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How exploration really works

- By: John P Sykes
Posted in: Blog, Exploration, Management, Media, PhD, Publications, Strategy


Last December we published a piece in the Strictly Boardroom column on how minerals exploration actually works. The piece came from discussions over whether minerals exploration strategy is planned or emergent (i.e. kind of opportunistic, evolutionary, and naturally forming). Exploration strategy is often portrayed as highly planned, i.e. you target a region and commodity, acquire the mineral titles, identify targets, test the targets, and hopefully make a discovery, or at least, go back through the cycle with new knowledge.

Of course, any explorer will tell you it’s not like this in reality. Area selection is usually based on the knowledge and experience of the exploration team, not a dispassionate assessment of global prospectivity for every mineral; mineral title access is usually restricted by first movers, governments, or other parties, in addition, those willing to do a deal may further limit access; target identification is often restricted and biased by funding issues; whilst target testing is often complicated by funding and access issues again. All stages are vulnerable to surprises, good or bad. A multitude of other factors also gets in the way of the logical, planned approach. Basically it’s a bit ‘messy’.

Nonetheless, most of the academic and professional literature and advice on minerals exploration assumes a purely planned approach – the approach ‘in theory’ so to speak. Would it not be better to assume it is at least partly planned and partly emergent, and work on this basis? Would this help improve exploration outcomes and the transfer of new knowledge from theory to practice?

The article is available to subscribers on and is entitled “How exploration really works“. Or contact me for a copy.

Finally, we’d just like to acknowledge Sam Davies (Alto Metals & Centre for Exploration Targeting) for his influence on this article. Sam’s PhD research is looking at this very tricky issue of ‘minerals exploration in practice’.

For keen followers of the Strictly Boardroom column, our book “Strictly (Mining) Boardroom Volume II: A Practitioners Guide for Next Generation Directors” was published last year and is available as a paperback or e-book from Major Street Publishing or Amazon. We’re pleased to say that the book received a very positive review in the AusIMM Bulletin and in Geoscientist magazine – the member’s publication of the Geological Society of London.