Measuring the Social License

Companies often indicate they would like to know the status of their Social License and what has to be done to maintain and/or improve its quality.  This implies the ability to measure quality, which is in turn related to the perceptions of the community about the company or project.  Further, the quality has to be quantified and communicated in terms of the benchmark conditions - withdrawal, acceptance, approval and co-ownership.  Extensive practical experience and academic design have identified three viable approaches to measuring the Social License to Operate at a given moment in time.

Applying the Four Level /Three boundary Conditions Model for the Social License to Operate

The four levels of the Social License - withdrawal, acceptance, approval and co-ownership - are shown graphically in the illustration below, together with the boundary conditions.  These can be overlain on the normative criteria of legitimacy, credibility and trust and thus allow development of relevant indicators.

Measuring the Social License

As noted above, we have identified three practical approaches to measuring the Social License, which may be sub-divided into indirect and direct measurement techniques.

Indirect Measurements:  These provide a rapid, temporal and relatively superficial measure of the Social License.  Two methods have been used successfully based on different indicators.

  • Physical Indicators: By this we mean physical actions which can be interpreted as expressions of sentiments within the community, as set out in the table below.


  • Using physical indicators provides the ability to make a rapid assessment and to do so from a distance on the basis of company reports and descriptions in the media. It is limited by the quality of the information provided, which may be biased or incomplete, and the fact that physical actions such as demonstrations and blockades may be the work of minorities within the community and not be a true expression of majority sentiments. As such, the methodology is based on symptoms rather than true indicators and lacks the reliability needed for anything other than initial screening of a situation.

  • Verbal Indicators:  In this approach, an investigator enters the community and listens carefully to the way in which people describe the company or project.  Key words and expressions are recorded and examined for consistency of patterns.  Carefully executed, the method can reveal subtleties such as division of opinion within a community, the relative quality of the Social License and aspects that are conditional or of concern to the community.  The longitudinal profile of the Social License at San Cristobal is based on this methodology.

    Using verbal indicators has the advantage of being rapid and direct but remains qualitative and highly dependent on the skill of the researcher.

Direct Measurement: Building on techniques first developed by social psychologists, we have been able to optimize the SociaLicense™ method, which probes deep into the perceptions of the community to yield a numerical score of the quality of the Social License relative to the four level–three boundary conditions model. Not only does the method provide a more precise measurement of the Social License, it also reveals details of what is positive and negative in the relationship.

A description of the measurement procedure

This information can be quite important since practical experience with the approach has shown that the status of the Social License is often conditional. In other words, the community grants a license at a level that is subject to confirmation that the company deserves this level of recognition. The SociaLicense approach also examines the extent to which a community has the capacity to grant a Social License that is meaningful in the short, medium and long term.

With the background information that comes from applying SociaLicense, the company can identify and implement strategies to strengthen and maintain the quality of relationship to gain the highest level of Social License available from the community.