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Social licence to operate (SLO) is increasingly important in New Zealand. Organisations are recognising they need to do more than just meet their minimum legal and regulatory requirements to operate effectively – they also need to address societal concerns about the social, economic, environmental, and cultural impacts of their activities.

Despite its increasing usage, the meaning and application of SLO are still poorly understood, and understanding of SLO differs across, and even within, organisations. Without a clear understanding of the concept, many organisations believe they are building and maintaining SLO, only to find their approach is failing to deliver the desired outcome.

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research (MWLR) social researchers have developed a framework that helps guide organisations in gaining and maintaining a social licence.

Please note: The SLO Engagement Framework is provided for informative purposes only. If you are intending to use this framework, please contact one of the key contacts at the bottom of this page as further support is required to use it in practice. 

SLO Engagement Framework

Fig 1: Social licence to operate

Fig 1: Social licence to operate

The framework has four phases:

  • Socialising the concept of SLO within the organisation.
  • Hearing the views of stakeholders and understanding their expectations.
  • Integrating the views and expectations of stakeholders into an organisation’s processes and procedures to foster SLO and promote participative and learning opportunities.
  • Continuous reflecting on learnings and opportunities from the SLO process to create a more dynamic and evolving SLO process.

Key messages for organisations contemplating engaging with stakeholders and communities to build and maintain SLO

1 – Relationships and trust are central to SLO – a third party cannot get SLO for you

Relationships and trust are central to SLO. For organisations to gain SLO for their programmes, they need to build and maintain those relationships and trust over time.

2 – Trust cannot be demanded – it must be earned in the eyes of others

Trust arises when organisations deliver approaches, behaviours, and outcomes that demonstrate trustworthiness. Organisations that regularly deliver good experiences are more likely to have better relationships and reputations with communities of interest and to experience improving social license to operate, and vice versa.

3 – Communities grant SLO

SLO is not about what organisations see looking out into a community, it is about what affected communities and stakeholders see looking in at the organisation. Organisations that focus foremost on themselves rather than on the risks to the community jeopardise their ability to secure a SLO. Achieving and maintaining a SLO, requires a desire to do what is right by stakeholders and the community, rather than just doing what is required to reduce risk to the organisation.

4 – SLO is a long game

SLO needs to be constantly re-evaluated and maintained as opinions and perceptions change and as stakeholders and communities of interest come and go. Organisations need to ensure their processes of managing the cycles of SLO are sustainable and ongoing, with a plan for how to maintain continued and meaningful engagement.

Applied use of SLO

Southland case study

As an example of our SLO framework in action, we advised Predator Free (PF) Southland on a pathway to gain and maintain a social licence to eradicate possums and suppress mustelids in the Awarua region.

Our recommendations included early and frequent engagement with the Awarua community; transparency in sharing and communicating information; use of multiple communication channels; and thinking about the legacy PF Southland and the community want to leave for future generations. Other key factors were strong leadership, continuity of personnel, and an adaptable and flexible engagement plan to cater for diverse values, beliefs, and world views.

Navigating the SLO nexus between farmers, agribusinesses, consumers, and citizens in Aotearoa New Zealand

Community approval, acceptance, and tolerance of an operation – with trusting relationships key to achieving these – are common features of SLO. This project on social licence for farming explores ‘acceptable’ farming practices and locations, and opportunities where SLO can be negotiated between farmers, consumers, stakeholders, and citizens and can develop pathways, programmes, and tools to enable mutual understanding and trust.

Key contacts