Challenge # 2: Communication
46. Megaprojects involve complex communication challenges. Over many years, reports of the Panel have drawn attention to misunderstandings, erroneous perceptions and even serious distortions regarding the project. QMM has worked to correct such problems and has invested substantially in improving communication. Unfortunately, the crisis context of the country has multiplied the barriers to effective communications. The nation’s political and economic crisis has not only made the project “the only game in town” in Anosy, it may also be making it “the only target in town”. This makes effective communication all the more important. Yet our interviews and discussions, including those with QMM, showed that communications on the project are falling short of what is required.
47. The problem is that there are no simple solutions. Proven guides to effective social communications in a megaproject are unavailable, especially if such projects take place in a high poverty locale with a fragile ecosystem. What is known for certain is that ambitious socio-economic efforts inevitably entail successes and failures, achievements and setbacks. We also know from social change studies that trust increases when communication is perceived as honestly conveying bad news as well as good news. Finally, we know from communications studies and theories that complex information and communications systems require some kind of gatekeeper or leadership to help prevent mountains of information from becoming incoherent. In this regard, the Panel endorses the assessment of the recent Gagnon Report which comments that:
“Le cas du mégaprojet de l’ilménite à Madagascar…montrent que plusieurs
acteurs et comités de la société civile interviennent directement dans le suivi, en
produisant des informations de tous types. Pour garder la cohésion et la
« lisibilité sociale » de toutes ces informations, et ne pas tomber dans le
syndrome de Tour de Babel, il y a une nécessité de coordination et de
leadership de la part du régulateur, même si c’est le promoteur qui produit la
majorité des données…”
48. Some reorientation of communication strategy on the project would probably be timely and beneficial. Among the key factors to include would be the challenge of how to achieve a better communication balance that would include setbacks as well as achievements and how to build and enhance the partnerships required for cohesive and credible communication. Finally, these factors will require strengthened leadership across the communications function. This implies some significant changes to the channels and types of communication now emphasized by QMM. For example, one senior member of the Anosy community advised that the general view in the region was that QMM’s Information Centre in Fort Dauphin is based on high end communication tools that do not connect to or hold meaning for the general population.
49. One specific issue in communications is how to respond effectively to criticism. There have been several NGO reports critical of the project, including one by Friends of the Earth UK in 2007 . The most recent such report, undertaken by the Andrew Lees Trust was based on the views of persons in communities that use the littoral forest. The 12 testimonies selected for the published report are life stories that are affected by a broad and complicated range of factors such as climate change, overfishing, land shortage and inevitably the QMM project. All of the testimonies speak to struggles and difficulties of daily life and several express fears of a harsher future including fears about the QMM project. The extent to which these are representative views may be questioned, for like most research studies based on a selective number of interviews this one involved no statistical analysis. The stories in this report are personal stories which do not address the bigger picture of costs and benefits of development efforts across the region. But the intent of this study was not to undertake a regional cost-benefit assessment; it was to gather and distill oral testimonies and that is what it has done. Those testimonies indicate that a number of people in the region feel poorer now than before the QMM project began. Whatever the statistical limitations, such testimonies should be taken seriously.
50. QMM claims that it has tried to do so, including in a meeting with the Andrew Lees Trust (ALT) to explore how to improve its communications on the basis of the published oral testimonies. The company also organized a full day workshop on how it could take the oral testimonies into account and adapt its communications accordingly. The ALT perspective, however, is that QMM has not taken the report seriously. Clearly, problems of communications and mutual understanding remain. More generally, the Panel is concerned by some signs that when faced with criticism and lacking the coordinated leadership and partnerships arrangements for joint responses, QMM may become more inclined to react rather than to reach out, to dismiss rather than recalibrate. While the current circumstances may make such responses understandable, a defensive posture is not creative or conducive to resolving problems.
51. In sum, the uncertainty, doubts, disappointments and frustrations brought on by Madagascar’s national crisis make effective communication more essential than ever before. This now calls for a updating of communication strategy to place heightened emphasis on opening of social spaces for informed discourse on negatives as well as positives and on seeking to build (or rebuild) coordinated leadership partnerships in communication with shared messaging.
Recommendation # 8
Several actions are now essential to establish broadly based leadership partnerships in communications. Achieving genuine progress towards shared messaging is required in the interests of the region and of the corporate reputation of QMM. To this end, the Panel recommends the following interrelated measures: