Conceptualising social licence to operate

Alice Stuart, Alan Bond, Aldina M. A. Franco, Julia Baker, Chris Gerrard, Vittoria Danino, Kylie Jones

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In the 25 years since its inception, the concept of social licence to operate (SLO) has become widely used within both industry and academia. Despite this, there is no agreement as to what SLO is and what is required to achieve it. This conceptual ambiguity results in organisations struggling to understand how to achieve SLO and leaves many cynical about its use. Through literature review, this paper brings together existing conceptualisations of social licence to operate, presenting an explanatory model for how individuals form SLO judgements. We highlight four key stages in the formation of an SLO judgement: the assimilation of information by the individual; the formation of perceptions about the project; the application of cognitive processes to these perceptions; and the formation of legitimacy, trust, and overall SLO judgements. Next, we highlight the role of actions as the link between SLO judgements and operational outcomes. We note that where individuals’ negative SLO judgements are supressed, or they lack power over organisations, they will not have an impact on operations, causing an uncoupling of SLO judgements and operational outcomes. This uncoupling can also occur if operations are halted for non-SLO related reasons. This model represents a greater level of detail as to the process by which individuals form SLO judgements than previous conceptualisations, thus providing a clearer understanding of how the components of an SLO interact with each other.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103962
JournalResources Policy
Issue numberPart A
Early online date15 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023


  • Social licence to operate
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • Policy
  • Stakeholder
  • Trust
  • Legitimacy

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