Community liaison officers play a critical role in developing and maintaining relationships with communities in and around the sites of company operations. When their role is structured and supported well, they make an essential contribution to a company's social licence to operate; they are key to the implementation of international standards and other corporate commitments; they provide insight and local knowledge which 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, realise opportunities and resolve grievances.

This paper sheds light on CLOs and the challenges they face. It draws on the authors’ original research and a survey undertaken on behalf of IPIECA of over 120 CLOs from 31 countries and representing 25 companies. It looks at who CLOs are, how they are employed and considers the significance of the CLO's own identity in relation to the communities with which they interact.

We make the case for flexible and iterative design of community-facing teams, recognising the inter-relationship of corporate, project/asset, societal and personal drivers on hiring decisions and job definitions. We emphasise the importance of open communication with colleagues and contractors, and we argue that the challenges faced by CLOs – especially those relating to their personal safety and well-being - need to be addressed more thoughtfully and with some urgency.

CLOs deserve greater respect and visibility for the role they play. 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.

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