Social Cohesion and Social Licence to Operate

What is Social Surveys’ approach to Social Cohesion and the Social Licence to Operate?

Debates on social cohesion in South Africa and elsewhere often focus on the national level. Social Surveys specialises in understanding social cohesion at the community level. Some of the questions we ask include:

  • What is the relationship between peaceful protest and violent unrest?
  • Who participates in peaceful protest and violent unrest? Are they the same people or different?
  • • What characteristics make some communities more likely to have either peaceful or violent protest? (see our Unrest Risk Scale)

  • What are the formal and informal institutions and mechanisms through which communities deal with conflict and solve collective problems?
  • Who participates in collective conflict resolution and problem-solving institutions and who does not and why?
  • How does absolute and relative deprivation (poverty and inequality) relate to a community’s conflict resolution and problem-solving capacity and approach?

In the process of answering these questions, we have developed methodologies for measuring social cohesion at a local level as well as insights into evaluating the impact of interventions aimed at increasing social cohesion.

Social Licence to Operate is a term usually used to refer to the level of acceptance or approval by local communities and stakeholders of mining companies and their operations. In Social Surveys Africa’s mining sector work, we measure the SLO and work with communities, mining companies and local municipalities to improve relationships. We also measure the SLO of other industries with large impacts on local communities, such as energy producers, large-scale manufacturing or commercial agriculture.

We have also adapted our insights from the mining sector to measuring the levels of community and stakeholder acceptance and approval of local government and their services. While local government does not need a ‘licence’ to operate in the same way as a mining company, the government’s ability to provide effective services and engage constructively with local communities does still depend on community residents’ levels of trust and willingness to engage. Where acceptance and approval is lacking, public infrastructure is likely to be damaged and services to be interrupted. Going beyond a simple measure of trust, our battery of questions provides a robust and future-oriented measure of the relationship between a local community and its municipality. This enables an approach to municipal ‘customer satisfaction’ that is multi-dimensional and spatially disaggregated and therefore allows for much better targeting of interventions.

Who can benefit from this?

Our Social Cohesion measurement tools are useful for Municipal officials and elected leaders, who wish to understand levels of community satisfaction and community stability in different parts of their municipality.

They can also inform civil society organisations entering new communities or seeking to identify the impacts of their interventions on local social cohesion.

Companies and Mines concerned about social unrest or seeking to understand how best to engage with communities around their operations can benefit from our studies.

Who is using this already?

We have conducted recent studies on Social Cohesion with Freedom House South Africa and the Gauteng City Region Observatory. We are working with Cape Agulhas, Matzikama and the City of Johannesburg on the Licence to Operate for local government.



How can I access this?

Social Surveys Africa offers bespoke studies. For more information, contact or call 011 486 1025.