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The social licence for research: why ran into trouble

Carter, P   Laurie, G   Dixon-Woods, M

Journal of Medical Ethics  

DOI: 10.1136/medethics-2014-102374

January 2015

In this article the authors draw on the concept of a social licence to explain public concern at the introduction of, a recent English initiative designed to extract data from primary care medical records for commissioning and other purposes, including research. The concept of a social licence describes how the expectations of society regarding some activities may go beyond compliance with the requirements of formal regulation; those who do not fulfil the conditions for the social licence (even if formally compliant) may experience ongoing challenge and contestation. Previous work suggests that people’s cooperation with specific research studies depends on their perceptions that their participation is voluntary and is governed by values of reciprocity, non-exploitation and service of the public good. When these conditions are not seen to obtain, threats to the social licence for research may emerge. the authors propose that failed to adequately secure a social licence because of:
(i) defects in the warrants of trust provided for,
(ii) the implied rupture in the traditional role, expectations and duties of general practitioners, and
(iii) uncertainty about the status of as a public good.
The concept of a social licence may be useful in explaining the specifics of, and also in reinforcing the more general lesson for policy-makers that legal authority does not necessarily command social legitimacy.