The key goal of the PACIFIC project is to develop mineral exploration methodologies that are kinder to our planet. However, the success of exploration today depends not only on the technology, but also on how mining activities are explained to our communities and how individuals process that information. The perceived risk of exploration activities (such as seismic surveys) is a product of much more than the factual information provided by the exploration company – it is also influenced by trust, comprehension and emotional attachment to the local area.

As part of the PACIFIC project, Geological Survey Ireland (GSI) and the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) have been carrying out experimental work to investigate how well people comprehend the information they are given about exploration activities. We have also explored how subtle changes in the presentation of that information can either hinder or enhance their comprehension. This is pertinent in the context of the PACIFIC project as people’s comprehension of mining-relating activities (and attitudes towards the same) relies on individuals processing complex information about risks and benefits from a range of sources. The objective of this work is to provide a series of recommendations for communications strategies so that any individuals receiving that information can make informed decisions and fully engage with local exploration and mining processes.

The experimental work is being undertaken by the Behavioural Research Unit of the ESRI, a multidisciplinary research team of behavioural scientists specialising in understanding how people process complex information and use it to make decisions. After reviewing the written communication materials currently distributed by mining and exploration companies, the team designed and carried out a face-to-face experiment in Ireland to test how the format of a simple webpage about mining-related activities affects comprehension of the information it contains.

Using scientific methods like experiments is different to simply sending out questionnaires or large scale surveys; it allows us to ask questions about the psychology behind how people process information in a way that a simple survey cannot. Surveys are better suited to capturing a snapshot of opinions and attitudes at a particular point in time, which requires a large representative sample of the population in order to be accurate. However, behavioural experiments are better suited to isolating the psychological effects of details in information presentation by comparing across different experimental conditions, and are not as reliant on large samples.

Many of the insights gained from experiments are likely to be independent of location, and recommendations arising from them can therefore be extended to other countries/scenarios; although superficial attitudes to topics such as mining vary in different cultural contexts, the more fundamental psychology underlying how information is processed and used to form attitudes should not vary to the same extent.

Further experimental work will be completed online, and face-to-face once Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted. However initial results have been used to make some simple recommendations (extracted from the relevant PACIFIC deliverable available here: https://www.pacific-h2020.eu/wp-content/uploads/pacific_d6-3_recommendations_for_improved_communication.pdf):

  • Printed and online materials should use techniques that have previously been shown to improve absorption of information: using bullet points and headings, separating information into clear categories or themes, reducing text, using illustrations and diagrams, etc.
  • Information should be accurate but avoid unnecessary detail – additional information can be provided via other/external sources if needed.
  • Independent organisations, such as government offices, geological surveys etc., should provide a comprehensive centralised repository of easily accessible neutral information.
  • Organisations providing information should not assume that simply increasing the volume of accessible information will improve comprehension, nor that opposition to mining-relating activities stems from a lack of understanding.
  • The structure of the information and how it is presented should be carefully considered, not only the content of the information.

More information and project results will be published through the PACIFIC project in 2021!

Post written by Aoife Braiden, Geological Survey Ireland and Hannah Julienne, Economic and Social Research Institute.

 

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