In May this year, I attended the International Finance Corporation (IFC) 10th Sustainability Exchange. Among other subjects of interest, the question of Social Measurement was brought up. I have noticed that in the past two years, Social Performance Reporting has been gaining in popularity beyond the mining and metals industry, in which it has already been discussed for many years. In many companies, there seems to be an increasing enthusiasm in integrating social metrics at the board level in the same fashion environmental and HSE measures have been for a while. Furthermore, we observed a nascent trend in investors groups’ recognition of the role that reliable metrics can play in mitigating the social risks associated to their investments.
Social Performance Measurement has been known to allow managers to save time trying to understand and keep track of field events so they are able to instead use that time to actually engage with the communities. However, despite the fact that people are talking more and more about it, it continues to constitute a topic for debate. The challenge lies in understanding what constitutes a reliable and usable social metric.
Is it really possible to portray the complexities of social realities in a report?
In 2009, I worked with a mining company in Western Africa who wanted to define KPIs related to social performance. Despite their team spending tremendous time and resources organizing workshops and other activities, they were struggling to come up with targeted needs that made their way up to the board level. This is a situation that I have witnessed over and over again in the past years and that continues to resonate today. It appears to be a great challenge for companies to outline their needs in term of social metrics. I have subsequently observed that when they are instead proposed a specific framework, things move much faster as they can then easily give their feedback and build from there.
About nine months ago, we have launched a pilot project consisting in sending out monthly social performance reports to a handful of our clients. The various feedbacks have been allowing us to adjust the report in order to make it useful to managers. While some reported a lack of details pertaining to the reasons behind the different grievances, others started using it straight away. One manager felt like there were too many automatic interpretations and preferred hard facts that his team would then analyze. One of our clients from Guinea was particularly satisfied with this monthly report and said that it was “425% superior to anything they had seen in the past.” Finally, some executives used it as a motivational tool for their field agents who appreciated the feeling that their work reached the higher levels of their companies.
In sum, regardless of the nature of the feedbacks, this initiative has generated considerable interest, which extended beyond the project level, to the corporate offices, encouraging us to pursue our work around it. Our ultimate goal is to come up with a monthly report that is as complete and useful as possible. We therefore thought it would be optimal to gradually break away from simple, low value-added metrics toward ones that are richer in background. For example, we have been hearing for a long time about the limited value of metrics such as the number of days taken to solve grievances. We tackled this issue by adding the topics that generate the most grievances and the level of satisfaction of the stakeholders at the time of grievance closure. We now want to extend this type of process beyond grievance indicators and allow managers to understand, in a glance, the true context in which they operate. Through time, we have come to realize that the key in defining meaningful social metrics might lie in combining and crossing multiple factors instead of representing information in silos.
At the moment, among other information, our monthly reports include the hot topics discussed in the various communities, the feedback trend in terms of stakeholder’s level of satisfaction, as well as the team members’ level of engagement and backlog. We are perpetually in quest for insight from industry’s professionals.
In your opinion, are such reports pertinent and if so, what type of information should they display?
Header image credit: Freepik.com