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Building Resilient Communities: The Environmental Observatory for Mining Projects and Climate Change Indicators

Institute of Urban Studies, Catholic University of Chile, Santiago 8331150, Chile
Design School, Catholic University of Chile, Santiago 8331150, Chile
Authors to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2023, 15(8), 6947;
Received: 20 December 2022 / Revised: 23 March 2023 / Accepted: 27 March 2023 / Published: 20 April 2023


Public environmental information can improve industry performance, reduce environmental conflicts, and foster informed citizenship. The latter is directly linked to resilience because it is a “process that enables people to learn together, support experimentation, and increase the potential for (social and technological) innovation”. Importantly, the transparency and disclosure of environmental information alone do not have the desired impact; the general public may have access to information but not understand the content. It is necessary to reframe the technical language of information to reach broader stakeholder understanding. The Environmental Observatory for Mining Projects is an applied research project that aims to provide a public information access system for diverse stakeholders. It integrates data from various public services and makes them available to a variety of stakeholders, including the general public, through a web server and application that facilitate accessibility and understanding by using the co-creation methodology for public services. As a result of the project, the authors identified 25 indicators, six of which relate to climate change, including greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, air pollution, hazardous waste, and tailing deposit locations. These indicators are relevant for decision making through the combined knowledge of public policies, information priorities on the impacts and vulnerabilities of climate change, and more practical issues related to data availability. The authors conclude that environmental information systems must provide people with essential data, but that such information must also be understandable, manageable, comparable, and interoperable so as to promote access to crucial information for resilient communities.

1. Introduction

Public environmental information can improve industry performance, reduce environmental conflicts [1,2], and foster informed citizenship [2,3,4,5,6]. The latter is directly related to “resilience”, as proposed by Graveline and Germain (2022) [7], who provided a series of definitions, including that of “learning capacity”, a process enabling people to learn together, support experimentation, and increase the potential for (social and technological) innovation [8].
According to Norris at al. (2008) [9], community resilience emerges from four primary sets of adaptive capacities: (1) economic development, (2) social capital, (3) community competence, and (4) information and communication, which together provide a strategy for disaster readiness.
These adaptation capacities feed back into and strengthen each other, enabling communities to respond to the scientific-evidence-based impacts of changing environmental conditions [10,11] in line with the proposals from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [12] related to, for example, desertification, land degradation, and food insecurity. In this sense, climate change adaptation and mitigation depend on community context and capacities. This demands an adequate design of public policies, institutions, and governance that contribute to increasing community resilience and encourage commitment and collaboration among all stakeholders. Information and communication are vital in the prevention of environmental problems, especially since people need accurate information about environmental status, risks, and recommendations, as well as the ability to act quickly in the face of evidence. Studies show that determining what people know about the environment is essential for community sustainability [13,14].
It is nevertheless important to note that transparency and disclosure of environmental information alone do not have the desired impact. The general public may have access to information but still be unable to understand the content. It is necessary to reframe the technical language of information to make it understandable for all stakeholders.
The Environmental Observatory of Mining Projects was developed in response to the gaps in access to and communication of environmental information in Chile and the need to build resilient communities in the face of climate change. It is a pilot information system focused on the mining industry, the most important economic sector in the country with an inherent environmental impact [15,16,17,18,19,20,21]. The Environmental Observatory for Mining Projects is in the prototype phase, and it is currently being implemented in four of the 346 municipalities in the country by integrating information from four public services: Ministry of the Environment, Environmental Assessment Service, Superintendence of the Environment, and the Second Environmental Court.
Chile has emerged as one of the fastest-growing economies in extractive mining production. It is now the world’s leading copper producer with an annual production of over 5.7 million tonnes (2020), equivalent to 30% of total global production and more than three times that of the second-largest producer. Mining activity, therefore, has a significant impact on aspects such as employment levels, GDP, and tax revenues.
Mining is an activity involving mid- and long-term project development. It is necessary to be able to anticipate opportunities, risks, and uncertainties while progressing towards a new paradigm that promotes the development of virtuous, inclusive, and sustainable mining and focusing on environmental sustainability in the context of climate change [22].
This applied research project aims to develop a system that enables scattered and compartmentalized information from a variety of public web platforms to be captured, integrated, and rendered understandable for all stakeholders. It is oriented both to the public and private sectors and to civil society, with the ultimate goal of reducing gaps in access to information. The co-production of a solution [23] and addressing the uncertainty inherent in an innovation process that generates an unknown outcome [24] are both key elements of achieving sustainable environmental management. In Chile, environmental information is spread over more than ten information systems: (1) the National Environmental Information System (SINIA); (2) the Pollutant Release and Transfer Register (PRTR); (3) the National Air Quality Information System (SINCA); (4) the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Platform; (5) the Online Environmental.
The approach and method of co-creative work are based on the design of public services. The Observatory was built through co-creation methodologies that were applied in the following stages of the research project: information gap diagnosis, indicator generation and prioritization, visualization platform development, and communication of the indicators identified.
As a research question for this article, it was asked whether it is possible to increase the resilience of communities through the development of an environmental management information system for the mining industry that integrates information from different public services and is developed with user-centered co-creation methodologies.
The hypothesis proposed is that a system of access to public information on environmental management can integrate information from different public services (referring to mining projects in the Valparaíso and Metropolitan Region), allow for a decrease in gaps in access to environmental management information, facilitate understanding of this information, increase the value of integration, and, therefore, increase the resilience of communities. All of this assumes that the proposed system that is being provided to citizens is created through the development of indicators, their visualization, and their linkages to the origins of the data.
The objective of this paper is to show how the development of an Environmental Observatory for Mining Projects can contribute towards building community resilience for facing climate change by generating indicators that provide relevant information on climate change mitigation and adaptation and using a co-creation methodology that fosters public, private, and civil society participation, thus favoring wider stakeholder involvement and commitment.
This paper begins by presenting an analytical framework for explaining the role of access to environmental information in developing resilience in the context of climate change. The next section addresses the methodological framework of the co-creation process. This is followed by the results of a process in which users create a diagnosis of the information gap, indicators are generated and prioritized, and the development processes of the visualization platform and way of reporting and communicating the co-created indicators are described. The paper concludes by focusing on the role of the co-construction approach in generating indicators and how this contributes to building community resilience.

2. Theoretical Approach

Chilean mining is one of the activities that contributes the most to the generation of greenhouse gas emissions in Chile; these emissions reach 7% directly (direct emissions or Scope 1), but increase to 21% of the total emissions when accounting for indirect emissions and upstream and downstream operation (indirect emissions or Scope 2). A large part of the CO2 emissions correspond precisely to energy consumption [25].
To achieve a carbon-neutral mining industry, it is essential to promote an energy transition process that, along with reducing emissions, has a reliable traceability system, a task that is not only large, but also highly complex. In this sense, the mining sector has begun efforts to reduce emissions by increasing energy efficiency and transitioning to clean energy sources. It is expected that by 2023, about two-thirds of the sector’s consumption will be supplied by renewables, and in the long run, decarbonization of the energy matrix will be achieved by 2040.
On the global scale, the demand for products derived from extractive industries is increasing, which has resulted in the production of a significant volume of waste that contains polluting material that is potentially dangerous due to its toxic nature [26,27]. The magnitude and often toxicity of the materials contained in the tailings mean that any impoundment failure and consequent discharge into river systems will inevitably affect water and sediment quality, as well as aquatic and human life in an area of significant impact [28,29,30,31]. The main waste stream is tailings, which are often stored in reservoirs or dams that can fail, with consequent environmental, economic, and human health impacts [32]. Several authors have collected information on tailing failures [33,34]. Kossoff et al. (2014) [32] point out that, although the data on this type of accident are valuable, they are incomplete [35] and are not reported in the scientific literature or in the media, which could be due to fears of bad publicity and the legal consequences that this type of accident entails [33]. An analysis of tailing dam failure data in Europe by Rico et al. 2008 (in Kossoff et al., 2014) concluded that 83% of failures occurred in active dams, 15% occurred in inactive and abandoned dams, and only 2% occurred in inactive but maintained dams; they were able to classify these failures in relation to foundations, slope instability, overflow, mine collapse, unusual rain, snow melt, pipes or leaks, seismic liquefaction, structural issues, and maintenance. Examples of seismically induced incidents in Chile include the failures of six dams during the 1965 earthquake [36] and two during the 1985 earthquake [37], as well as the 1997 and 2010 earthquakes [38]. These data provide key characteristics of the reported incidents, including the failures derived from the 2010 mega-earthquake, engineering practices, and improvements in the regulatory framework that have allowed progressive improvements in the construction, operation, and closure of mines. In particular, these improvements refer to the fields of security and risk management, as well as to analyses performed after major disaster events [39].
The management of tailing dams during closure and abandonment is challenging due to the numerous unknown variables that may impact a site over an extended period, leading to significant uncertainties [39]. In this context, resilience is an approach that allows the management and treatment of the risks and uncertainties of the environment as a way of minimizing impacts.
On the other hand, the legal and regulatory framework is one of the pillars of overall resilience management regarding the closure of a final disposal site. Its objective is to protect public safety and ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of the abandoned site. Here, public information on the risk of climate change has become important as an essential input for public policy. In this regard, different Chilean governments have made necessary efforts to provide and improve climate change risk maps as critical pieces of information, and they were explicitly incorporated in [40] National Plan on Climate Change 2017–2022: Measure MA5: “Generate and update vulnerability maps in the national territory”. This commitment aims to provide crucial input for the mining sector, especially for land planning and risk management, in light of cases such as that of the city of Copiapó, where there are more than 30 abandoned and inactive mine tailings. Extreme events, such as heavy rainfall and floods, have historically generated enormous pressure in the territory due to the high mercury, lead, and arsenic concentrations in mine tailings. For instance, the flood of March 2015, whose impacts in terms of soil drag had essential consequences for the concentrations of pollutants, has been analyzed in some studies. In many cases, it increased the concentrations of arsenic, lead, and mercury even to double the values before the flood, suggesting that the flood carried pollutants into the city from abandoned tailings [41,42]. This case suggests the importance of appropriate land planning and mining projects from a careful design to an integrated closure.
The recently approved [43] National Mining Policy (2022) of Chile seeks to establish a new mining development model for the next 30 years; it states the relationships between mining and other issues and defines specific objectives and goals for “green” or “sustainable” mining. Specifically, it refers to the relationships with the emission of greenhouse gases, biodiversity, abandoned mine tailings, environmental institutions and regulations, and climate change mitigation in a context in which—according to the [44] World Bank (2020)—“a low-carbon future will be significantly more mineral-intensive than observed in the reference scenario”. By 2050, the global demand for “strategic minerals”, such as lithium, graphite, and nickel, will experience extraordinary increases of 965%, 383%, and 108%, respectively. While the growing demand for minerals and metals is an opportunity for mineral-rich developing countries, it is also a challenge: Without climate-smart mining practices, the negative impact of mining activities will increase, affecting vulnerable communities and the environment.
However, given the characteristics of mining and its long history of socio-environmental impacts, many believe that making it “green” will not be possible due to the conflicts that it generates in territories [45,46,47], the environmental impacts of these projects (mainly on water resources [47,48], and the environmental and social costs, which can be very high in terms of impacts and remediation [45,49]. Others see this as an attempt to greenwash or launder the corporate image of large multinational mining companies, especially through their areas of corporate social responsibility and community relations. In this sense, initiatives such as the Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor (2023) evaluate the transparency and integrity of company emission reductions and Net Zero targets, realizing that most companies’ climate strategies have ambiguous commitments and compensation plans that lack credibility, even when good practices can be replicated [50]. According to CEPAL (2019) [51], the application of a long-term strategic vision for mining must include increasing the efficiency of water use, deepening recycling, promoting the use of renewable energies, reducing the carbon footprint, and other technical and technological changes in order to achieve greener and more traceable mining, including approaches to efficiency, life cycle, community relations, and income generation and distribution.

2.1. Definition of Resilience

When focus is placed on the role of resilience in reducing risk and the effects of climate change, it is important to consider increasing awareness around the causes and consequences of current and projected risks, as well as stakeholder involvement and participation. In this context, participation is seen as a means of reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience [11,52,53].
Holling (1973) [54], in his thesis on “ecological resilience”, was the first to take this concept, which was previously rooted in the exact sciences, and use it to describe the adaptive capacity of human beings and society in general.
Current research increasingly incorporates models that not only identify conditions of vulnerability to extreme events, but also societal resistance and/or resilience and the factors influencing these [55,56]. By way of example, an adaptation of the PAR (Pressure and Release) model by Pelling (2003) [53] places an even greater emphasis on the “macro-forces”. This model divides vulnerability into three components: exposure, resistance, and resilience to so-called “environmental risk”, as shown in Figure 1. Exposure is largely determined by physical location and environmental setting and can be reduced through investment in risk mitigation by exposed individuals or households. Resilience reflects economic, psychological, and physical health and maintenance systems, and it represents the capacity of an individual or group of people to withstand the impact of a hazard. If resilience is low, even a small event can lead to system failure.
In Figure 1, resilience to “natural” hazards is understood as the ability of any stakeholder to cope with or adapt to a hazard or stress. This is dependent on the degree of preparedness in light of a potential hazard, as well as spontaneous or premeditated adjustments in response to hazards, which also include disaster management.
In this context, resilience, as defined by Werner and Smith (1992), is understood as the ability of an individual or community to recover from a disruptive experience and is reflected in the capacity to absorb and recover from a disaster event or environmental hazard [57]. Disaster is defined as “a potentially traumatic event that is collectively experienced, has an acute onset, and is time delimited; disasters may be attributed to natural, technological, or human causes’’. McFarlane and Norris (2006) [58], where vulnerability arising from unsafe conditions intersects with a hazard to create a disaster, but this disaster must be analyzed while taking into account the unsafe conditions that might arise, for example, from a fragile environment, dynamic pressures, and root causes.
The concept of resilience refers to the adaptive capacities of an individual or community in the face of adverse conditions. The resilience of a community to an event or disaster is determined by the preparedness of individuals to resist, overcome, and adapt to economic, social, political, and environmental changes that may arise from a disastrous event [53].
The United Nations (2020) define resilience as the ability of individuals, households, communities, cities, institutions, systems, and societies to prevent, resist, absorb, adapt, respond, and recover positively, efficiently, and effectively when faced with a wide range of risks while maintaining an acceptable level of functioning without compromising long-term prospects for sustainable development, peace and security, human rights, and wellbeing for all (United Nations, 2017 in United Nations, 2020 p. 31) [59].
A resilient society is able to respond positively to these changes or tensions and maintain its core function while taking into account the extent of the change or stress and the nature of the society involved. Different societies will show different degrees of resilience to change. A resilient society not only minimizes the difficulty of overcoming vulnerability, but also implements measures for education and adaptation to advance society. According to Bogardi, social resilience is measured over time; specifically, how long would it take for the community to respond to an event, self-organize, and incorporate lessons learned before returning to a new way of functioning? The amount of time that it takes to mitigate a hazard affects not only the life of a society, but also its social context or the “intermediary” that holds it together. The longer this recovery lasts, the more likely the society is to be destroyed as the recession ensues and emotional and psychological pressures spread [60].
In the social context, resilience provides a conceptual framework for assessing a community’s capacity to cope with change and emergencies [61]. In this regard, several studies have analyzed resilience and its role in reducing the effects associated with natural or socio-natural phenomena. The term resilience was first coined by Adger from the social and ecological perspectives of social systems (2000) [10].
In this sense, building resilience enables a society to anticipate and appropriately respond to risk, avoid or minimize future risks, reduce current risks, and develop capacities for adapting and improving conditions in the wake of a disaster. Communities have the potential to function effectively and adapt in the aftermath of a disaster, but to do so, they must have reliable, accessible information that enables them to act in the face of uncertainty.
Different authors have defined community resilience from an individual, social, or community perspective. According to Norris et al. (2008) [9], from the individual perspective, the emphasis is on the individual’s capacity to successfully adapt to a threatening situation and follow a recovery trajectory that returns to baseline functioning [62]. From a social perspective, resilience is understood as “the capacity of communities to withstand external shocks to their social infrastructure” [10] or “the capacity of social units to mitigate hazards, contain the effects of disasters when they occur and carry out recovery activities in ways that minimise social disruption and mitigate the effects of future earthquakes” [63]. In relation to community, resilience has been defined as “the process through which mediating structures (schools, peer groups, family) and activity environments moderate the impact of oppressive systems” [64], “the ability to find unknown internal strengths and resources to cope effectively; the measure of adaptation and flexibility to cope effectively” [65], and “the ability of community members to take meaningful, deliberate and collective action to remedy the impact of a problem, including the ability to interpret the environment, intervene and move on” [66]. The period of time required to return to pre-disaster levels of functioning is a further aspect to be considered.
Although much of the research on disasters has focused on individual perspectives, the effects are mainly observed at the community level. In this sense, community welfare levels become relevant and should be monitored to assess post-disaster needs in order to allocate resources [67].
In summary, community resilience is seen as a set of successful adaptive capacities that enable people to prepare for and effectively respond to an adverse situation. Information plays a key role in this context, as it has a direct impact on preparedness.

2.2. Information, Participation, and Co-Creation

According to Comfort (2005) [68], information is the primary resource that enables adaptive performance in both technical and organizational systems. For Longstaff (2005), in Norris et al., 2008 [9]), information only enhances survival if it is “correct and correctly transmitted”. In fact, Longstaff concluded: “A trusted source of information is the most important resilience asset that any individual or group can have” (2005, p. 62). Similarly, the Working Group on Governance Dilemmas (2004) concluded that trusted communication treats the public as a capable ally, invests in public outreach, and reflects the values and priorities of local populations [9].
The literature indicates that, in the long term, increasing the availability of information generates an informed and empowered general public that will demand improvements in environmental regulations and standards [69]. The latter is directly related to resilience since, as defined by Jeans et al. (2016), this is a “process that enables people to learn together, support experimentation and increase the potential for (social and technological) innovation” [8].
It is important to note that the transparency and disclosure of environmental information alone do not have the desired impact. The general public may have access to information but not understand the content. It is necessary to reframe the technical language of information to make it understandable for all stakeholders. In this sense, environmental information systems must contain useful, understandable, manageable, comparable, and interoperable information if they are to be tools that promote access to knowledge and improve territorial management by providing access to information through a common information channel for the full range of stakeholders. At the same time, this information must respond to the decision-making needs of each stakeholder.
The Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development indicates that environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned members of the general public. To this end, environmental information must be provided effectively so that society can be aware of the state of the environment and the impacts upon it, express informed opinions, and demand accountability for government authority and private-sector performance, with the ultimate aim of safeguarding against and preventing environmental damage [70].
Involving civil society in the process of environmental management allows for its participation in defining its own future through the formulation of public policies and participation in decision making with greater legitimacy [71]. Thus, the co-creation technique allows those involved to consider all perspectives and generate solutions that minimize the risks associated with the implementation of environmental management in a systemic way [23].
From this perspective, the use of need-finding, ideation, prototyping, and testing processes [72] for a solution contributes to the empowerment of a community. Users (public sector, civil society, and private sector) are invited to participate during a project in the analysis, discussion, dialogue, reflection, learning, exploration, and sense making [73]. Knowing what users think allows us to redefine a problem and co-create a solution, moving from an obvious problem to a deeper problem and from a top-down solution proposal to a bottom-up proposal. This process takes advantage of the tacit knowledge that arises from users’ own experiences. It makes them explicit, giving depth to the discovery and diagnostic process and enriching the subsequent development of the research team [74].
This incorporation allows the management of the uncertainty [75] that arises in innovation processes. These types of uncertainty are about: (i) the definition of the problem or need, (ii) the solution, (iii) the identity, (iv) the adoption, (v) the management, and (vi) the consequences.
According to Norris (2008) [9], empowering community settings are characterized by inspired and committed leadership and opportunities for members to play meaningful roles [76]. Wandsmerman and Florin (2000) [77] summarized three main areas of research on citizen participation—who participates and why, how organizational characteristics influence participation, and the effects of participation on community conditions and participants’ own sense of efficacy—which provided a solid framework for examining grassroots participation in disaster preparedness and recovery efforts. Citizen participation is, therefore, a fundamental element of community resilience. The remaining and less structural element of this set is the presence of community narratives that give an experience shared meaning and purpose. Sonn and Fisher (1998) [64], in examining community resilience to oppression, noted that narratives provide insight into how communities see themselves and others. Members’ shared understanding of reality contributes to a sense of place and connectedness, which, in turn, affects resilience [9].
This challenge is critical because, if a user has not actively participated in the design process of a solution, it will be difficult for them to feel committed to its implementation. In the development of this process, using co-creation as a method and technique for the design of public services enables users to take ownership of solutions [78]. The adoption of a solution developed in this way reduces uncertainty and increases the chances of it being considered a public innovation with social value.
The methodological use of co-creation in the public sector ensures the inclusion of a wider variety of views, better communication among service stakeholders, and early warning of potential problems that may arise while tapping into community resources and knowledge [79]. This is particularly beneficial because ordinary citizens do not suffer from the subjectivity that experts often acquire from working within bounded contexts and frameworks [80]. Communication, which is understood as the creation of common meaning and understanding, is an essential aspect of community resilience, since it creates space for stakeholders to articulate their needs, problems, and views. As shown by Norris et al. (2008) [9], Ganor and Ben-Lavy (2003) [65], Pfefferbaum et al. (2008) [66] and Hormazábal et al. (2021) [81] reinforced this idea by arguing that good communication is essential for community resilience or capacity.
According to the Public Innovation Lab (2017), the visible benefits of this co-creation-focused methodological approach are improved quality and effectiveness of services, particularly in the case of public policies, as the general public can possess important local knowledge and contribute based on their experiences.
However, this requires stakeholders who are directly affected to be empowered and invited to contribute their knowledge, experience, and expertise to the solution to be developed [80]. Their active participation in the development of the creative processes of solutions is key throughout the entire design process, i.e., identifying the problem and the ideation, prototyping, and testing of the solution.
The co-creation process must, therefore, promote horizontal and empathetic relationships between stakeholders, leading to active citizen participation in defining, building, and validating the desired environmental information. This is the only possible way to achieve sustainable environmental management.

3. Materials and Methods

3.1. Research Methodology

This research project, which was developed in 2021 and 2022 in accordance with the objective defined above, seeks to create a system for capturing and integrating information from Chilean public platforms and rendering it more understandable with the aim of reducing gaps in access, comprehension, and appropriation of environmental information related to mining. It is applied research that uses a co-creation methodology and a qualitative approach to explore and identify the environmental indicators that are most necessary to information users.

3.2. Methodological Framework

The Environmental Observatory for Mining Projects’ methodological design is based on the Public Innovation Lab’s triple diamond service design (2017) with the following phases: “discover”, “define”, “develop”, “deliver”, “pilot”, and “adjust” (see Figure 2). The service design recognizes five principles that are embedded in the development of a project: (i) user-centered, (ii) co-creative, (iii) sequencing, (iv) evidencing, and (v) holistic principles [82].
Co-creation among key stakeholders is the principal technique used. This technique allows participants to (a) consider all of the perspectives of a problem, (b) be empathetic and tolerant toward potential mistakes and iterations, and (c) generate final solutions with greater knowledge and wisdom, moving towards a horizontal exchange and search for knowledge, ideas, and solutions that minimize the risks associated with the design and implementation of new solutions [23] (OECD, 2017 in Laboratorio de Innovación Pública).
As a technique in the design of public services, co-creation results in services designed ‘with’ and ‘by’ the users or potential users of the system, which supports collaborative interactions that contribute to the integration of the denominated stakeholders and their needs, desires, and expectations [83]. This type of participation triggers creative processes in which stakeholders themselves create solutions and, thus, take ownership not only in the design, but also in the implementation [78].
The methodological development consists of four stages (see Figure 2).
The facilitation of co-creation workshops by research teams that worked with users ensured the inclusion of the tacit and explicit knowledge of each type of stakeholder in the different stages of the project. This contributed to the management of the uncertainty (Seelos and Mair, 2016 [75], as cited in LIP, 2020 [24]) associated with social innovation projects, such as the Environmental Observatory.
  • Stage 1: Study on the perception of access to public environmental management information
This stage involved 278 face-to-face and self-administered surveys based on a purposive theoretical sampling of individuals from civil society and members of public and private organizations and 30 semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders (organized civil society with an interest in environmental issues, private agents (entrepreneurs with investment projects subject to environmental impact assessments, environmental consultants, and the mining union), and public agents linked to mining and the environment (ministries, sub-secretariats, municipalities) in order to identify the gaps in access to environmental information, which areas of environmental information are of interest to stakeholders, and the factors that ease or hinder access.
Defining the gaps in access to information together with the users in stage one made it possible to manage the uncertainty around the definition of the problem or need (Seelos and Mair, 2016 [75], as cited in LIP, 2020 [24]). The possibility of conducting interviews with stakeholders from the public sector, civil society, and the private sector made it possible, on the one hand, to take advantage of the tacit knowledge that they had about the problem as users. On the other hand, it prevented an insufficient or erroneous understanding of the problem or need and promoted that, in the following stages, the solution would meet their expectations.
  • Stage 2: Defining environmental management indicators for the mining industry
This stage involved participatory workshops and an analysis and ranking of indicator feasibility.
Workshop 1: Based on the results of the interviews, an activity was designed to identify and create a consensus on the dimensions and variables of interest to users regarding environmental information with a focus on mining. This resulted in a first prototype of the environmental management indicators. The activity was developed in an online format with 30 participants.
Workshop 2: Indicator prototype 1 was tested by validating the interest and focus of the identified variables. Participants were invited to comment on the prototype and its formulation. As a result, prototype 2 of the environmental management indicators was obtained. The activity was carried out online (16 participants) and on-site (84 participants).
Mascarenhas et al. (2010) [71], Schomaker (1997) [84], Niemeijer and De Groot (2008) [85] and Mazzi et al. (2012) [86] are some of the authors who described the criteria necessary for generating indicators. In this research, we used the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound) criteria suggested by Schomaker (1997) [84], which are widely used to select preliminary indicators in the context of indicators for climate change adaptation and mitigation measures.
This methodology allowed the quality of the indicators to be assessed from the point of view of technical feasibility, clarity, measurability, achievability, and relevance. To contextualize this methodology for this project, the acronyms’ definitions were adjusted as follows:
  • S—Specific: The indicator is clearly defined so that there can be no other interpretation of the assessed aspect.
  • M—Measurable: Data exist that enable the indicator to be quantitatively or qualitatively measured.
  • A—Achievable: It is possible to achieve the generation of the indicator while considering the project’s resources and time constraints.
  • R—Relevant: The indicator relates to a relevant theme that emerged from workshops and interviews conducted in the framework of the project.
  • T—Time-bound: The indicator can be periodically updated to reflect possible changes in the underlying data.
The aim was to investigate the technical feasibility of the survey, including the existence of input data, the use of reliable public data, and the feasibility of automated data extraction, in order to obtain a matrix of indicators (prototype 3) that was usable, interesting, and understandable for any kind of public that would want to access it.
Workshop 3: Indicator prototype 3 was used, i.e., prototype 2 after being put through a SMART technical assessment. Participants were invited to rank the indicators. As a result, prototype 4 of the environmental management indicators was obtained. The activity was carried out online (20 participants) and on-site (44 participants).
The active participation of users in the workshops in the second stage contributed to the management of tacit knowledge from the public, private, and civil society sectors and allowed them to express their will for joint decision making. They selected the indicators that responded to their needs, expectations, and dreams, which helped the research team leverage the uncertainties to get closer to an effective solution (Seelos and Mair, 2016 [75], as cited in LIP, 2020 [24]).
  • Stage 3: Technological development
This stage consisted of creating the software for indicator capture, standardization, and calculation. Its development encompassed the following phases:
  • Database design and implementation;
  • Scheduled data extraction and database storage;
  • Data normalization;
  • Design and development of the indicator calculation engine for the top ten ranked indicators that were feasible to calculate within the project’s development times.
  • Stage 4: Development of a platform for visualizing and communicating indicators
This stage involved the development of the application interface. Iterative testing was carried out with users to adapt the delivery of information to the different types of target users of the platform in question, new people belonging to the same sample as those in previous stages of the project were contacted.
The work process related to the interface began with a review of background information and references in order to identify good practices and establish space for innovation. This was followed by an internal workshop with the team, where the technical and operational requirements for the platform were established from a technical and conceptual point of view, thus ensuring that the interface design was coherent with the information raised in the need-finding process with users (workshop 1). Need finding is a process of identifying needs through user research that is carried out at the beginning of an applied research project.
This process laid the foundations for targeted work on the interface, after which we proceeded to work on the visualization itself and created wireframes of the platform. Using these as prototypes, a cycle of user testing began, which allowed us to collect information in the early stages of the design and iteratively improve the platform’s design.
Three instances of information gathering and testing were designed, corresponding to (1) concept workshops with experts, (2) workshops with experts in the field of environmental education, and (3) rapid validation tests of the actionable prototype.
The result of this process was an interface that was designed and tested by different types of users of the project from the public and private realms and civil society. This will lead to the programming stage of the future observatory platform, which is currently under development.
Finally, in the third stage of the project, the development of testing workshops with the different stakeholders was the last instance in which the will and knowledge of the users were reflected. Through the tests carried out with the platform, it was possible to perceive, once again, that the tacit knowledge of the users could be managed and applied in the development of a solution. From this perspective, the team was able to manage the uncertainties arising in the following way: (i) identity—guaranteeing the alignment of the solution with the users; (ii) adoption—reducing the risk of users not using the platform; (iii) management—previewing the practices that must be adequately managed for its implementation; (iv) consequences—allowing one to preview the direct consequences and externalities of the Environmental Observatory project (Seelos and Mair, 2016 [75], cited in LIP, 2020 [24]).

4. Results

4.1. Identification of Indicators

Twenty-five indicators were identified, of which six were related to climate change, including greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, air pollution, hazardous waste, and tailing deposit locations. These indicators are relevant for decision making through the combined knowledge of public policies, the prioritization of information about impacts, vulnerability to climate change, and more practical issues related to data availability.
The summarized proposal of 25 indicators is presented below. These were elaborated through a co-construction process, i.e., starting from the perception of information and the identification of relevant information, then progressing to indicator definition and validation, while following the steps described in the methodology. According to the SMART methodology, these indicators are seen to be robust and relevant for monitoring and evaluating climate change adaptation and mitigation measures [87].
The following table presents the indicators, the areas to which they belong, a brief description, and the link to climate change based on the concerns declared by the participants and on technical criteria. Fourteen indicators show a clear connection with climate change mitigation or adaptation issues.
According to Niemeijer and De Groos (2008) [85] and Singh et al. (2012) [88], environmental performance indicators allow the most significant impacts and the activities and processes that influence them to be assessed and managed. These environmental performance indicators were categorized into the following areas: water, air emissions related to water emission indicators, air emissions, and waste.
Resource demand indicators show the pressure placed on a resource, but not the impact generated. The demand indicators were associated with water use and consumption, land demand, and impacts on protected or biodiverse areas.
Environmental management indicators that were associated with the areas of mining project conflicts, monitoring, approved investments, mining patents, average project approval times, occupational safety or accident rates, project environmental management activities, and mine closures were also identified. A tax was established by law for a fiscal benefit to be paid annually by the owner of a mining concession to maintain ownership and extraction rights (Table 1).
Overall, the following results were observed for each area.
As seen in Figure 3 and Figure 4, the indicators associated with adaptation corresponded to 8.3% of the total, with a lower representation for mitigation indicators (5.2%), especially in relation to water and soil, due to the risks associated with drought, pollutants, extreme rainfall, and pollutant transportation. Additionally, mining project conflicts in the territory were expected to be increasingly associated with climate risks given the aforementioned points.
Based on the above, climate change is expected to have direct effects on the ecosystem and may even modify precipitation patterns and increase temperatures [89]. The protection of certain ecosystems, given their services as climate regulators, is, at the same time, a climate change adaptation measure [90].
In all cases, it is essential to analyze climate trends from the selection of climate change models and the downscaling process to more accurate spatial scales with the RCP 2.6 and RCP 8.5 scenarios in order to obtain a risk matrix associated with each type of information.
At the same time, it is important to note that the process of the decarbonization of productive activities such as mining will require a set of adaptations that will be linked to climate adaptation measures.

4.2. Indicator Visualization and Communication Platform

An evaluation of visualization alternatives (benchmarking study) was used to identify the platform’s attributes and functionalities. Although there are multiple platforms for analyzing indicators that refer to both the environmental impact and the mining world, no existing platform integrates these data to provide comparative results that give an idea of the environmental performance of a specific project or area in the mining sector.
This integration is something unique to the computational models behind this platform, which use a very complex central system to connect the different data sources and formats to deliver the platform’s results. Secondly, most platforms fail to place an emphasis on the straightforward visualization of information. Data are often delivered in the form of complex and cluttered tables, which are not user-friendly for someone unaccustomed to working with such tools. The Environmental Observatory platform offers something new by placing an emphasis on a targeted visualization that delivers understandable and navigable information to different types of users with different search needs and depths.
Based on the identification of the platform’s attributes and possible courses of action, users’ stories, operational requirements, and functionalities were constructed according to the need-finding process for potential system users. This led to the first platform visualization wireframes. As indicated in the methodological section, the wireframes were tested with potential users with an iterative logic. Figure 5 and Figure 6 show examples of the first results of the platform design—the final wireframes.
Progress was then made in creating the graphic system and a high-definition prototype, as shown in Figure 7 and Figure 8, based on the tests and iterations that were the basis of the platform’s development process, i.e., back- and front-end programming, which is currently under development.

5. Discussion and Conclusions

As seen in this experience, access to public environmental information can directly contribute to the “learning capacity” proposed by Jeans et al. (2016) [8] as a definition of resilience. In this regard and according to the results of the work carried out, 13 of the 25 indicators identified were related to climate change in terms of both adaptation and mitigation, and they highlighted issues associated with water, local emissions, and tailings, among others, which provided information that can strengthen community resilience and move towards the development of sustainable communities [13,14].
The design of both indicators and an information platform is relevant in that it provides environmental information that can be understood by the general public, reduces knowledge asymmetries, addresses access gaps, and provides the possibility of having useful information available for all types of users, thus enabling their involvement in actions or demands for public policies aimed at risk and vulnerability reduction.
On the other hand, the selected indicators emerged from an intentional work of co-creation with users. In this sense, the general public’s role in surveying and bringing aspects relevant to them to the forefront enables efforts to focus on the aspects that are most necessary to know and that, in general, are related to the uncertainty linked to risks. In turn, the co-creation methodologies for data visualization, which seek to achieve access and understanding for a range of users with different search needs and depths, are an innovation proposed by the Environmental Observatory platform.
The implementation of the methodological process of co-creation with users is, therefore key. In this sense, the use of co-creation methods for the involvement of stakeholders as key and proactive agents in the horizontal creation of a community that learns about its needs and creates its own solutions determines the success of the implementation. Likewise, the tacit knowledge of those who live in the territory cannot be excluded.
In this context, it is essential to mention that this methodology was used in previous public policy experiences, such as the development of a carrying capacity model for Easter Island, in which the original Rapa Nui people participated, as well as for the development of a toolkit for the management and conservation of wetlands [21], which had the virtue of the broad participation of stakeholders without bias or discrimination of any kind. In the future, considering these methodologies as part of the strategies for addressing ILO Convention 169 (Biblioteca del Congreso Nacional de Chile (BCN), 2014) [91] is critical for achieving the consent of indigenous communities and, through this, reducing socio-environmental conflicts that may exist with the mining industry [92,93].
The methodological strategy was intensive in the facilitation of co-creation workshops with users, and it ensured the inclusion of the tacit knowledge of each type of actor in the processes of need finding, ideation, prototyping, testing, and implementation. This integration of the knowledge of civil society with the explicit knowledge of public- and private-sector experts allowed, on the one hand, the enrichment of the development of the project and, on the other hand, a contribution to the management of uncertainty [24] in each of the stages of the project. Both purposes contributed to reducing the potential risk of non-adoption of the Environmental Observatory as a solution resulting from a social innovation process.
The final stage of the project to make the platform available for use will bring further feedback that can be used to assess users’ understanding of the information provided and its use for preventing disasters resulting from human actions—in this case, mining and climate change in general [78].
In this context, the results of this research serve as a starting point for the continuity of user-surveyed indicators and, as public data increase at all scales of analysis and become more robust, can be further developed. According to Chile’s National Action Plan for Climate Change (Plan de Acción Nacional de Cambio Climático de Chile, 2020) [78], monitoring will take place every five years.
In conclusion, environmental information systems must not only contain information that is critical for the knowledge of civil society, but must also provide understandable, manageable, comparable, and interoperable information in order to become a tool that promotes access to information for all, thus enabling the creation of resilient communities.
In this sense, the proposed hypothesis is confirmed, even though studies are still under development, and this will deepen the levels of appropriation of the platform, thus allowing the measurement of improvements in the levels of understanding of the environmental management information made available.
The understanding of environmental management information and its appropriation through the platform could prevent greenwashing by mining companies. In this sense, given the involvement and interactions among the three groups of actors, as well as the processes and stages involved in decision making, the construction of indicators follows an analytical–methodological process that—based on the tools and techniques of participation—allows the knowledge of the current scenario of public information of an environmental nature and the development of indicators that contribute to making the information more centralized, accessible, and understandable by all of the actors to allow contributions to the formation of informed citizens. These citizens are the ones who will increasingly demand transparent and quality public information from public actors, and they must demand the same from private actors. The latter can and should improve their environmental performance in response to the demands of other stakeholder groups in order to avoid transaction costs associated with negotiations arising from potential conflicts.
Future work that is planned to develop will seek to expand the information provided by the platform in order to include the entire territory of Chile, incorporate new indicators, and, above all, improve the platform’s functionalities so that its use and the understanding of the environment increase, thus enhancing the resilience of communities.

6. Limitations of the Study

One limitation of this study is the fact that, although surveys and workshops that identified initial gaps in information requirements were developed, there may have been some participant selection bias.
Moreover, the study has not yet assessed the impact generated by the platform while in operation to provide environmental management information for mining. That assessment will be carried out in the coming months of development.
A further aspect to take into account regarding the impact of the platform has to do with the asymmetry of the information that it provides, since the companies with the most information are likely to be the great polluters. It is difficult to assess the impact of information when it is only partially available.
The recently ratified Escazú Agreement emphasizes the right to equal access to information and the consequent need to reduce information gaps. This applied research project seeks to focus on reducing information gaps and, as part of this, to redesign the indicators that are currently available on public platforms.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, K.B. and V.R.; methodology, K.M. and P.Á.; formal analysis, V.R. and J.I.M.; writing—original draft preparation, V.R., P.Á. and J.I.M.; writing—review and editing, K.B. and V.R. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research was funded by the Promotion of Scientific and Technological Development Fund (Fondo Para El Fomento Del Desarrollo Científico y Tecnológico), organism dependent on the National Commission of Science and Technology (CONICYT): FONDEF ID20I10084 (‘Environmental observatory of mining projects: system for the analysis of public information on environmental management’).

Institutional Review Board Statement

The study was carried out by Scientific Ethics Committee of Social Sciences, Art and Humanities of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, protocol code 2003100002 dated January 6, 2021 for study with human beings.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Resilience in context of environmental or disaster event Source: Based on Pelling, 2003 [53].
Figure 1. Resilience in context of environmental or disaster event Source: Based on Pelling, 2003 [53].
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Figure 2. Stages for co-creation the Environmental Observatory. Source: Based on LIP, 2017 [23].
Figure 2. Stages for co-creation the Environmental Observatory. Source: Based on LIP, 2017 [23].
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Figure 3. Areas identified and their relationships with climate change adaptation or mitigation. Source: The authors.
Figure 3. Areas identified and their relationships with climate change adaptation or mitigation. Source: The authors.
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Figure 4. Overall proportion of areas identified related to climate change adaptation or mitigation. Source: The Authors.
Figure 4. Overall proportion of areas identified related to climate change adaptation or mitigation. Source: The Authors.
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Figure 5. Examples of the final wireframes; environmental compliance. Source: The authors.
Figure 5. Examples of the final wireframes; environmental compliance. Source: The authors.
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Figure 6. Examples of the final wireframes; area used for mining operation. Source: The authors.
Figure 6. Examples of the final wireframes; area used for mining operation. Source: The authors.
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Figure 7. High-fidelity prototype for programming; Environmental Observatory home screen. Source: The authors.
Figure 7. High-fidelity prototype for programming; Environmental Observatory home screen. Source: The authors.
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Figure 8. Indicators selector. Source: The authors.
Figure 8. Indicators selector. Source: The authors.
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Table 1. Links between indicators and climate change issues and their impact on information users.
Table 1. Links between indicators and climate change issues and their impact on information users.
IndicatorAreaDescriptionRankingLink with Climate Change/Impact on Information Users
Waste emission into waterways and bodiesWaterPollutant emission into waterways and bodies by mining sites or associated
1Reduced flow volume in watercourses in northern and central Chile linked to increased mining industry emissions will generate changes in the water cycle and a loss of water quality due to a higher concentration of pollutants per m3, thus reducing the dilution capacity and altering the ecological status of watercourses.
Mining projects’ air emissionsAirAir pollutant emissions according to pollutant and mining type2Climate change will affect human health by increasing ground-level ozone and/or particulate matter air pollution in some areas.
Climate changeAirDirect emissions contributing to climate change according to mining or associated activity type3Decarbonizing net-zero emissions from the energy matrix and production processes is a central goal of Chile’s long-term 2050 Climate
Water useWaterVolume of water use rights per site or activity4This is strongly related to the need to make efficient use of resources in contexts of water stress and climate change scenarios. Central-southern Chile has been strongly affected by a mega-drought since 2010.
Fulfilment of environmental standardsEnvironmental managementSanctioning processes according to mining type5This is particularly relevant in the context of the Framework Law on Climate Change, where greenhouse gas emission standards will be introduced, thus requiring enforcement and monitoring measures.
Hazardous wasteWasteHazardous waste generation per mining site or activity6In the case of hazardous waste treatment, GHG emissions from energy consumption, biological treatments, incineration processes, and material recovery must be considered.
Tailing area and location
SoilsArea and location of active, non-active, or abandoned tailings according to mining type7In the face of extreme events such as heavy rains and floods, territories with mine tailings are identified as vulnerable. Heavy rains can cause overflows in tailings deposits, thus activating and transporting high concentrations of pollutants towards human settlements.
As evidence of the above, this vulnerability was identified in the Regional Climate Change Action Plan for the Atacama Region, especially the risks associated with tailings in the city of Copiapó, where there are mining tailings located in areas that are at risk of heavy rain and flooding.
Conflicts caused by mining
Environmental managementNumber and type of formal appeals (administrative and judicial) according to mining site and type8Links with climate change are observed insofar as these conflicts are related to the scarcity of water resources and water use demand by the agricultural sector, as well as detrimental effects on the provision of drinking water to human settlements.
Area affected by mining activitiesSoilSurface area affected9No relationships observed.
Environmental management activities in the territoryEnvironmental managementManagement activities for mining projects, such as citizen participation and monitoring10Climate change management activities will play an important role under the Climate Change Framework Law 21.455, which states: ”Projects or activities that are submitted to environmental impact assessment according to the law shall consider the climate change variable in the relevant environmental components, as provided for in the respective regulations”. Also: “the climate change variable shall be considered for the purposes of the provisions of Article 25 of Law No. 19,300. For the purposes of the provisions of this paragraph, the administrative review procedure may be initiated ex officio, at the request of the owner, or at the request of the Superintendence of the Environment”.
Mining-related jobs in the communeIndustrial and mining activitiesEmployees according to
process stage as reported in the SEA.
11No relationships observed.
Non-hazardous wasteWasteProportion of non-hazardous waste recovered in relation to the total.12The reuse, recycling, and recovery of non-hazardous waste are recognized strategies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Project-related jobs in the Environmental
System (SEA)
Industrial and mining activitiesEmployees according to the process stage as reported in SEA13No relationships observed.
Average project
approval times
Environmental managementEnvironmental assessment process times according to the project and mining type14No relationships observed.
Protected and conservation areasBiodiversitySurface area and location of conservation areas15Ecosystem services associated with protected or conservation areas may include those needed to reduce climate risks.
Water resource demandWaterWater consumption (m3) according to mining type, site, or activity.16Water security (possibility of access to water in adequate quantity and quality) is a central element of the Climate Change Framework Law. In view of the current mega-drought, greater efficiency is required in industrial water consumption in Chile.
Workplace safetyHuman environmentNumber of accidents by type of work or activity17No relationships observed.
Complexity of environmental management of projectsEnvironmental managementNumber of Environmental Certifications (RCAs) per site and associated activity18No relationships observed.
Mining patentsEnvironmental managementNumber of patents according to the mining type and associated activity19No relationships observed.
Operational mining projects in the local regionIndustrial and mining activitiesMining sites and associated processes operating in the district according to processed ore20No relationships observed.
Approved investmentsIndustrial and mining activitiesApproved investments in the district according to the mining type and project21No relationships observed.
Abandoned mining projectsLandscapeAbandoned mining projects22No relationships observed.
Investment in
Industrial and mining activitiesInvestment in SEA in the district according to the mining type and project23No relationships observed.
Mine closureSoilMines and associated activities with closure plans24In accordance with Law 20.551, which regulates the closure of mining sites and facilities, and because of the vulnerability of mine tailings due to alluvial and flooding risks, mine closure should include measures aimed at reducing climate change risks.
Projects submitted to the Environmental Assessment
System (SEA).
Environmental managementProjects with or without Environmental Certification (RCA)25No relationships observed.
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Bergamini, K.; Ángel, P.; Rugiero, V.; Medina, J.I.; Mollenhauer, K. Building Resilient Communities: The Environmental Observatory for Mining Projects and Climate Change Indicators. Sustainability 2023, 15, 6947.

AMA Style

Bergamini K, Ángel P, Rugiero V, Medina JI, Mollenhauer K. Building Resilient Communities: The Environmental Observatory for Mining Projects and Climate Change Indicators. Sustainability. 2023; 15(8):6947.

Chicago/Turabian Style

Bergamini, Kay, Piroska Ángel, Vanessa Rugiero, José Ignacio Medina, and Katherine Mollenhauer. 2023. "Building Resilient Communities: The Environmental Observatory for Mining Projects and Climate Change Indicators" Sustainability 15, no. 8: 6947.

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