Creating things that don’t exist

Walmart and Google are entering the voice-shopping market – alongside the other big online players, Amazon and Apple.

Walmart’s goal is to “create customer experiences that don’t currently exist“. Is that a good thing?

It is almost certain that Walmart will have conducted extensive market research to see whether people actually want it and how to do it most appealingly.

What is far less clear is whether they have thought about how to create these new experiences responsibly. It is entirely possible that people will love it all, but that it will change the shopping dynamic in some adverse way (less ‘family time’?). Or it may dramatically improve life for the time-poor.

Either way, the actual social impacts of such a move should be explored.


Quantitative Pleasing – how many is too much

The ICAEW have published my report on the perils of quantification and what can be done about it. Using the examples social and natural capital, it sets out guidelines for when and how quantification should be attempted – and what to do when it should not be done.

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SROI – at the awkward adolescent stage?

The SROI methodology for valuing impacts is coming of age. But it is a difficult age which begs important questions. The biggest question is perhaps the presumption that a valuation can be achieved through assigning quantitative financial values to any kind of impact.

After that, perhaps the next most important is: what should it be used for? The current choice is to help mission-driven organisations produce a fairly quick evaluation of the difference they make in the world. It does that well, even if there remain a number of questions about how it goes about that task.

However there are two other huge areas to which SROI could make a difference, although that would require a modification of its methods. One such area is the social impact of mainstream companies. Where ordinary commercial interests and value flows are a large part of the impact, an SROI-like methodology must confront the question of what the total impact of an organisation is, rather than only what difference it makes. The technical reasons for that I have spelt out in an blog on the Social Value International website.

The other big area is public policy-making. As Daniel Fujiwara has pointed out with some care, the adoption of an SROI-like methodology in policy-making circles would require SROI to adopt the kind of rigour that underlies current cost-benefit analyses.

So, a bit like an adolescent, SROI needs to decide exactly what it wants to do in the world.


Those that sell to children should report to them

Sustainability and CSR reports are rarely read – with the exception of those who write them and those who audit them. That doesn’t make them useless. At their best, they provide an anchor point and focus for those within companies trying to manage business impacts.

Still, that is a lot of time and money spent on little return. So what can be done?

One approach would be to address reports about business impacts to the stakeholders affected by the business. Of course that would make for some extra work since the interests of staff, say, are different from those of environmental NGOs. But the reward would not only be reports that are read, but very likely also a far richer and more integrated engagement process with stakeholders.

A good group to start with would be children. Children are an under-served stakeholder, yet one with which many large consumer-facing companies are deeply involved – think of all that advertising. And it is quite possible to write reports that are child-accessible.

So – those that sell to children should report to them.


Is social value just a placebo?

Or can it be something more?

My thoughts on social value and how it should be used can be found here.