Community-Liaison Officers Build Vital Bridges

Community-liaison officers (CLOs) play a critical role in developing and maintaining relationships with communities in and around the sites of company operations.

In 2017–2018, consultants Clare Bebbington and Emma Wilson examined the challenges faced by CLOs in their frontline roles, and, on 9 April, the duo will present findings from their research in an online seminar held by SPE.

Bebbington

When the role of a CLO is structured and supported well, Bebbington and Wilson said, they make an essential contribution to a company’s social license to operate; they are key to the implementation of international standards and other corporate commitments; they provide insight and local knowledge that enhances the company’s ability to manage a range of risks and uncertainties; and they are a familiar and accessible face with whom community members can raise concerns, realize opportunities, and resolve grievances.

Bebbington and Wilson first presented their research into the role of CLOs, which included a survey of more than 120 CLOs from 31 countries and representing 25 companies, in their SPE paper "Community Liaison Officers: On the Front Line of Social Risk Management."

“The role of the community-liaison officer is poorly understood in the oil and gas industry,” they wrote in the paper, "despite the critical part they play in the management of social impacts, the mitigation of material nontechnical risks, and the value they bring to relationships with the nearest neighbors of assets and projects worth billions of dollars."

Wilson

Their research also was influential in the development of a toolkit for companies building resilient community-liaison teams, launched by IPIECA in 2018. (Find the "Community-Liaison Officers Team Building and Management Guidance" IPIECA toolkit here.)

"CLOs deserve greater respect and visibility for the role they play," Bebbington and Wilson wrote. "By giving them the appropriate tools, techniques, and language, companies will allow them to contribute fully and demonstrate their value to project and asset teams—and the communities themselves."

The April online seminar also will present reflections on how the IPIECA toolkit has been used since its launch.

This year, Bebbington and Wilson launched a new phase of their project, exploring the ways in which gender influences corporate community engagement in resource-extraction projects.

“The inspiration to expand to gender influences came from the inspiring female CLOs whom we have met during training, along with some of the reports about the particular challenges faced by female CLOs, including security and stress,” Wilson said. “We are particularly interested in gender balance within community-facing teams, so we are looking at issues of representation and the relative skills and strengths of male and female CLOs and how the balance is important to the community relationship. This also relates to other issues of diversity, such as age and ethnic affiliation.”

The second phase of the research will include scoping interviews with thematic experts and structured interviews with team leaders, functional managers, and, most importantly, with female CLOs working in different social, economic, and political environments worldwide. It will be supplemented by an online survey, and Bebbington and Wilson say they hope it will bring groups of female CLOs together to discuss issues in plenary sessions and to learn from one another’s experiences.

The April seminar will provide some insight into Phase 2, which will focus primarily on the extractive industries but will extend to other industrial sectors, including hydropower and other major infrastructure projects.

Sign up for the online seminar here.

 

 

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