Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Adding 'Relationship' assets to Intangible Value Reporting

In my post intellectual capital and intangible asset management. I linked to my 1993 paper which proposed relationships should be included among an organisations' intangible assets. The reason for this need is very well described in Accounting in the same year. The paper presented a case for balanced scorecard reporting, a concept first proposed by Kaplan and Norton in the 1990's.

Among most people who research into intangibles, the notion of relationships being at the core of organisational wealth and wealth creation is a complete novelty.

Part of the problem is that few people accept that most accounting is based on metaphors. Money, that familiar metaphor for wealth, is commonly used. Of course money is a token, its wealth is in the values we associate with it.

This means, that for a company, for example, to report on its wealth, it has to explicate what it means by the accounting metaphors it uses. The 'balance sheet' a metaphoric list of of asset tokens disguises what the directors and auditors mean when they describe some of the assets of a company. The list of assets is often difficult to interpret and is seldom complete.

What is less difficult is to examine are the relationships that are at play within the organisation and the tokens that are used to create, sustain and use for levering added wealth in the form of better relationships to optimise the exchange of tokens.

Some approaches to valuing relationships.


On the basis that 'if you can't measure it, you can't manage it' one of the most important aspects of accounting (not to mention management) is in measurement and evaluation of relationships.

The earliest approach that was used to prove the Relationship Value Model was the applications of LSA (Latent Semantic Analysis). It is based on the work of Deerwester, Dumais, Landauer, . Furnas, and Harshman and allows one to look at a a text corpus to identify 'concept words'. These concepts can be interpreted as tokens and can be given values (I subjectively used Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) or values can be identified from a deeper use of LSA analysis.

This approach identifies the nature of the tokens and where they are common and material between parties identified in the corpus (texts).

There is some work that needs to be done in developing this approach but it works well.


With Jon White I worked on a methodology which allowed organisations to identify relative significance of corporate relationships (called Clarity). It was developed long before the Relationship Value Model saw the light of day. However, it does offer an embryonic approach for identifying both actors and tokens using visualisation and focus groups. This approach has the advantage that it examines both 'internal' and 'external' relationships. I have been considering a development of this concept to offer a visualisation process for the identification of actors, tokens and perceived values. It would be a methodology available to identify both the extent and strength of relationships both for auditing purposes and for relationship management.

Social Frames

A further approach for identifying the nature of relationships and which would have helped Mie Augier and Morten Thanning Vendel├╣ in their paper 'Networks, cognition and management of tacit knowledge' is the application of Social Frames.

Using the Social Frames approach we primary require is to be able to observe tokens held by actors.

In addition we need to be able to identify changes in value and that means we need to observe at different times in order to draw comparisons.

The process allows the researcher to ask what ellements exist and which prompt change among actors across four dimensions: Time plus Knowledge, Interactivity, and Environment. The methodology is described on this web page.

It would seem, even with a concept as young as the relationship Value model, that there are already a number of approaches that may be available for measuring and evaluating relationships.

There is a lot more research to be done in this area and, no doubt, there are some keen to help.

See: S. C. Deerwester, S. T. Dumais, T. K. Landauer, G. W. Furnas, and R. A. Harshman. Indexing by latent semantic analysis. in the Journal of the American Society of Information Science 41(6):391--407, 1990

See: M Augier and M Thanning Vendel├╣ Networks, cognition and management of tacit knowledge Journal of Knowledge Management Volume 3 . Number 4 . 1999 . 252±261

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