Category Archives: stakeholder engagement

Community engagement – with a twist

Shiny, happy posters: community consultation can be enjoyable

Here’s a lovely example of community enagement, courtesy of my partner’s recent trip to his Toronto hometown.

The posters inform the community that the neighbourhood is undergoing an “extreme makeover” – no doubt involving construction noise, traffic impacts and disruption in their “favourite neighbourhood.”

But the tone is happy and upbeat in its warm appeal: “Let’s get through this together.”

It shows how community consultation can be a positive experience – if approached with creativity and sensitivity.

Too often, stakeholder engagement is seen as a risk or unnecessary expense in development planning processes: “We just don’t want to open up a can of worms” being a common refrain.

But genuine and open engagement can bring real benefits, enabling positive new connections between clients and communities which may endure well beyond the formal engagement process.

Leadership and authenticity

Leadership is a great privilege because it opens the gate to the heart’s journey – it provides us with incentive to embark and remain committed to the hero’s quest. In other words, it provides us with the impetus, challenge and support we need to unlock the key to our own wellbeing, fulfilment, and highest potential.”

I came across this quote recently in a book by Margot Cairnes – Approaching the Corporate Heart. While the book’s tone may not appeal to some, it certainly set me thinking about the challenge of authenticity and commitment to an ethical and moral framework in business decision-making.

This is an area in which it’s all to easy to talk the talk, yet at times so challenging to walk the walk. The latter is often far less glamorous, headline-grabbing or profile-raising. Doing the “hard yards” can be costly in the short term, but it has the potential to pay significant dividends over the longer term.

The issue of leadership and authenticity arises on a regular basis in the fields of social planning and social research. Social impact assessment is a case in point. Evaluating and reporting on the potential negative social impacts of a new development, for example, requires a careful approach, particularly when the developer is the client. Stakeholder engagement is another sphere of work which requires thoughtful handling. Reporting back to a client on their stakeholders’ perceptions of their operational effectiveness or company values must grounded in respect for their desire to ask questions and self-reflect in the first place.

In both cases authenticity is paramount. This is all we have to stand by when it comes to the crunch. It is the fundamental basis of our professional reputation. It is also rarely black and white.

Corporate Responsibility – engagement and transparency

A new year is often a time of reflection among businesses on strategic directions and corporate goals. For many firms, sustainability – environmental, social, economic – is fast moving up the agenda.

Raised regulatory standards and consumer expectations are today demanding far more from companies than an annual CSR report and a handful of associated token initiatives. The genuine integration of sustainability within an organisation may require significant organisational change and improved stakeholder engagement.

The Centre for Social Innovation – a partnership between the Universities of New South Wales, Melbourne, Western Australia and the Swinburne University of Technology – has been undertaking research on this shift taking place in the corporate sector in recent years. Researchers Gianni Zappala and Sarah Adams’ 2010 paper, The Integration of Corporate Responsibility: Evidence from leading companies in Australia & New Zealand, considers the level of integration of sustainability principles and practices achieved to date.

The paper defines Corporate Responsibility (CR) as “understanding and minimising a company’s negative impact or footprint on society and a broad range of stakeholders including the planet and environment, its employees, the communities in which it operates and the governments which make the laws.” It utilises data from the Corporate Responsibility Index (CRI) benchmarking tool developed by Business in the Community in the UK in 2002, which is applied annually in Australia and New Zealand by the St James Ethics Centre.

The reseach found that “corporate responsibility is on the whole well integrated into the way that leading companies in Australia and New Zealand are doing business.” However it suggests that firms could improve in four key areas, including ensuring improving CR training at board level and improving the extent and quality of stakeholder engagement.

The following criteria are suggested as a measure of firms that have achieved genuine integration of CR principles:

  • Adopt a holistic conception of corporate responsibility or citizenship;
  • Have board level governance systems to oversee CR policies and practices;
  • Have senior leaders that champion CR internally and externally;
  • Have a range of structures and systems to integrate CR across the business, including risk management systems, stakeholder consultation schemes, sustainability training for managers and employees, establish and monitor key performance indicators for CR, and
  • Have an open and transparent approach to CR information disclosure (eg undertake assurance of their CR reports).

There is no denying the challenge for corporates in moving to greater levels of stakeholder engagement and associated transparency. However in many cases this is a necessary first step on the road to more sustainable, productive and profitable business. Which companies will rise to the challenge in 2011?

Future proofing the new UTS library

Sydney’s University of Technology is about to undergo an exciting transformation.

With Frank Gehry on board as the starchitect of the new Faculty of Business, the process is underway to design a new high tech library, among other facilities.

Speaking with one of the staff who is instrumental in the library design process, the conversation turned to the challenge of future proofing community facilities which are being developed today. How can we begin to conceptualise how technology will transform our buildings, our urban environments, even in ten years’ time?

Along with applying flexible, adaptable, universal design principles to the process, UTS has engaged Gen Y-ers to talk about their hopes and dreams for the campus of their future. The university is conducting qualitative research with early high school students, questioning them about the kind of buildings and facilities in which they would like to study when they are older.

This is a smart approach which demonstrates the university’s willingness to learn from younger generations and its commitment to its future student population.

Genuine, open-minded engagement is one of the cornerstones of true social sustainability.  It’s great when that is recognised by established institutions.