The project seeded an ongoing public dialogue in Newfoundland and Labrador around the notion of “social license to operate.” Social licence to operate (SLO) is an increasingly widespread concept used in industry and academic circles to designate community approval or acceptance of large-scale development projects like mines or hydroelectric dams, as opposed to formal regulatory requirements. Related to the principle of free prior and informed consent (FPIC) in resource development, SLO is broadly understood to encompass company--community engagement and agreement around the social, economic and environmental impacts of such developments and their mitigation. Emerging out of “corporate social responsibility” practices in the extractive sector, SLO aims to reduce conflict between project operators and communities, and reduce controversy over developments ranging from wind farms to aquaculture to hydraulic fracturing. Yet the precise meaning of “social licence” remains vague and contested, as are the mechanisms by which such “licenses” are issued, enforced, or revoked. SLO raises issues of authority in communities around who may grant such approvals, and how and “tradeoffs” involved are navigated. The structure and format of SLO activities may be unfamiliar to rural, remote or Aboriginal communities, and the quest for social acceptability can leave communities divided.
Memorial’s Geography Department and the Nunatsiavut Government convene a community—academic—industry dialogue on SLO with the aim of sharing experiences and understandings of this term, based on experiences with major project development in Newfoundland and Labrador and around the circumpolar North. Comparative perspectives from leading researchers in the area of SLO merged with on-the-ground knowledge of community—company relations, illuminating the wide range of public engagement practices encompassed by SLO. Participants assessed the effectiveness of these practices in achieving the goals of social acceptability, equity, and effective community input in project decision-making.