Saturday, July 24, 2010

GRI reporting on Human Rights, Gender and Community

Dear Colleagues

A LinkedIn colleague asked the question "How is global reporting on Human Rights, Gender and Community going to change?" and referred to the pdf report of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) working group on human rights of September 2009.

The idea that the UN is taking an interest in the quality of corporate reporting is encouraging ... but I do not hold my breath that very much is going to change. The following is my comment on the matter.
The UN's initiative to improve reporting is to be commended ... but getting organizations to do a better job of reporting has very big limitations. I do not want to see less effort on improving what organizations tell the world, but I will argue that it is unlikely that organizations will do anything in the area of reporting that is of detriment to themselves. Mostly organizational misinformation is a very petty infraction compared to the profit performance that can be put at risk by really good organizational information.

Decades ago I was faced with similar issues as a young CFO doing computerization and centralizing data in the corporate environment ... nobody wanted the CFO to have control of the data since this is what everyone manipulated for their own benefit! Every manager wanted to be able to report what suited themselves and not have the central staff getting the right information.

Today I see the UN's Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as being well intentioned ... but not likely to achieve very much. On the other hand, just as the computer transformed the inner management workings of the corporation, I see modern technology as having the capability to change how socio-economic reporting gets done. We have the opportunity to get data flows about organizational behavior not from the organization but from people affected by the behavior. Everyone on the planet that has a cell-phone can be the data originator ... and that will be paradigm change we can benefit from.

At the moment there is no "infrastructure" to manage dataflow of this scale ... but this is a management and money issue and not a technology issue.

I am committed to getting paradigm shift about data ... its acquisition and its analysis ... and am hopeful that something pretty amazing is going to emerge quite soon. Stay tuned.

Human rights ... gender ... community! These are all fashionable words and important ... and I would argue the community perspective needs to be in play as much as the organization. What goes on in an organization is one thing ... what goes on in a community is another ... and what the "non-organization" sector does in these areas may be an order of magnitude bigger than the organization, and by this I refer to military and para-military entities, political and security forces, and indeed the broad impact that totally failed economies have on these matters. This needs to get reported outside and independent of the organization view that the GRI encourages.

Again... the GRI is a step and useful ... but the big need is community perspective dataflows, and this is not part of GRI as far as I know.


Peter Burgess
The UN is an interesting organization ... a little over 60 years old, and maybe ready for retirement. Over the years, the UN has taken on all sorts of work, and in general has not done a particularly good job at many of them. This is a management problem ... but there is no top level organizational entity that has either the mandate or the interest in doing the reorganization needed.

I bring this up because it has been suggested that an initiative like Community Analytics (CA) should actually be done by government or the UN. This would be a big mistake, because the need is for community perspective analytics to be able to look at all aspects of the socio-economic activities and the organizational framework to understand performance and do something about it. Government and the UN are part of this framework ... and self analysis is rarely as objective as it needs to be!

Peter Burgess

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