WRI analyzed existing community engagement standards and guidance, as well as experiences in several high profile projects. Based on this analysis, WRI developed seven Principles for Effective Community Engagement for extractive and infrastructure projects.

Key Findings

Extractive and infrastructure projects do not exist in a vacuum—they will both affect and be affected by the surrounding communities and environment. Effective community engagement strategies must create win-win situations for the proponent and communities over the life of a project. To address the gaps remaining in the knowledge base and application of community engagement standards, we recommend the following next steps:

  • For project proponents: identify and promote best practices. Proponents of extractive and infrastructure projects should prioritize the collection and public dissemination of community engagement best practices, including examples of how community engagement creates value for companies. The seven principles proposed in this report can serve as a framework around which best practices can be collected.

  • For financial institutions: increase disclosure, promote improved community engagement. Financial institutions can play a critical role in guiding their clients to link community engagement with project risk management, and should send strong signals to their clients that community engagement is a priority. By improving their own public reporting on community engagement, financial institutions can promote more open sharing and improvement of engagement strategies. For example, the International Finance Corporation (IFC)—the private sector financing arm of the World Bank Group—should begin to routinely disclose how it determines that each of its projects has “broad community support.” Similarly, the Equator Principles financial institutions should disclose the projects where they are applying the IFC Performance Standards.

  • For citizen organizations: advocate for inclusive, accountable, and transparent processes. The ultimate goals of community engagement are tangible outcomes, such as providing benefits and mitigating risks to improve the lives of communities and strengthen a project’s viability. However, these outcomes often depend on the integrity of the process for achieving them. Community engagement that is inclusive, accountable, and transparent is more likely to result in optimal outcomes for both communities and project proponents. Informed by this report, citizen organizations supporting affected communities can more clearly articulate the type of processes in which they would like to engage.

When communities have the opportunity to collaborate with project proponents during the design and implementation of a project, proponents can more effectively identify and mitigate potential impacts, prevent harm, and shape the project to fit local conditions. Communities, in turn, can have a voice in determining how they will benefit from a project and whether a project fits their development priorities. This creates local ownership and support for the project, which is also good for the bottom line.

This report is the first of two reports to be produced by WRI’s Institutions and Governance Program, the second of which will identify examples of best practices for each of the principles identified.

Executive Summary

Growing demand for energy and natural resources has led many low-income, resource-rich countries to open remote areas to industrial development. Even as a financial crisis engulfed the global economy in 2008 and 2009, projects such as oil pipelines, roads, and mines continued to remain key development priorities.

In many of these countries, however, strong institutions and governance systems are not yet in place to ensure that extractive and infrastructure projects do not adversely affect local communities. As a result, these sectors have generated a history of harmful environmental and social impacts on local communities. These impacts create risks for companies, governments, and financiers.

For several years, companies, governments, and financial institutions have responded to these challenges by signing up to various initiatives that provide standards and guidance to foster better industry practices. Financial institutions, in particular, often require clients in these sectors to meet environmental and social standards, in order to avoid or mitigate risk.

Many project proponents, host governments, and financial institutions recognize that a strong relationship with those affected by a project can improve the identification and management of risks, as well as long-term project viability. But community engagement efforts often fall short because of a failure to understand local political and community dynamics, or a failure to fully engage all local stakeholders affected by a project.

Establishing Effective Community Engagement Principles

WRI analyzed existing community engagement standards and guidance, as well as experiences in several high profile projects. Our analysis revealed that key gaps remain in the knowledge base and on-the-ground application of community engagement standards. Despite the abundance of existing reports and manuals that provide guidance on community engagement, much of the publicly available information on how project proponents engage communities reveals great difficulty in applying existing guidance effectively.

Based on this analysis, we developed seven Principles for Effective Community Engagement for extractive and infrastructure projects. These principles are intended to serve two key purposes:

  • For companies and governments developing projects: to provide a framework for identifying solutions to core community engagement challenges.

  • For citizen organizations supporting communities: to serve as a resource, in order to empower local communities to provide more meaningful input into project design and implementation.

Principles For Effective Community Engagement

  1. Prepare communities before engaging.
  2. Determine what level of engagement is needed.
  3. Integrate community engagement into each phase of the project cycle.
  4. Include traditionally excluded stakeholders.
  5. Gain free, prior and informed consent.
  6. Resolve community grievances through dialogue.
  7. Promote participatory monitoring by local communities.


Engage Communities, Avoid Conflict

Kirk Herbertson explains the story of the Mae Moh coal plant in Thailand and how it demonstrates why early community engagement is critical.