Thursday, September 23, 2010

Stockholm Accords and Sustainability

This is second of a series of lectures notes I am preparing about the Stockholm Accords.

Some months have passed since the World Public Relations Forum discussed and approved the Stockholm Accords. It was the culmination of an intensely participated collaboration process which involved some 1000 leaders of the global public relations community from 42 countries by the PR industry's Global Alliance.

There is a Stockholm Accords digital HUB that you may visit here at: The discussions are worth following and I recommend all practitioners to visit and get engaged.

You can access the Accords here. I have also provided a text version here (for all those people who like to copy 'n paste and not get irritated by the use of PDF)

The Accords offer us a view of sustainability in these words:

An organization’s sustainability is based on balancing today’s demands with the ability to meet future needs, based on economic, environmental and social dimensions*.

In this network society, sustainability leadership offers a transformational opportunity* to enhance the organization’s reputation and demonstrate success across the triple bottom line.

Public Relations professionals identify, involve and engage key stakeholders* contributing to appropriate sustainability policies and programs by:
· interpreting society’s expectations for sound economical, social and environmental investments that show a return to the organization (the advocate)*;
· creating a listening culture – an open system that allows the organization to anticipate, adapt and respond (the listener)*;
· ensuring stakeholder participation to identify what information should be transparently and authentically reported (the reporter)*;
· going beyond today’s priorities to anticipate the needs of tomorrow, engaging stakeholders and management in long-term thinking (the leader).

Reviewing each of these elements in turn, we can extend the debate.

An organization’s sustainability is based on balancing today’s demands with the ability to meet future needs, based on economic, environmental and social dimensions is a bold and, I suggest, a late 20th century view. It will hold good for some time to come but the move towards greater competitive transparency, the evolution of the semantic web and ever more effective 'Blazing Netshine' that allows us all to search and expose the minutia of human endeavour will challenge economic, environmental and social dimensions with added elements.

The nature of value is being challenges in many ways.

What is 'free' (i.e. not paid for with today's monetary currencies) is frequently challenged in today's society. Patents and Trademarks, copyright and personal assets are exposed in near ubiquitous interactive communication and yet many things seemingly 'free' are much valued.

The 'Free' search engine Google has immense value for most people well beyond the irritation (and much ignored) advertisements. Its value as part of a new form of memory and access to knowledge is huge and dwarfs the utility of Library of Congress and all the other libraries in the world combined.

The nature of value is changing so fast, one might begin to consider coinage as being of lesser utility this year compared to last.

We are beginning to understand value differently. We are beginning to understand commonly held values as being the element that aids/is the essential ingredient for relationship creation (paper by Bruno Amaral and me) and meta values commonly held between two or more people as an indication of the strength of relationships.

Indeed, we are now seeing such values attached to ideas and artefacts as a description of their value and utility for individuals and communities.

It follows that basing anything on economic needs may have to face up to a new form and understanding of economics that truly are (in a process of becoming) dimensionally different. Here is a simple example of what I mean. What is the value of Google to humanity in this generation? Google valued by markets at $165bn  gets two trillion site hits per year. It is a lot of knowledge transfer and priceless (if sometimes trivial).

This leads one to imagine the environment for the existence of organisations.

In an era of developing ubiquitous access to knowledge, corporate environments will have difficulty being an entity. The nature of transparency, porosity and agency as described by the PRCA/CIPR Internet Commission a decade ago (and revised by Philip Young and myself in Online Public Relations) mean that organisations become less bound by a corporate 'hard shell'. We already see this in organisation where 'contracting out' and the use of agents such as PR consultants to act on behalf of and in the interests of an organisation is commonplace. As each employee gets a Twitter Account, the evolution of this transparent and even porous nature of organisations becomes ever more, and publicly evident. The changing environment militates against the structure of organisations as we know them today and we see this in a range of manifestations where the boundaries between one organisation and another is blurred.

An organisation’s sustainability based on balancing demands in social dimensions is also a significant challenge. The social constructs for much of society is changing.

The emergence of Brazil, India and China as big and developing (and more open) economies, the ability to communicate across borders at will and the dynamic of  social groups formed in the silicon sitting rooms of Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are very different social dimensions. Add smart phones and location based micro communities and society looks very different. These are considerations for all who signed up to the Stockholm Accords and have to be thought through by the professional bodies as well as their members.

The professional bodies also have to re-act or be left on the shelf.

The Accords postulate that, in this network society, sustainability leadership offers a transformational opportunity to enhance the organization’s reputation and demonstrate success across the triple bottom line.

Sustainability to be long lasting has to be flexible and enhancing reputation is not limited to economic, ecological and social advantage.

I have already suggested that economical advantage my be difficult to quantify as values take on a different role and are probably better viewed in relationship building terms than monetary value.

Environmental and social advantage may then also be measured in their capability to bring relationship values to the fore. This is not a tautologous argument. Environmental and social values are not the same and current practice needs a lot of new and additional work to achieve 20th century gaols. To be effective in the 21st century, PR has to evolve a triple line that can extend into the much more complicated world of individual, corporate and environment relationships and their value drivers today.

Oddly enough identifying, involving and engaging key stakeholders is very easy. We have not yet developed the technologies sufficiently well but espousing values will quickly build relationship clusters with people holding similar values. In the bast it was a little understood but effective brand empathy matrix. Today, we understand it as a not wholly different, but stakeholder derived values matrix.

As we move towards greater competitive transparency and learn to manage organisational porosity it will become much harder for an organisation to determine what information should be transparently and authentically reported. The stakeholder not only has the whip hand by virtue of a wider view of values porosity will inevitably reveal and the community will punish any organisation that lacks authenticity. Secretive accountants and pharmaceutical companies are going to have to find a values driven accommodation with society to remain as they are.

It is professionalism that develops a capability to go beyond today’s priorities to anticipate the needs of tomorrow and, in addition more emphasis on todays word among PR teachers.