Category Archives: Citizenship

Hybrid organizing in the face of grand challenges

By Ali Aslan Gümüsay.

Sharing is not always caring

In 2015, thousands of refugees arrived in Europe. A recent paper by Kornberger and colleagues (2017) zooms in on the “Train of Hope”, a civil society organization that organically gained exclusive operational command at Vienna’s main train station during this refugee crisis. The paper is a critical reflection on much of the current sharing economy ‘hype’. In contrast to cases of “collaborative consumption”[1], where platform companies such as AirBnB or Uber offer (share?) other people’s resources, this is an exemplary case of engagement and sharing without expectations for direct individual return: a sharing of a concern for social well-being.[2] Sharing then becomes caring.

Hybridity everywhere

What is Train of Hope? It is probably something of a platform and social movement blend that combines various skills like first aid, translation and accommodation services. It is a hybrid organization – and such hybrids seem to pop up everywhere lately. These novel forms of organizing combine different logics, orders of worth, value spheres, organizational forms and/or identities – struggling for a value(s) synthesis.[3] I see incubators, social ventures, ateliers, fab labs struggling to organize, represent and scale – and find their diverse pursuits fascinating, enriching and complementary. They do hybrid organizing in and for society and are frequently novel, digital, flexible, fluid, cross-boundary, multi-jurisdictional, and temporary forms.

Grand challenges & novel forms of organizing

Why now? A potential answer may lie in the types of challenges our societies face. Scholars from the field of management and organization studies speak of “grand challenges”[4] that are complex, uncertain, and multi-jurisdictional phenomena.[5] They represent fundamental, global societal concerns of ecological or social nature that require coordinated and collective efforts of multiple actors, including business firms, governments, civil society, and academia – as well as new forms of (hybrid) organizing.

Together with Emilio Marti (Erasmus University Rotterdam), Hannah Trittin (Leuphana University Lüneburg), and Christopher Wickert (VU University Amsterdam), I have initiated a scientific network that will be funded by the German National Science Foundation (DFG). The network will zoom in over the next three years on the interrelationship between grand challenges and new forms of organizing. Such organizations attempt to tackle the various sustainable development goals from climate change, decent work and sustainable growth, gender equality, populism and racism, societal cohesion, responsible consumption and production, to sustainable cities and communities.

A Janus face

The scientific network takes the vantage point in the assumption that such new forms of organizing often have a Janus face. They are both potential cause and solution for certain grand societal challenges. On the one hand, social entrepreneurial ventures[6], online communities such as Wikipedia and Linux[7], crowd science projects like Foldit, Galaxy Zoo and Polymath[8], and social initiatives like “Train of Hope” promise novel means to tackle these challenges. On the other hand, they also create new ones. For example, crowdsourcing and other new forms of platform-organized work crafted along the surge of the digital economy[9] often fuel the proliferation of precarious, self-employed and low-paid work that undermines social welfare systems and thus endanger modern democracies.[10] Likewise, in her recent book “Weapons of Math Destruction”, O’Neil (2016) describes how the (ab)use of new, seemingly efficient big data management techniques can promote, rather than reduce, racism, inequality and discrimination. Clearly then, novel hybrid forms of organizing promise many opportunities to tackle grand challenges – yet also create new (grand) challenges for society.


Ali Aslan Gümüsay is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Hamburg and Research Fellow at Vienna University of Economics & Business. Twitter: @guemuesay

 

[1] Botsman & Rogers, 2010.

[2] Gümüsay, 2018.

[3] Gümüsay, 2017.

[4] George, Howard-Grenville, Joshi, & Tihanyi, 2016.

[5] Ferraro, Etzion, & Gehman, 2015.

[6] Mair & Martí, 2006.

[7] Garud, Jain, & Tuertscher, 2008.

[8] Franzoni & Sauermann, 2014.

[9] Bauer & Gegenhuber, 2015; Boes, Kämpf, Langes, & Lühr, 2016.

[10] Morozov, 2015.

References

Bauer, R. M., & Gegenhuber, T. 2015. Crowdsourcing: Global search and the twisted roles of consumers and producers. Organization, 22(5): 661–681.

Boes, A., Kämpf, T., Langes, B., & Lühr, T. 2016. “Lean” und “agil” im Büro: Neue Formen der Organisation von Kopfarbeit in der digitalen Transformation, Working Paper Forschungsförderung. Düsseldorf: Hans-Böckler-Stiftung.

Botsman, R., & Rogers, R. 2010. Beyond zipcar: Collaborative consumption. Harvard Business Review, 88(10): 30.

Ferraro, F., Etzion, D., & Gehman, J. 2015. Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited. Organization Studies, 36(3): 363–390.

Franzoni, C., & Sauermann, H. 2014. Crowd science: The organization of scientific research in open collaborative projects. Research Policy, 43(1): 1–20.

Garud, R., Jain, S., & Tuertscher, P. 2008. Incomplete by Design and Designing for Incompleteness. Organization Studies, 29(3): 351–371.

George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. 2016. Understanding and Tackling Societal Grand Challenges through Management Research. Academy of Management Journal, 59(6): 1880–1895.

Gümüsay, A. A. 2017. Unpacking entrepreneurial opportunities: an institutional logics perspective. Innovation: Organization & Management, 1–14.

Gümüsay, A. A. 2018. COMMENTARY: Sharing is caring: From material to socio-material sharing. Academy of Management Discoveries. [Forthcoming]

Kornberger, M., Leixnering, S., Meyer, R., & Hoellerer, M. 2017. Rethinking the Sharing Economy: The Nature and Organization of Sharing in the 2015 Refugee Crisis. Academy of Management Discoveries. https://doi.org/10.5465/amd.2016.0138.

Mair, J., & Martí, I. 2006. Social entrepreneurship research: A source of explanation, prediction, and delight. Journal of World Business, 41(1): 36–44.

O’Neil, C. 2016. Weapons of math destruction: how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy. London: Allen Lane.

Pic: SDGs, circle, by UN WMO; edited.

Big fuss about a big policy plan – and why this matters for corporate social responsibility: the Chinese social credit system

By Dieter Zinnbauer & Hans Krause Hansen.

Few statist policy blueprints on matters pretty technical have captured our collective imagination as has the Chinese Social Credit System (SCS). Announced by China’s State Council on June 14, 2014, and building on experimentation with related mechanisms since the early 2000s, it sets out a hugely ambitious effort, officially described to instil societal trust, integrity and cohesion in a highly complex society. To get there it seeks to combine cutting-edge technology and vast amounts of data to create incredibly granular behavioural profiles of both companies and individuals. Good and bad behaviours are meant to be recorded in and through elaborate rating systems and blacklists, and made public on digital platforms. The expectation is that punishments and rewards will deter deviance and incentivise good conduct in close to any sphere of life.

With the West in the mirror

After years of relative in-attention, the SCS has loudly burst onto the Western media landscape. Here, it is typically described in Orwellian terms as a totalitarian system of surveillance and control. On closer inspection, the SCS is in fact embryonic, fragmentary and faced with enormous implementation challenges.

But the scale, scope and level of invasiveness associated with the data collection effort currently emerging in China should not look so shockingly unprecedented to Western publics once they begin to scrutinize their own backyards. Take the use of social media in the policing of protests as an example. Here the UK government engages in the analysis of big data to predict, pre-empt and respond in real time to a range of issues, including public dissent. Take information on someone’s physical whereabouts as another example. As it turns out the exact location of cell phone owners in 95% of the US is being tracked with the help of all major carriers in close to real time (ok, with a 15 seconds delay) and related data is being available to nudge people’s behaviour for a wide variety of purposes, e.g. by sending them last-minute campaign pitches when they wait in line outside a particular polling station or anti-abortion messages when they are found to linger outside health clinics that carry out these procedures or by sending political messages when they wait in line outside a particular polling station.

Or take the most popular new media companies. They are collecting extremely granular dockets of what their users do, say and who they socialise with on their own platforms. But less in the spotlight they also track users and non-users alike across millions of other websites and across the bulk of the most popular mobile applications, recording anything from detailed surfing behaviour down to the modes of movement – is the user currently cycling or on the train? What’s more, they increasingly merge theses profiles with billions of data points collected by other parties. One leading new media company claims to have access to information on 70% of all credit card purchases and thus approximating a rather totalitarian 360 degree, 24/7 view of user conduct, all the way to – no kidding – the barometric pressure of the users’ environment.

Public and private entanglements

A special matter of concern in the West relating to SCS is its fusion of socialist government and private sector capabilities, technical affordances and interests that make such a system feasible in the first place.

However, long gone in the West are the times when governments were the main purveyors and guardians of data about their citizens.  Even the holy grail of state information prowess, the census is not immune to private sector resources and influences. The UK government for example is exploring ways to make its census more cost-effective with the help of other big data sources and acknowledges that this will also have to include privately-held ones.

And there is also a proximity of big tech and political actors on a much more fundamental level. Tech companies evolved into some of  the most vocal and most prolific donors and lobbyists on the political scene. An entirely legitimate democratic engagement, but it raises questions about outsize influence given the scale of these efforts. Yet, much more unnerving, the leading social media and tech companies in the US   seconded staff as pro-bono experts to become part of the support teams of most presidential candidates in the run up to the 2016 presidential elections, giving them unique insights and connections into the affairs of some of the leading politicians in the country.

Subtle social sorting and weak institutional safeguards

A factor that explains the extraordinary attention that the SCS has received might pertain to the breadth of sanctions and consequences that these early uses have already resulted in. Bad social credit makes it more difficult for Chinese citizens to travel, find a home or get a job.  Unfortunately, this is nothing new and happens all over the world.  Under the label of risk- management citizens whose criminal record or financial credit history contains some irregularities have long been subjected to inferior treatment when renting a home, looking for a job or seeking insurance.

In principle, the protection of individual rights and limits on state over-reach and surveillance in most western countries relies on a host of elaborate institutional safeguards, checks and balances. While some of the egregious examples referenced above have actually been remedied when they were exposed, thus attesting to some degree of efficacy of legal and broader societal protections, other incidences have not been resolved and are somehow even seen as acceptable.

So shifting some of the attention and moral outrage that is being directed towards the Chinese SCS back to the home turf, and to investigate what troubling data practices and regulatory gaps that are germinating over here is more than warranted. In the wake of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandals this has begun to happen and more commentators are noting the troublesome parallels between Chinese SCS and emergent data surveillance and discrimination issues in the West.

Enter the urgent business of business

And this is where business and its social responsibility comes in. Because one of the fundamental differences between the SCS and many issues in the West is that the disciplinary power, control functions and discriminatory implications of big data-driven social scoring are not primarily organised and instrumentalised through government, but deployed by the private sector and working their way into everyday lives.

Egged on by a growing populist Tech-lash, a whirlwind of new regulatory efforts and undoubtedly also in many cases by a deeper sense for doing no harm, the new tech companies have begun to take note, moving from denial to a gradual re-examination of some of their working principles, practices and normative anchoring.

Yet, the proof is still in the pudding whether this is a substantive change of minds and hearts. The Performance of the new tech sector on some standard measures of corporate integrity and transparency is still mediocre and lagging many other established industries.

The ways to a much more comprehensive, proactive and transformational integration of corporate social responsibilities into the strategy and practice of tech will have to coalesce around a broad band of issues, ranging from responsible stewardship of data, platform power and emergent artificial intelligence capabilities to bread and butter CSR issues such as responsible corporate political activity and supply chain and subsidiary integrity.

Think tanks and tech activists are putting forward a sprawling pool of ideas and initiatives from data collaboratives or privacy by design standards to high-profile research endeavours into artificial intelligence ethics. Meanwhile  European regulators are putting into force trailblazing rules as we write this column.

But a big tech embrace of a substantive and comprehensive notion of corporate social responsibility is urgently required to stave off the threat of an even more populist, illiberal, unequal, misogynistic and fragile future in which the tech industry is more part of the problem than a solution to it.


Dieter Zinnbauer is Governing Responsible Business Research Fellow at Copenhagen Business School in the Department of Management, Society and Communication.

Hans Krause Hansen is Professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. He teaches and researches about various aspects of public and private governance, including corruption, anti-corruption and transparency regimes in the global North and South.

 

Pic by Alias, Flickr.

Researchers in BLOXHUB seeking to improve indoor climate

by Lara Hale

In the second week of May 2018, the architectural and design worlds were abuzz with reviews of the new green glass giant looming over the Copenhagen harbour – BLOX. There have been critiques of design, urban planning, participation processes, and more, but perhaps less likely to emerge in your social media and news feeds is the nature of organizational development and experimentation designed into the very heart of BLOX.

Physical, organizational and cultural diversity under one roof

BLOX as a physical building is composed of various building elements but is also socially composed of diverse elements. The property is home to the old military storage buildings at Fæstningens Materialgård, still stunning with their yellow-washed walls and currently under renovation for becoming part of the BLOX family of offices and meeting spaces. The new building houses top-floor apartments, a large fitness centre, the Danish Architecture Center (DAC), the Danish Design Center (DDC), and last but not least, BLOXHUB, the new building industry innovation hub.

These last elements are where the organizational potential lies. Firstly, there are the yet-to-be woven together threads that draw across DAC, DDC, and BLOXHUB, opening up for potential co-conferences and exhibitions that not only blend spaces, but blend disciplines. Secondly, BLOXHUB is a non-profit organization of around 150 members (and anticipated to grow) aiming to stimulate innovation for sustainable building and urbanization by facilitating co-working, co-creation, and experimentation. Beyond the potential stemming from sharing working spaces, the hub supports the organization of seminars and conferences and offers access to labs that can serve as platforms for new products or services, including, for example, epiito’s virtual reality (VR) lab and UnderBroen’s maker-space equipment. And thirdly, nested in BLOXHUB is the Science Forum, hosting a suite of built environment researchers.

Smart Building research among industrial researchers

Now the Science Forum is one of my offices-away-from-the-office. Since the start of this year, we are a cluster of nine industrial researchers – seven PhDs and two postdocs – with projects concerning “Smart Buildings and Cities” (read here about the formation of the cluster). Launching from my postdoc project with VELUX and CBS on smart building business model innovation, we have already  identified several crossovers and synthesis possibilities within the first months. This begs the question: what happens when you combine companies, universities, and industrial researchers into an innovation hub? How does this change how research, investment, and innovation are done? And how does this change how industry can relate to academia?

With user-friendly tech to better indoor climate

With VELUX, the starting point is smart device automation, but based on the people who live and work in buildings (read: all of us). But even if the indoor climate is ubiquitous and something we all experience, we also take it for granted and may not even notice how we are feeling unless something disturbs us. Even more importantly, the more serious health consequences of a poor indoor environment stem from factors that cannot necessarily be noticed just by paying attention, including for example, high CO2 levels from poor ventilation or off-gassing chemicals from unsustainable building materials. My research investigates both how smart devices can be designed based on an organization’s inquiry into the user experience, but also how the nature of these user-driven digital devices can change the way traditional manufacturing companies do business.

Much more to expect in the future of BLOX

The project has only been running a few months, and BLOXHUB has only been open not even a month – so there will be many more exciting developments and synergies to report in the future. In the meantime, swing by the great glass giant and experience the shifting landscape around Langebro. You can visit the most recent DAC Exhibition “Welcome Home” looking at how the meaning of home has shifted historically and continues to adapt in Denmark, and your kids can have a go at the new playground on the city-side of the building. A new bicycle and pedestrian bridge is planned for 2019, as well, and then the connections will go even further; from connecting industry and researchers to connecting the city on a level we all can meet.


Lara Anne Hale is an industrial postdoc fellow with VELUX and Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business World Class Research Environment. The 3-year project is part of Realdania’s Smart Buildings & Cities cluster within BLOXHUB’s Science Forum. It builds upon her PhD work on experimental standards for sustainable building to look at the business model innovation process in organizations’ adaptation to the smart building business. Follow her on Twitter.

Pic by Michael Levin, taken from BLOX.dk.

Is Social Media Redefining the Pursuit of Social Change?

By Daniel Lundgaard.

  • Social media has become a battleground where NGOs with global perspectives, corporations and new digital social movements all fight to shape public opinion in the pursuit of social change
  • Though often criticized for the low quality of online deliberation, social media has become one of the primary avenues for diffusion of information, and increasingly an embedded part of our infrastructure
  • This calls for more research on how social media is changing various aspects of our lives and how we, through collaborative efforts, may foster change

Approximate Reading Time: 2-3 min.

Social Media for Social Change?
The impact of social media on the way we live our lives is undeniable. Recent statistics suggests that there are more than three billion active social media users. This makes social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter some of the most influential contexts regarding diffusion of information and they are, to a certain extent and as many of us would admit, emotionally contagious. This has created a digitalized world where social media has ‘given a voice to the people’, as civil society can use social media to express concerns. However, the debate about whether expressing concerns through social media leads to any substantial change is only just at the beginning.

What is your take on this? Is social media cultivating global collaboration and facilitating a pursuit for a better world, or instead disrupting the debate by cultivating polarization and fragmentation? – And are these two arguments necessarily mutually exclusive? Join me as we explore these two sides a bit further to understand how social media might be the key to pursuing social change.

The two sides of the debate
On the one side of the debate, we have the argument that social media facilitates constructive, powerful and impactful digitally networked action to pursue social change, as for example seen with the Arab Spring and recently the #Metoo movement. This follows the argument that these online platforms are evolving from a tool for social interaction towards becoming an embedded part of our infrastructure and some of the primary contexts for collaborative efforts.

On the other side, we have the argument that simply enabling collaborative efforts is not enough to promote social change, as social media is argued to be “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works” (former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya. The challenge is that social media is heavily criticized for disrupting the pursuit for social change by cultivating echo-chambers, destructive polarization, fake-news and filter bubbles which hinder constructive online deliberation. This critique is further substantiated by critics arguing that social media cultivates non-committal activism (often referred to as slacktivism), which can thwart efforts to achieve social change, as ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ still can’t be eaten, and sharing or liking an image of a starving child doesn’t solve any issues by itself.

Why you shouldn’t disregard social media’s potential
The keywords here are “by itself”, because while the isolated ability for social media to cultivate social change is questioned, social media’s ability to connect millions of disparate actors and facilitate engagement in collaborative efforts cannot be denied. Social media has the innate ability to link individual contributions and facilitate large-scale collaboration that leads to a better outcome than what each individual could have achieved on his or her own as for example illustrated by how Change.org and SumOfUs.org use social media to fight social injustice and socially irresponsible corporations. Fostering polarization might very well be destructive, but it can also be constructive and facilitate social change by inspiring stronger commitment within specific groups, which might help ‘fuel’ collaborative efforts towards more substantial change.

These two sides are thus not necessarily mutually exclusive, as the coherent large-scale collaboration potentially benefit from emerging through more polarized communities that can give a ‘voice’ to otherwise squelched and ‘minor’ opinions, as seen with the #BlackLivesMatter-movement and the #Metoo-movement. The key to using social media in the pursuit for social change is therefore to harness the ability for social media to link disparate like-minded actors and facilitate coherent large-scale collaboration, as illustrated by the Occupy Wall Street-movement as well as the Tunisian uprising that sparked the Arab Spring. The ability to connect globally disparate actors based on perceived shared values and some form of collective mind-set is thus one of the primary ways that social media is changing the pursuit for social change.

Social media has become a battleground
These examples illuminate that social media has become a battleground where NGOs with global perspectives, corporations and new digital social movements all fight to shape public opinion on the pursuit for social change. The important thing to note is that we are seeing the beginning of change. Implications of business practices are becoming a matter of civic concern, as evidenced by how consumers use social media to express their concerns and continuously attempt to influence corporate behavior in the pursuit for a better world. Social media is thus at the core of pursuing social change, as consumers can circumvent the traditional ‘gate-keeping’ function of traditional media and directly interact with organizations, which to a certain extent have empowered the digitalized civil society.

The critique of social media should however not be disregarded. Echo-chambers can be highly destructive, and social networking sites can create personalized ‘bubbles’ where your exposure to information is determined by the platform, as illustrated by the recent Facebook-data leak suggesting that data was harvested and exploited in an attempt to reshape political deliberation.

However, using the strengths of social media to unite in numbers has undoubtedly created new opportunities for us as consumers to affect public opinion towards an increased emphasis on social responsibility and social change. The next question is then how these collaborative efforts lead to substantial change, potentially by influencing the behavior of organizations, which is something I will continue to investigate in my research going forwards.


Daniel Lundgaard is a PhD fellow at the CBS Governing Responsible Business Research Environment. His research is mainly focused on the impact of the digital transformation, in particular, how social media has ‘given a voice to the people’ as a way to challenge norms and dominating discourses, and thereby changed our world and influenced the relationship between business and society.

Pic by Kym Ellis via Unsplash, edited by BOS.

When Good CSR Intentions With Communities Go Bad

By Rajiv Maher.

  • Can companies get CSR efforts “right” by engaging in dialogue with communities, thus improve relations and their impacts?
  • Reality shows that companies tend to engage with a few selected community leaders only (who normally receive certain benefits), which creates internal tensions
  • Indeed, consultations processes offer a platform for companies and governments to fragment and divide resistance to their projects

Approximate reading time: 3-4 minutes.

In this post I reflect on the past ten years of working as a practitioner and researcher on the issue of CSR, company – community relations and conflicts. Overall, it is striking to see the gap between the optimism held by practitioners and the pessimism of those affected in communities when it comes to the companies’ socio-economic and environmental impacts. A common response from those working in CSR is that the company’s intentions are good and sincere. Though I have little reason to doubt this point, unfortunately nice intentions from companies, governments, and NGOs carry little currency for communities affected by extractives and natural resources projects.

CSR, Dialogue and Engagement as solutions to territorial conflicts with business
The term CSR has lost much credibility within business and practitioner circles, who these days tend to associate the term more with philanthropy. Instead, practitioners have shifted over to preferring terms like sustainable business, sustainability, community investment, shared value and even human rights and business to label their efforts with nearby communities. Nonetheless all these concepts have in common the aim to bring more good than harm whilst creating genuine win-win scenarios with the communities. A key concept, that cuts across all these terms of implementation is that of dialogue and engagement.

Dozens of well written guidebooks and manuals or toolkits have been published in recent years by multilateral institutions such as the UN and World Bank and governments on community engagement, dialogue and investment by business.  The theory underpinning this is that by engaging in dialogue with communities, companies can then get it right, meaning improve relations and their impacts. It is this assumption that I have tried to interrogate over the past ten years whilst visiting 11 mining and four hydropower affected communities across Brazil, Chile and Peru in addition to multiple conversations with relevant officials from business, government, civil society and activism.

What does CSR and Engagement look like from those who are Engaged?
In short these well intended policies are seen as decisive in nature by those on the receiving end. In every community I have visited the saddening common denominator so far has been the fragmentation of community fabric due to the arrival of these megaprojects armed with their well-meaning CSR strategies. The divisions take place mostly along the lines of those who are willing to accept and engage with the CSR and those who are outrightly opposed to the megaproject on the grounds of the impacts to their culture, spirituality, ecology and livelihoods.

At first communities often start out as collectively opposed to the siting of the project, however, exhaustion and fatigue set in over time as governments and companies stubbornly persist with imposing the project with an increasing number of CSR related carrots. As time passes the dejected phrase I often hear in communities is “we are tired, we just want the conflict to end and make the most of this bad situation. The company has the backing of the state, and we don’t seem to have the power to reject it.” Consequences of these community divisions have included the rupture of relations amongst nuclear family members, neighbours, the eviction of tenants from their rental accommodation and even threats of violence and to personal security.

Next I have found that the group that chooses to give the company a chance and engage with it soon loses its faith and trust in the process as the promised jobs and benefits do not materialize. The companies tend to engage with a few selected community leaders only (who normally receive certain benefits), which creates further internal tensions. I have felt these tensions and mistrust grow with each repeat visit to a community.

The companies are also keen to follow best practice community investment approaches as espoused by leading development practitioners. A key message from this group of professionals seem to be well captured by the mantra “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach him to fish and he eats forever.” This has translated itself in practice into a plethora of training or capacity building courses delivered by companies to communities around entrepreneurship. Typical courses I have encountered include biscuit making, handcraft and beauty/hair salon courses, which community members found of limited worth. Residents stressed they all had immediate needs of having a fish for the day as well as learning how to fish, but that eating for the day mattered most and this is frowned upon by companies and CSR professionals. In short you can imagine the complex internal social and political struggles that now take place between and amongst community residents who are now divided into different groups that have no trust in one another.

What do companies say about this?
The corporate response to the abovementioned critique has normally been to refute the level of internal divisions, stating it was worse before they arrived. Practitioners often claim that the CSR standards themselves are not at fault, but they just need to be better implemented. Poor implementation of CSR would explain the gap in its portrayal. Implicit in these responses is that the projects should always go ahead, but in a more responsible manner, one that satisfies all stakeholders. Perhaps it is time for business and authorities to assess whether their projects should be sited in communities where rejection is outright from the beginning.

So what’s the solution? That’s what counts!
This is the question I am slapped in the face with by practitioners in the CSR field. The implication here is that, if one has no better solution then we should permit the lesser evil to continue. Of course the role of the state is fundamental in these situations and this cannot be done justice in a short blog post. My main nugget of advice to all those working with or studying CSR would be to view its implementation primarily from the perspective of affected actor. Taking a bottom-up approach will undoubtedly add more complexity for CSR professionals. However, it may also lessen the grievances experienced by communities and workers. In the case of indigenous peoples we should look to international legal instruments from the UN such as the Declaration on Indigenous Peoples from 2007. Here the UN state the importance of self-determination of communities and this affords them the right to veto certain projects in their territory. Unfortunately to date companies together with governments have been able to astutely maneuverer themselves around international indigenous peoples rights by imposing consultations on them where they have the perfect platform to fragment and divide resistance to their projects.

The complexities outlined above need to be taken into account by all those who wish to work and research CSR in the community in natural resource related contexts. I would like to emphasize that this post is not a dismissal of all CSR related attempts. However, I would like to raise the flag that in general the sentiment that CSR is used to manufacture consent is strengthening, and practitioners would be wise to consider real as opposed to reformatory changes to CSR. It would appear there are no more new bottles for the wine.


Rajiv Maher is Assistant Professor in Critical Management Studies at Université Paris-Dauphine and is a current research fellow at the Governing Responsible Business Research Environment, CBS. He researches the impacts of CSR related initiatives in communities affected by extractives and natural resources projects. 

Pic by Rajiv Maher, edited by BOS.
The community in Los Choros village, Chile are mostly fishermen, farmers or working with eco-tourism. They are highly opposed to the Dominga mine project. The community from Higuera however is very much in favour of the mine. Yet, earlier this year in August 2017, the government rejected the mine due to the impacts it would have on the marine reserve hotspot of Punta de Choros, where most of the worlds humboldt penguins spend time.

 

Business and Open Government / Open Data – An Advocacy Role for Business?

By Dieter Zinnbauer.

  • There is a much needed conversation on what stronger role business could and should take in the realm of open data
  • If business decides to put its powerful voice behind efforts to open up government data everyone could win
  •  More effective accountability and democratic empowerment via open government/open data would make a lasting contribution to the common good, put corporate political engagement to work and reaffirm the readiness of business to live up to its role as good corporate citizen

Approximate reading time: 4-5 minutes.

Two worlds apart?
Big excitement in the corporate world about big data is mirrored by big excitement in the NGO world about open data, the nearly world-wide move towards making data held by governments and the public sector more broadly available and usable. Big data is often described as the new oil, an essential commodity powering the economies of the near future. Quite similarly open data / and open government are celebrated as the new oil to lubricate and fuel democratic participation and accountability.

At first sight it looks like these two types of data-related euphoria should really complement each other and make business an enthusiastic proponent of open data. Yet, there still seems to be quite a substantial disconnect between these two spheres. The corporate world is primarily thinking about data in proprietary terms. The more exclusive, the more lucrative this asset class is going to be. The NGO world in contrast frames open data as a public good opportunity. The more freely available the more valuable it is – socially and politically. These contrasting world views are arguably one of the main reasons why interest by business to actively engage in the open government, open data movement appears to be rather tepid. At the same time, efforts by civil society to actively reach out to and proactively engage business are perhaps also not as enthusiastic or systematic as they could be.

Yet, I would suggest, that this narrative of an intrinsic antagonism between the business and open views of the new data era is a rather false and counter-productive one. It masks how interwoven both domains actually are, delays a much needed conversation on what stronger role business could and should take in the realm of open data.

Multiple inter-linkages
So here just a set of observations to help soften and shake up this rigid narrative and to provide a flavor of the things to come with regard to the potential engagement of business on open data issues.

  1. Public data has long been an important raw material for business. Commercial information brokers that build on, make more accessible and add further value to publicly available data have a long tradition (think phone books). And even in the early digital days before the enormous scale, scope and potential of open data had even appeared on the horizon the empirical picture was astounding: assessments for Europe, for example, put the overall commercial value of public sector information as input to economic activity at an amazing EUR 200 billion or 1.7% of total GDP fur the EU 27 (Vickery 2011).
  2. Businesses have been early protagonists in the open data world. It is rarely explicitly appreciated that business also has a very active history of pushing open data boundaries. As it turns out it was companies that pioneered some of the food labeling and related data initiatives that helped establish new expectations and regulatory standards about what types of data should be collected and made openly available for food items, since consumer trust was essential for rapidly industrializing food industries and a competitive advantage could be gained by first movers on that front. (Schudson 2015).
  3. Business are major users of open government mechanisms. It is companies –not journalist or citizen groups – that are by far the main user of freedom of information requests to help push more government held information into the open in the US (Kwoka 2016) – and turned these data trawls into lucrative trading opportunities (Gargano et al. 2016).

Where could this go next?
All this bodes well for business to take a much stronger interest in and help advance the open data/open government agenda.

What could be priority areas for such an engagement that are both critical to the open government idea and also provide some tangible benefits to business? Here just two examples:

  • Open contracting and open procurement: two groups of information that are central planks of many open data/open government reforms and that can help provide a level playing field for market access, push out unfair collusion rackets and more broadly provide a much broader set of valuable market intelligence when interacting with and devising bids for government clients, something that can be of particular importance when operating outside the home market;
  • Data on beneficial ownership of companies/property/land, as well as disclosure of assets/income/interests by senior government officials: a major push is underway by open government advocates to press for more data collection and public disclosure in these two areas, which are also essential for companies and what is often very resource-intensive due diligence/compliance in vetting new clients, identify conflicts of interest, guard against self-dealing etc.

If business decides to put its powerful voice behind such efforts to open up government data everyone could win. First such a corporate commitment would amount to a step change in the momentum for deepening such initiatives and expanding them to more countries, now that the lower-hanging fruits have been picked. Secondly, it would provide opportunities for business to lower costs for market intelligence, risk-management and compliance, while yielding indirect benefits in terms of fairer competition and lower entry thresholds. Third, the opening of these new data troves makes it possible to build new business models that curate, re-combine and apply advanced analytics to these datasets and offer related information services. This in turn would help to mitigate the chicken and egg problem for open public data ecologies where public authorities are hesitant to commit over a longer horizon and invest steadily in open data as long as they cannot see widespread use, while companies are reluctant to invest in the use of these data sources as long as they do not expect reliable maintenance and sustainable upkeep (Jetzek 2017). Finally, a stronger business commitment to supporting the open government / open data movement and the concomitant impact on more effective accountability and democratic empowerment would make a lasting contribution to the common good, put corporate political engagement to work for both company as well as societal interests and reaffirm the readiness of business to live up to its role as good corporate citizen.

What do you think?
So how to deepen this engagement? A good starting point is to unpack in a bit more detail where interests most strongly overlap, which types of open government and open data are most interesting for business. Any insights? What types of open data do you think are most useful for business? What is your company already doing in this area? I would love to hear your view on this, particularly if you are from the business world. You can take this 5min survey  to share your opinion – and I will report back on aggregate findings in a later post.


Dieter Zinnbauer works on emerging policy issues and innovation for Transparency International (TI) and is a current research fellow at the Governing Responsible Business Research Environment, CBS. He has held various post-doctorate research fellow positions on technology, governance and development issues. Prior to joining TI Dieter worked for more than 10 years in Asia, Africa, North America and Europe as policy analyst and research manager for a variety of organizations in the field of development, democratization and ICT policy, including with UNDP, UNDESA, and the European Commission.

Follow him on Twitter.

Pic by Jenny Downing, edited by BOS.

’Make Feminism Radical Again’

By Jeremy Moon.

Approximate reading time: 3-4 minutes.

’Make Feminism Radical Again’ – An unlikely fashion choice in some quarters but, yes, a fellow passenger at Copenhagen airport was donning a T-shirt bearing just this slogan.

The wearing of political slogans always sets off questions in my mind, as I try to imagine what goes through the wearer’s mind.

‘What shall I wear today?  Ah yes, I’m flying, I think that the fellow passengers need a dose of radicalization’.  ‘Wednesday: shall it be women’s rights or animal rights?’
‘I need a white T shirt with these jeans. Ah well, this is the only clean one left in the drawer.  It will do.’

Or maybe they are really committed and wear one of these shirts every day?
Or maybe they just don this shirt without a second thought?

The questions in my head wouldn’t stop.

‘When was feminism radical?’
‘What does she mean by radical?’
‘What would it mean for women?’
‘What would it mean for society?’
‘What would it mean for me?’

Gender – a salient concern in CSR and business ethics literatures?
As it happens Kate Grosser, Julie Nelson and I had just put the finishing touches to an essay on the place of gender in the business ethics and corporate social responsibility academic literatures over the last quarter of a century.

So it was really great to see this topic that we had been weighing up in our usual academic ways was ‘out there on the streets’… or at least in the security check area…

Kate, Julie and I had found that the subject of gender had enjoyed some status in this literature (as measured by the number of articles published on the subject in the leading business ethics and corporate social responsibility journals).

The de-radicalization of feminist theory to an empirical variable
On closer analysis we were struck that, whereas the original debates in these literatures about gender had been inspired by the core of feminism (notably the concerns with gender relations and gender equality) this focus had subsequently appeared to get weaker.  Only 20% of the papers in our study focused on this feminist core, and the remainder used gender as a variable in studies of attitudes towards social, environmental or economic issues, or of ethical dilemmas.

Moreover, we were surprised that only 15% of the studies addressing gender issues in the business ethics /corporate social responsibility literature were theoretical papers (and the majority of these referenced theory from outwith feminism).  While empirical papers are clearly a vital part of the literature, theorization is necessary for evaluation of empirical work, and for framing the way academic subjects, in this case feminism, are thought about and studied in the empirical work.

We also noted that the empirical literature was overwhelmingly focused on countries in the ‘Global North’ despite many of the greatest challenges in gender relations and equality being in the ‘Global South’.

Reflecting on our academic journey into feminism, I wondered if what my fellow passenger meant by wearing that slogan was … ’Make feminism radical again by focusing on gender relations and equality’.  But when I had finally plucked up the courage to ask her… she had gone.

P.S. My friend Lauren tells me that there are other feminist T-shirts available
… but none are quite as to the point as that on my fellow traveller…


Jeremy Moon is Velux Professor of Corporate Sustainability at the Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, CBS. He has written widely about the rise, context, dynamics and impact of CSR.  He is particularly interested in corporations’ political roles and in the regulation of CSR and corporate sustainability. Jeremy is the author of Corporate Social Responsibility: A Very Short Introduction (2014 Oxford) and co-author of Visible Hands: Government Regulation and International Business Responsibility (2017 Cambridge).

Pic by Jonathan Eyler-Werve, edited by BOS.

Malcolm McIntosh – Tribute to an Academic Entrepreneur

By Andreas Rasche.

Malcolm McIntosh passed away on 7 June 2017. We lost, as Sandra Waddock recently remarked, an intellectual shaman – someone who cared deeply about the state of the world and who was thinking so wonderfully enthusiastic, “wild” and unconventional about corporate responsibility and sustainability.

I first met Malcolm at the 2nd PRME Global Forum in New York in 2010. Ever since we had many thought-provoking exchanges about academic and non-academic matters, most often around the importance of health and happiness. What always struck me was Malcolm’s desire to make a difference; he not only was an intellectual shaman but also an academic entrepreneur.

He belonged to the few of us who knew how to navigate the worlds of “practice” and “academia” (whatever these labels may mean). Malcolm recognized that good research is about creating an impact; it is about changing peoples’ behavior and making them think about whatever problem we address through our scholarly work. While the academic community has recently started to discuss impact (mostly instrumentally driven by the UK REF system), Malcolm more pragmatically engaged with impact in his own way. He founded the Journal of Corporate Citizenship which until today puts practical relevance and impact high on its agenda; he created one of the first research centers on what back then was coined “corporate citizenship” at the University of Warwick; and he collaborated early on with the UN Global Compact and thereby helped to enact a global action network dedicated to corporate sustainability.

Malcolm did all this because and despite of the omnipresent pressures that surround the academic system, such as publishing in “A” journals (which usually have a quite narrow definition of impact). He published many influential books and articles on different topics related to corporate responsibility and sustainability. He co-edited the first book on the UN Global Compact titled “Learning to Talk” (Greenleaf, 2004). The book captured very well the zeitgeist of the CSR/sustainability movement – back then, it was very much about different societal actors learning to engage in meaningful discussions. Later, Malcolm looked at macro-level change when publishing “SEE Change – Making the Transition to a Sustainable Enterprise Economy” (together with Sandra Waddock, Greenleaf, 2011). The book skillfully outlined how systems-level transformations can happen and what it takes to move from organizational-level efforts (like CSR) to a reform of the whole economic system.

Malcolm’s work lives on in the work of the many people he inspired throughout his life (including my own academic work). He worked relentlessly to open doors for new ideas to take shape. He will be missed but he won’t be forgotten, because every entrepreneur leaves a trace. Malcolm left many of them…


Andreas Rasche is Professor of Business in Society at Copenhagen Business School and Visiting Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics. He can be reached at: ar.msc@cbs.dk and @RascheAndreas

Pic by Colin Poellot.