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Fostering dialogue

Bringing together perspectives on industry's social licence to operate

By Alex Zahara

From hydroelectric dams to fracking to aquaculture, industrial developments can often spark debate and concern in nearby communities.

How might industrial projects better serve the needs and interests of local communities? What actions might industry, governments and community members take to ensure that local concerns regarding development projects are properly understood and addressed?

Social Licence to Operate Dialogue

These questions and more will be discussed at the Memorial University Social Licence to Operate Dialogue from Oct. 12-13. The dialogue will bring together about 35 community, academic, and industry participants from Newfoundland and Labrador and beyond to discuss issues related to resource development in northern and rural regions.

From left, Dr. Arn Keeling, Amanda Degray and Dr. Trevor Bell.
From left, Dr. Arn Keeling, Amanda Degray and Dr. Trevor Bell, Department of Geography.
Photo: Chris Hammond

Specifically, the event aims to explore the concept of social licence to operate (SLO), a term that refers to the public acceptability of development projects.

The event is co-sponsored by Memorial’s Department of Geography and the Nunatsiavut Government (NG) Department of Lands and Resources. Dr. Arn Keeling, a Memorial geographer and event co-organizer, says the dialogue presents a novel opportunity for collaboration between industry and affected communities.

“Although the idea of social licence is commonly referred to in the business world, there have been few opportunities to establish a dialogue between communities, regional organizations and industry representatives,” he said. “Through the Memorial social licence dialogue, we hope to foster a broader discussion of the key ideas and principles around social licensing for major projects like we have in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Meaningful inclusion and accomodation

Harry Borlase, director, non-renewable resources, Nunatsiavut Government, echoes these goals.

“Our hope is that the dialogue will help to set the stage for new ways in which industry can engage with communities so as to improve the acceptability and legitimacy of projects.” –Harry Borlase

“This dialogue couldn’t come at a more appropriate time,” said Mr. Borlase. “Given the extent and impact of projects either currently underway or being planned within Labrador, the Nunatsiavut Government is eager to sit with a variety of stakeholders to discuss how communities and special interest groups can be meaningfully included and accommodated.

“Our hope is that the dialogue will help to set the stage for new ways in which industry can engage with communities so as to improve the acceptability and legitimacy of projects,” he added.

The event aims to create a framework for ongoing and sustained public engagement partnerships and informed public discussion as it relates to industry’s social licence to operate. In doing so, the dialogue will identify research and engagement priorities for social licence to operate in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Canada more broadly.

Public forum

After day-long discussions with invited participants, the dialogue will conclude with a public forum on Thursday, Oct 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the Johnson GEO CENTRE in St. John’s. Members of the public are invited to join representatives from industry, academia and Indigenous communities and governments for a panel discussion, where they can share their experiences and understandings of social licence to operate.

The dialogue is primarily funded through an Office of Public Engagement Accelerator Grant and Memorial University’s Scholarship in the Arts Fund, with support from the Circum-Arctic Coastal Communities KnOwledge Network.

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