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Capacity for Transition

Trust and Social Licence

Investigating the importance of trust and approval by the community of the primary sector’s practices, and the connection to productivity and sustainable growth in New Zealand

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Challenge funding: $80,000

Research duration: July 2017 – December 2017

What Did We Do?

As New Zealand’s primary sector intensifies, it is increasingly under the public’s scrutiny. This research looks at the importance of trust and approval (social licence) of primary sector practices, as well as trust between government, industry, community and media.

While New Zealanders generally value primary production, many consider the environmental impacts of some primary production systems to be unacceptable.

Without a social licence to operate, the primary sector may experience a loss of confidence from the public, resulting in legal action, conflict and regulation. This could have a negative effect on competitiveness and expansion and, in some cases, lead to closure for companies.

The project built a greater understanding of the importance of trust and relationship building. This provides a foundation for new approaches for developing and keeping social licence.

How Can The Research Be Used?

  • Synlait used information from the National Social Licence Forum, organised by Trust and Social Licence researchers, to inform their participation in DairyNZ workshops on social licence.
  • Information from the National Social Licence Forum was presented to the NZ Forest Owners Association (FOA) Environment Committee in late 2017 and used in a workshop with FOA and NZ Farm Forestry Association members in August 2018. This workshop determined some key underlying social licence-related issues that are of importance to the New Zealand forest industry.
  • Several ‘spin-off’ professional papers for submission to the New Zealand Journal of Forestry are in preparation to inform industry players and encourage discussion and debate around social licence.
  • Social licence components are being incorporated into several MBIE funding applications being submitted by Scion and Manaaki Whenua to examine social licence in different contexts.

In the Media

Challenge looks at how to build trust and capture more of our agricultural earnings

Irrigation NZ News, Winter 2019

“Good two-way relationships are a solid foundation for building trust,” says Edwards.

Troubled Waters

NZ Geographic, July-August 2017

The core elements of social licence, said Edwards, involve a community feeling it has a say in the decision-making around a project, believing the benefits are distributed fairly, and trusting the company will follow through on its promises and engage with the community in a meaningful way.


Community Involvement

  • In November 2017 the Social Licence research team and Scion hosted the first National Social Licence Forum in New Zealand at the Beehive, Wellington. It brought together researchers and representatives from community and environmental groups, government, farming, farm forestry and processing sectors. Participants discussed how different groups see social licence, the benefits and costs of social licence to New Zealand businesses and communities, and the barriers to gaining and maintaining a social licence.
  • The research team surveyed 128 members of the New Zealand public and held a stakeholder forum about perceptions of trust in relation to natural resource sectors.
  • A workshop was held with the NZ Forest Owners Association (FOA) and NZ Farm Forestry Association members to discuss social licence issues in the forest sector in August 2018.

Team Snapshot

Research Outputs


Trust, engagement, information and social licence – insights from New Zealand

P. Edwards, A. Fleming, J. Lacey, L. Lester, L. Pinkard, K. Ruckstuhl
Environmental Research Letters, February 2019

This research examines trust at the government, industry, community nexus, as mediated by media, and its effect on social licence. In contrast to other literature, we find a nuanced understanding of trust among respondents in relation to the media—respondents distrusted actors cited in media more than the media outlet or platform itself. There were no discernible changes in trust levels in the media despite the rise of fake or emotionally-based news.


National Social Licence Forum Summary

Peter Edwards, Justine Lacey, Aysha Fleming, Carel Bezuidenhout, Tracy Williams, Libby Lester, Karen Bayne, Sandra Velarde, Libby Pinkard
Report for Our Land and Water, January 2018

Social licence means different things to different people in different sectors, and in this context, the benefits of a social licence are not clear. Consensus that further work with communities, government, Māori and others needs to be done to examine the benefits.


The value of trust and social licence in the New Zealand primary sectors

Edwards, P. & Payn, T.
New Zealand’s Biological Heritage Crazy & Ambitious Conference, May 2017

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