Conceptualising the role of dialogue in social licence to operate

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Resources Policy, 2017, 54, pp. 137-146
Issue Date:
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Social licence to operate (SLO) has become an important part of the natural resource management discourse, particularly in relation to contested arenas. The social accountability constituted by SLO requires engagement and relationship-building efforts, which are increasingly prescribed to include ‘meaningful dialogue’ as central. How such dialogue translates into practice has been subject to little research in the SLO context. To examine explicitly the role of dialogue in strategies to address SLO, we present, using an interdisciplinary lens, a conceptual framework. We characterise two dialogue models relevant to SLO from the literature on dialogue: a learning model and a strategic model. We then analyse how these models arise in five engagement frameworks drawn from academic and grey literature. We assess how these frameworks situate, conceptualise, and seek to operationalise dialogue. This analysis highlights key themes that indicate that dialogue in SLO is predominantly portrayed as a goal-oriented, strategic process – rather than a learning and relationship-building process, though in both models dialogue can have a disruptive role. Conceptual clarity is needed, however, as dialogue sometimes refers to a process, sometimes to an outcome, and sometimes to an aspiration. Clarifying what dialogue is and what it can achieve are needed to guide future research and practice.
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