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Understanding the fundamentals of the Social Licence to Operate: Its evolution, current state of development and future avenues for research
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Hanabeth LUKE
2021, Resources Policy, 70, pp.101941
The field of studies on social licence to operate (SLO) has grown considerably over the past two decades, leading to the emergence of new approaches, models, and theoretical development. This paper aims to organise, map, and analyse the evolution of SLO over its years of existence. We seek to understand the theoretical body that supports the concept; the rationality of the adopted trajectories for its scientific development; and the most influential studies that have guided these trajectories. A multi-method approach was applied in the procedure adopted to map the evolution of SLO, analysing international academic publications over the last 24 years (1996–2019). This has been achieved through a systematic, longitudinal literature review using citation and co-citation analysis; bibliometric techniques and social network analysis, combined with a thematic analysis of the complete articles. The results from citations show that SLO evolution can be organised into five broadly representative stages, categorised as Historical Bases (1996–2002); SLO Recognition (2003–2006); First Management Models (2007–2011); Evolution of SLO Models and Initial Critical Studies (2012–2016); and Critical Studies and Increasing Complexity (2017–2019). We discuss the clusters formed by co-citation analysis, which is the theoretical body adopted by the authors, allowing the identifying of “invisible colleges”, which can be understood as the formation of conceptual lines used by the authors to support SLO. A comparative analysis of clusters generated by stages of evolution shows that while early research drew heavily on other fields, such as anthropology and engineering, studies primarily focused on citing SLO literature are identified as emerging from 2017, 21 years after the publication of the first identified publication (1996). Thus, SLO emerges as a self-sufficient field of knowledge, no-longer borrowing knowledge from other fields for itis intellectual development. Studies become theoretically based, with more rigor as the search for SLO management models continue. The organisation and analysis of this knowledge contributes to understanding the historical foundations of SLO, making the tracing of SLO trends possible while providing a broader understanding of the SLO literature that can assist and guide future research directions.
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