New social performance management website engages practitioners in dialogue about what they do

“If you’re doing this work without an ethical base you’re just co-opting people.”

That’s what Wesley Cragg said recently at a session on social performance management in Montreal. And he wasn’t kidding. He doesn’t kid about things like this because over the more than two decades he’s been active trying to stimulate and guide change in the way natural resource companies work he’s seen his share of troubles.

That statement did get a few people’s backs up, though. After all, we social performance workers are professionals. Isn’t it a given that we’re not just trying to convince people to accept development?

Maybe not.

Wes was commenting in Montreal during a recent session launching the Social Practitioners’ Platform, a website/discussion space created over the last year as part of an outreach to engage individual practitioners. practitioners Platform

For social performance practitioners one of the key issues is how to tell a straight story, because there seem to be people out there telling some pretty good stories about the miracles they can deliver.  In the meantime, a growing number of practitioners want to start a serious, professional and practitioner’s discussion about the work we do.  We know how to do many things, some very well.  But there are many things we don’t know enough about and, on some of them, we really only know enough to be dangerous!

Then there are the areas in which overall the profession is still on a steep learning curve – like how to carry out effective livelihood replacement programs that actually work and are truly sustainable.

Many of us have also come to recognize that there are myths out there about ‘social performance’, like the idea that all will be well if we just employ the whole “package” – that amorphous and variable concept of things companies and other organizations can put in place to “fix” a social problem, such as baselines and ESHIAs and the like.  We’ve also identified some other important myths that we want to dismantle.

The website – – was created to flesh out those ideas and help create a common understanding among people doing the work. (Full disclosure: I am one of the group of practitioners who have been working on the website initiative over the last year.)

Originally, the idea was started by a group of people doing this work in various parts of the world and who wanted to pause and think about what progress we’ve made in the extractive industries since the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development Initiative that preoccupied us throughout 2000 to 2002. But by the time we were able to sit down together, our focus had shifted. We wanted to see if we could define what good practice is, and why?  Wes Craig’s provocative statement comes at the right time: what does good social performance deliver, and why?

The first thing we agreed on is that we don’t do CSR. Really. CSR has come to mean all things to all people and, in the end, nothing.

Along the way we also realized that part of the challenge we face as our profession matures is to cut through the B.S. – the glitz and splash that is increasingly being taken for social performance.

At the end of three days of brainstorming we knew we needed to reach out to a larger group of practitioners and create a forum for the discussion that didn’t rely on being part of a social media platform. Not everyone is on or even wants to be on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. The forum will be moderated and open to individuals – it’s not about companies and competitive advantage – to comment on and contribute to where we’re at as practitioners and where we need to go.

So now it’s out. It’s not perfect, of course – in fact it will evolve as people participate.  So if you’re a social performance practitioner concerned about what we do and how we do it, head over to the website and start to help make our practice stronger, clearer, and more effective. It’s been more than two decades since the first EIA. Isn’t it time we are all clear about what we’re doing?