure 18.3 provides the high-level seven-question framework that emerged in the MMSD North America work.

Towards Contribution Analysis

Figure 18.3. The MMSD North America framework: ‘seven questions to sustainability—how to assess the contribution of mining and minerals activities’

Source: MMSD North America (2002); reproduced here by permission.

For each question, an ideal answer is offered and then data and information sought that facilitate assessing how close to the ideal is being achieved. A full detailing of the approach described above is provided in MMSD North America (2002), including a catalogue of various sub-elements, indicators, and metrics. A synthesis of the answers to all seven questions can then serve as the foundation for a multi-interest assessment of contribution based on overlapping values.

To be effective, the process of assessing contribution needs to be ongoing from project inception through the full life cycle, not simply to be undertaken once to obtain a legal or social licence to operate. A concrete assessment and reporting schedule is required that matches the project time horizon. This (p.379) ongoing process of assessing and reporting facilitates the continuous learning and adjustment that is so essential—see Buckley, McCulloch, and Travis (Chapter 27, this volume).

Figure 18.4 shows the mine project life cycle by phase and level of activity. The different phases are marked by significant variations in activity levels and different implications for human and ecosystem well-being, all of which needs careful and rigorous consideration. It is only since the millennium change that this full project life cycle has been integrated into the thinking of the industry and regulators.

Towards Contribution Analysis

Figure 18.4. The mine project life cycle with indicative activity levels

Source: Hodge (2011), ICMM (2012); reproduced here by permission.

18.2.2 Process

Assessing process effectiveness is an essential part of contribution analysis. Below, the idea of ‘overlapping consensus’, introduced by Rawls (1971, 1987) some forty years ago, is offered as a conceptual starting point for doing so. In the context of a mining operation–community relationship, a state of overlapping consensus would be achieved if community, company, and government each agreed on the same way forward based on their own perspective and moral position (Wenar 2013). In other words, it would be a consensus based on overlapping values.

(p.380) Because it is based on each interest’s own beliefs and values, it is each interest’s best option. Such a consensus stands in stark contrast to a compromise that arises through an explicit trade-off or ‘deal’ in the face of others’ power. The weakness of such deals is that a power shift can trigger a loss of social stability if the position of one of the parties to the ‘deal’ changes. Such a shift can occur when a change in ownership of a mining property or operation leads to reneging on company–community agreements made between the community and the former owner.

In summary, a values-based, overlapping consensus offers greater and longer-lasting stability and security, exactly what applied sustainability concepts call for. It is true that an ideal state of overlapping consensus will not always be possible to achieve or, once established, to endure. However, it is the best route to social stability that a free society can hope to attain.

In practice, success can be assessed by comparing the reality on the ground with this Rawlsian ideal. A scale can be created with the ‘ideal’ providing an end-point and current success scored accordingly. The ideal may not be achieved, (p.381) but continuous improvement towards that ideal can be sought as learning takes place. Clearly the scaling process emerges as a key to implementation.

Undertaking such an assessment collaboratively with all interests (community, company, government thus bringing different values to the table) provides a special opportunity to develop a sense of respect, trust, integrity, fairness, justice, authenticity, and overall security for community, company, and government that the right thing will be done in the right way. In short, the assessment process itself can be used to re-enforce social stability and strengthen a sense of security for all interests.

Relationships and values evolve over time. Thus, a collaboratively-built, values-based assessment is not a task that can be theoretically addressed in a licensing hearing and then set aside when approval is received. Continuous effort by all parties through the full project life cycle is essential.

Examples of successful ongoing engagement can be found in ICMM’s ‘Mining Partnerships for Development’ initiative (ICMM 2016). Another is the Ahafo Social Responsibility forum in Ghana, now in its tenth year of seeking overlapping consensus in mining-related issues (Anderson, personal communication, 2016). See also discussion in McPhail (Chapter 17, this volume). Not surprisingly, broad consensus-seeking engagement of key interests is one of the success factors that has emerged in achieving a ‘social licence to operate’.6 Effective engagement is now a central component of most mining law and regulation; it is a key part of every progressive company’s policies. At the same time and despite powerful examples of success, many examples of ineffective engagement processes across the mining industry continue to occur. An evolving compilation of examples of good and bad practice would greatly facilitate learning.

18.3 Generic Assessment Cycle

In recent years there has been much emphasis devoted to generating clear measured indicators of change. This interest has been felt within many aspects of human endeavour, including mining. It has been reinforced by the common saying ‘you manage what you measure, so best measure what you want to manage’. In fact, the real challenge is not simply to measure but to understand and track change or success with rigour and integrity using all the means available—including but not limited to measurement. And while there is (p.382) power in measurement, measured indicators serve as only one element of a more complex generic assessment cycle (Hodge 2006). Figure 18.5 shows that cycle and its four essential elements: (1) story; (2) measurement and indicators; (3) judgement; and (4) communication.

Towards Contribution Analysis

Figure 18.5. Generic assessment cycle

Source: Hodge (2006); reproduced here by permission.

18.3.1 Story

Many aspects of contribution have not been or cannot be measured. But they are known about by those who carry the institutional and community memory. Real insight emerges through the ‘story’ that these people can offer. And importantly, seeking the stories of various interests offers a powerful and respectful means of engagement.

Over the past several decades, there has been a major resurgence of interest in story as a key element of policy development, decision-making, and organizational behaviour—for example, see Denning (2001) and Fischer and Forester (1993). However, formal quality control techniques of ‘story’ remain less developed than for measurement.

Gathering stories requires strong listening and hearing skills, often inter-cultural in scope. These capacities have not typically been strengths of the mining industry. In general, the technically oriented people who comprise most of mining industry personnel have a high comfort level with numbers and counting, and a low comfort level with storytelling, particularly when the issues to be described range into social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental concerns that are outside their immediate training—but (p.383) critical to understanding the values of community and government, and therefore critical to any operation.

In many communities, the multi-generational livelihoods brought by mining are important not only because of jobs, wages, and cash contributions to local charities and organizations, but more importantly because of the stability, respect, and confidence they bring to families and the community during and after the life of the mine. There are many examples of where this strengthening of community fabric and the psychological security based on hope in the future combined with the absence of fear far outweighs the significance of what may be only short-term mining income. While this side of mining’s contribution defies capture in easily measured indicators, over the long run it may be more important than all the ‘quantities’ that are typically measured in the annual reporting cycle demanded by managers and investors. To get a sense of this part of mining’s contribution requires building relationships with people so they will share their true feelings based on a mutual sense of respect and integrity.

At the same time, storytelling includes the dark side—the negative experiences. And mining, like every facet of human activity, has its share of negatives. These might include loss of life from accidents or poor design, labour strife and violence, environmental disaster, unintended contribution to a substance-abuse culture or the spread of sexually transmitted disease, the wrench of ill-prepared-for closure, or overall community discontent about lost land uses, displacement of people from their lands, unassigned responsibilities, lack of accountability, and unfairness in the distribution of mining-related benefits, costs, and risks. By honestly sharing the bad along with the good stories, a sense of honesty and integrity can be earned that contributes to finding solutions to these challenges while building the long-term trust that is so essential. A significant barrier to such openness and transparency is the attitude of legal advisers that any admission or apology that might infer liability—even by association—is to be avoided.

18.3.2 Measurement

In the broad sweep of history, trying to capture the nature of change over time has been a topic of interest since at least the ancient Greeks. However, the last half of the nineteenth century and through the twentieth century saw an increasing focus on counting. Lewis Mumford (1934) voiced a concern about this when he wrote:

The new attitude toward time and space infected the workshop and the counting house, the army and the city. The tempo became faster, the magnitudes became greater; conceptually, modern culture launched itself into space and gave itself (p.384) over to movement. What Max Weber called the ‘romanticism of numbers’ grew naturally out of this interest. In time-keeping, in trading, in fighting, men counted numbers, and finally, as the habit grew, only numbers counted.

Even Albert Einstein added a note of caution with a sign hung on his Princeton University office door that read: ‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.’

The specific role of ‘measured’ indicators is to provide a firm ‘backbone’ for assessing contribution. They serve to: (1) confirm and give confidence to the observations that are often first recognized through ‘story’, and (2) provide counter-intuitive insight that can trigger whole new perspectives. However, the overall power of counting can only be realized by seeing it as part of the larger generic cycle that is needed to recognize, track, record, and understand change and, in the context of this chapter, the contribution of mining and metals activities.

18.3.3 Synthesis and Judgement

In tracking contribution, whether the scale be that of the project, organization, community, industry, or political jurisdiction, the greatest challenge is to bring together the power of both qualitative and quantitative analysis—story and measurement—in a synthesis that can be respected across all interests.

Even when ‘measured’ indicators have been compiled and nested in the story of place or issue, the task remains of weighing the elements and judging the significance of the gathered evidence. This means establishing the relative significance of both measured indicators and articulated story and combining the result in a synthesis that allows an overall assessment of contribution and progress. This task is far from trivial. It is the classic problem of combining apples, oranges, and socks.

Gibson et al. (2006: 165–79) offer a set of criteria drawn mainly from the environmental assessment literature (which includes social and economic as well as ecological effects) for assessing the significance of a project’s effects. However, they point out that little of the available literature on this topic has been developed with sustainability criteria in mind.

There is much relevant experience in courts of law across the world where significance must be assigned to different pieces of evidence and those pieces weighed to draw a judgement.7 Critically, ‘reasons for decisions’ are carefully developed and made public to serve as a continuously growing body of knowledge from which to draw. In this way, continuous learning concepts can be (p.385) applied to the assessment processes. An important result is the enhancement of people’s sense of integrity in and trust for such assessment processes.

18.3.4 Communication

All is for naught without effective communication of assessment results. Communication is a two-way process. So the starting point of this is listening, not telling—listening to the stories, listening to what is important to others and, through that, developing a sensitivity to others’ culture and values. If that is done, the chances of being able to then tell in a way that will be heard is greatly enhanced.

18.3.5 Explicitly Bringing Values into ‘Technical’ Assessment and Decision-making

The generic assessment cycle described above is dependent on careful and rigorous application of each component. An ongoing challenge, however, is the integration of values—often those held by indigenous people, community members, and government representatives—into the technical assessment and decision-making process. One powerful technique available to do this is ‘multi-attribute utility analysis’ which comes from the field of ‘Decision Analysis’. It has been taught in engineering and operations research programs for many years and applied in major industries to best characterize risks when making high-stakes decisions. However, it has only rarely been used to address sustainability-driven decisions and the kind of contribution analysis championed in this chapter. An example application involving an assessment of closure options of a major mine project is detailed in IRP (2007) and Hodge and Merkhofer (2008), and summarized in Hodge (2017: Box 3). A second example is detailed in Ben-Eli et al. (2004) which describes how alternatives were assessed for managing high-level nuclear waste over the long term in Canada.

The technique involves careful definition of objectives, specification of alternatives, identification of the hierarchy of factors, uncertainties, and relationships that influence the performance of each alternative under each objective, rigorous assessment of performance using carefully crafted performance scales, weighting the importance of each objective, synthesizing the result, and lastly, completing a sensitivity analysis. The whole process is completed collaboratively and may include periodic ‘negotiations’. It is a powerful approach to assessment and decision-making that effectively combines the facts, judgements, and probabilities provided by the technical experts with the value judgements provided by the participating interests.

(p.386) 18.3.6 Need for an Interdisciplinary Team

Each aspect of the assessment cycle requires a special skillset. Further, those expert in story may not be expert in measurement, and neither may be proficient in synthesis, weighing evidence, and making judgements about significance. Further, none of these groups are necessarily effective at communicating. The inevitable conclusion is that a multidisciplinary team is essential for success.

18.4 The Tough Challenge of Attribution

A mining/metals operation is one of many contributors to the state of social, cultural, economic, and ecological conditions at a given location. Other industries (large and small), government facilities, and households all play a role. In fact, a significant issue that commonly arises is when boundaries of responsibility between community, company, and government become blurred. When there is such confusion and multiple interests share responsibility for social and ecological conditions, a central question is then how to apportion contribution—positive and negative—among interests.

For measurable indicators such as the following, clear-cut answers to the attribution issue can be established, provided accurate statistical systems are in place and maintained:

  • standard project key performance indicators—production cost numbers relative to the expected mine life, financial numbers tracked by company management

  • supplies and services drawn from the local community and region

  • employment numbers (primary, secondary, tertiary)

  • household members associated with employees and their participation in community activities

  • payment of taxes, royalties, licences, and fees

  • contributions to local infrastructure, charities, and a range of civil society organizations (sport, cultural, recreational, advocacy, education)

  • discharges of contaminants to surface or groundwater

  • loss of biodiversity in a region.

Unfortunately, the above numbers do not get at the feeling of a community about the presence of a mining project, their sense of fairness about the distribution of benefits, costs, and risks, and, most importantly, the feelings of a community about itself—its own sense of current and future security and well-being. This part of contribution can only be accessed by talking to (p.387) people and drawing out their stories in a way that is acceptable to local cultural norms.

On this front, all interests—company, community, and governments—are at an early stage of learning about how best to proceed. There is no formula to draw on for apportioning contribution on this front when it is essential to do so—only the use of common sense and courtesy in processes of open and collaborative assessment that are marked on all sides by respect and integrity.

18.5 Steps towards Contribution Analysis

This section describes three concrete examples of steps that have been taken towards contribution analysis.

18.5.1 The 1997–2002 Assessment and Approval of the Labrador-based Voisey’s Bay Nickel Project Based on Assessment of Projected Contribution to Sustainability

Assessment and approval of the massive Voisey’s Bay nickel project occurred through a landmark environmental assessment process. For the first time, ‘contribution to sustainability’ was used as the basic test of acceptability. Details of this process are provided in Voisey’s Bay Mine and Mill Environmental Assessment Panel, 1997. The panel determined that progress toward sustainable development would require:

  1. 1. the preservation of ecosystem integrity, including the capability of natural systems to maintain their structure and function and to support biological diversity

  2. 2. respect for the right of future generations to the sustainable use of renewable resources

  3. 3. the attainment of durable and equitable social and economic benefits.

Adoption of the sustainability-based decision criteria based on achieving a net positive contribution changed how the main issues were addressed, how the project was designed, and what was approved. Further, it shifted the focus from the mitigation of negative effects during the life of the mine to attaining net gains over the long term. Critically, it entrenched a collaborative and ongoing process for monitoring and reporting on project performance against the sustainability-based criteria. Now in 2018, the project is well into operation. A strong foundation has been established for long-term success, but the critical test will come when it enters the closure and post-closure phases.

(p.388) 18.5.2 A First Nation’s Assessment of Mining’s Contribution: Past, Present, and Future

In the spring of 2003, the Tahltan First Nation, whose territory covers some 100,000 km2 in north-western British Columbia set out to:

  1. 1. assess the relationship—past (say, fifty years ago), present, and sought future (including specific actions for various interests)—between themselves, their land, and the mining industry, taking into consideration activities on their traditional territory from exploration through operation, closure, and post-closure

  2. 2. build a strategy to guide that relationship in the future.

To guide this assessment, they used the ‘seven questions to sustainability’ assessment framework (MMSD North America 2002) described in Figure 18.3. The full process and results are described in Tahltan Nation and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (2004).

The facilitated, but community-driven, process involved collaboratively assessing past, current, and sought future experience for each of (1) exploration, (2) operation, and (3) closure/post-closure activities in (or projected to be within) their traditional territory. Available data and experiential anecdotes of elders and others in the community where compiled as a starting point for the assessment.

The Tahltan Nation made it very clear that they were prepared to support mining activities if: (1) mining interests and government respected their values and concerns; and (2) a fair distribution of benefits, costs and risks, responsibilities, and accountabilities could be achieved. The collaborative assessment process combined with the seven-question framework provided a means to fairly and openly treat not only direct and indirect employment and local procurement of services, but also more sensitive and difficult issues that included:

  1. 1. innovative collaborative approaches to the overall management/co-management of mining-related activities

  2. 2. how to move towards a fairer distribution (considering all participating interests) of all benefits, costs, and risks

  3. 3. more effective approaches for addressing environmental and health/social/cultural implications of mining/mineral activity that in their view continue to receive inadequate attention.

18.5.3 Strengthening Mining’s Contribution to Poverty Alleviation

In November 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. Highest priority among these is poverty (p.389) alleviation. This example weaves together threads of two thought processes that focused on strengthening mining’s contribution to poverty alleviation.

In September 2013, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice convened a day of reflection involving some twenty-five individuals drawn from the mining world and fifteen from the Church and related civil society. Stemming from this initiative, the Integrity of Creation Working Group, of the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of the International Union of Superiors General, convened a second meeting a few days later. It involved some twenty individuals representing fifteen religious orders of the Catholic Church along with the president of the ICMM. In both cases, the focus of discussion was on how the contribution of mining could be strengthened for host communities and nations (Hodge 2014).

The Integrity of Creation Working Group met again in May 2014, this time focusing entirely on the priority issue of mining’s role in poverty alleviation. They did so recognizing: (1) the potential significant and positive results of a contribution from mining on this front; and (2) a sense that to gain trust, the mining industry needs to send a concrete signal that it is not simply continuing ‘business-as-usual’ on the poverty alleviation front, despite many fine words being expressed to the contrary.

Simultaneously with these events, Jim Cooney, a former vice president of Placer Dome Inc. (a large Canadian gold-mining company that subsequently merged with Barrick Inc.) was also reflecting deeply on mining’s role in poverty alleviation. He recognized that poverty has both an absolute and a relative dimension. And while mining contributes demonstrably to economic growth in host countries and local areas of operations, it also tends to widen the income gap. This is because mine-generated wealth is more likely to be directed into the hands of those with the greatest ability to capture and capitalize on that wealth. For their part, not only are the poor less able to take advantage of it, but the greater numbers of poor compared to rich means that the share of wealth that is captured is diluted. In short, the rich get richer faster than the poor get richer. This widening income gap can lead to a sense of growing poverty among the poor (Cooney 2014).

Cooney outlined four simple steps for mining companies that would greatly strengthen mining’s contribution to poverty alleviation:

  1. 1. Develop a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of poverty around their operations.

  2. 2. Work collaborately with others to narrow the income gap in local communities and seek a more equitable and sustainable distribution of the benefits from mining.

  3. 3. Regularly assess the changes in the income gaps in local communities, and if widening is evident, adopt corrective interventions.

  4. (p.390) 4. Embrace a Poverty Action Plan for the marginalized, working with local civil society institutions that can assert and advance the best interests of the marginalized.

The Integrity of Creation Working Group adopted these steps as the core of an action plan. In addition, they called for: (1) ensuring that all subsidiaries and service providers were included in the envelope of any given operation, and (2) industry participation in the four-year, nation-by-nation United Nations’ Universal Human Rights Periodic Review (Integrity of Creation Working Group 2014).

Strengthening mining’s contribution to poverty alleviation rather than serving to exacerbate it is central to the idea of sustainability. The action plan itself is nothing more than what any company would do to address other priorities.

18.6 Progress Made, Progress Needed

The examples in Section 18.5 provide strong evidence for the evolution underway towards the use of an integrated and ongoing assessment of success at strengthening mining and metals’ contribution to human and ecosystem well-being. The elements needed for assessing contribution are available, the conceptual foundation is clear, and effective practice of various steps along the way has been demonstrated. In short, much progress has been made. However, the full step has not yet been taken. The task urgently needs addressing.

Most companies, communities, and governments are not yet driving decision-making with an assessment of the full contribution of a project through its full life cycle, even though the practical benefits of doing so are clear. Instead, they continue to focus their attention on the identification and mitigation of ‘impacts’—the negatives of human activity—generally at a fixed point in time such as at licensing or when an accident occurs. Bizarrely, it is like making a cost–benefit analysis thinking only about part of the costs. This limited perspective is contributing to the ongoing tensions that exist between communities, companies, and government.

The chapter makes the following seven assertions:

  1. 1. Contribution assessment must be driven by the interlinked ideas of sustainability and sustainable development. At the core is a value set best described as parallel care and respect for people and the enveloping ecosystem, particularly over the long term.

  2. 2. Following ideas of results-based management, assessing contribution should similarly be based on understanding and tracking: (1) human (p.391) well-being (result), (2) ecosystem well-being (result), and (3) the support generated, and the stress imposed, by the activity on human and ecosystem well-being (means).

  3. 3. To be consistent with the ideas of sustainability and sustainable development, a project should achieve a net positive contribution to human and ecosystem well-being over the long term.

  4. 4. At an operational level, achieving a ‘net positive contribution to human and ecosystem well-being over the long term’ should be adopted as the fundamental two-dimensional criteria for designing, constructing, operating, and closing mining operations. Thus, it should be similarly used as the test for project approvals and ongoing success. The shift will require a change of culture on all sides.

  5. 5. For effective assessment of contribution, a generic assessment cycle should be used involving compilation of insight from both story and measurement, a rigorous form of synthesis and judgement, and careful communication that includes listening and respectful sharing of results.

  6. 6. Contribution has both substantive and process dimensions. Both must be addressed.

  7. 7. Contribution analysis for mining must span the full project and product life cycles. Significant unknowns are inevitable; a commitment to continuous learning and adaptive management is essential.

Extractive industries are bridging activities that are taking us from now into the future (MMSD North America 2002). They are not ‘sustainable’ in and of themselves but their contribution to human and ecosystem well-being should be—and needs to be tested for, tracked over time, and with so many unknowns, a learning culture instilled if we are to achieve the kind of insights for low- and middle-income countries that this project is seeking.


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(1) See Humphreys (2015: 1) for a clear description of mining’s 2002–12 super-cycle.

(2) The ideas presented in this chapter have evolved over the last thirty years, and along the way many people have contributed, including Al Freeze, Ron Rice, David Brooks, Alex Michalos, Britt Banks, and numerous friends and colleagues with whom I have shared professional assignments. Though these others remain unnamed here, I am deeply appreciative of the push and pull of debate along the way. The following reviewed this chapter, offering many helpful comments: Tony Addison, Chris Anderson, Toni Aubynn, Jim Cooney, Robert Court, Lois Craig, Rodrique Djahlin, Liesel Filgueries, Bob Gibson, David Humphreys, Anne Johnson, Mike McPhie, Lee Merkhofer, Alan Roe, Andrew Roman, Ian Thomson, and Mark Wade. Much of the richness is due to their input, while the weaknesses that remain are solely due to the author.

(3) More detail can be found in Gibson (2000, 2002), Gibson et al. (2006), Hodge (1995, 2011, 2017), Hodge et al. (1995), and MMSD North America (2002).

(4) Hodge (1995); Hodge and Taggart (1992); Hodge et al. (1995); NRTEE (1993); Prescott-Allen (2001).

(5) This categorization was first suggested by Alex Michalos (personal communication 1992), the founding editor (in 1972) of the Journal of Social Indicators Research. It was adopted by the Sustainable Development Reporting Task Force of the Canadian Prime Minister’s National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE 1993).

(6) The ‘social licence to operate’ is a concept first proposed by James Cooney, vice president of Placer Dome Inc. in 1997. See Joyce and Thomson (2000) for an early treatment of the proposition and Owen and Kemp (2013) for a useful cautionary critique.

(7) A similar ‘weight-of-evidence’ approach was adopted long ago by the government of Canada for addressing a broad range of social and environmental issues; see Canada (1993).