The role of social license in conservation

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This week’s featured research article has just been published in Conservation Biology and examines the role of social license in Australian wildlife conservation. In developing effective networks and relationships between communities and institutions, language is important. The social-license metaphor has been criticized in forestry and mining for overly simplifying the relationship between operations and local communities. In conservation, where communities are important and often active partners in complex governance arrangements, the term seems even less appealing. Promoting the need for a social license draws attention to the importance of public and community perspectives in conservation, but care must be taken to avoid undermining public and community support by adopting a language that is associated with a lack of desire for genuine relationships among the very communities that conservation wants to have on its side. Language is dynamic and it is possible that social license will escape its metaphorical roots. Emerging academic research on social license usefully highlights important factors that support effective relationships with communities framed as a social license, such as trust and fair process and ethical alignment between business and civil society. Other concepts such as social acceptance and social values explicitly recognize complexity and diversity in communities and could be used when engaging with communities and seeking support for conservation programs. Whatever terminology is used, it is important that conservation practitioners develop trusting, ongoing relationships with active participants, local residents, and the broader public that understand and recognize the diversity, dynamism, and complexity of views held by the community. The paper can be downloaded here (or email jennie.fluin@sa.gov.au for a copy).