The nice thing about standards is there’s so many to choose from, goes the saying. Not so in the field of stakeholder engagement. There’s one that’s considered to be the main game.
The AccountAbility Stakeholder Engagement Standard (AA1000SES) has recently been overhauled and sets the benchmark for an area of management that almost every major organisation claims to undertake yet often struggles to define.
Overall I find the updated AA1000SES to be a more valuable resource than its predecessor for the following reasons:
- The language is accessible yet focused on enhancing CSR and business performance. This means the content is useful for practitioners in the field and management in general. This is important for broader application of stakeholder engagement as a decision-making tool.
- The outlined approaches and supporting diagrams aren’t complicated. For example, the four stage process of Plan, Prepare, Implement and Act, Review and Improve is logical and very do-able for all types of organisations. The levels of engagement of consult, negotiate, involve, collaborate and empower are readily adaptable to different scenarios. These approaches also integrate well with the stakeholder engagement requirements of the GRI G3 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines.
- The standard strikes a balance between theory and practice. This demonstrates the influence (and value) of AccountAbility’s multi-stakeholder development and review process.
- No wheel reinvention. Even if you’re an experienced hand, the sections on what to include in a stakeholder invitation, briefing materials and procedural and behavioural ground rules serve as handy checklists and benchmarks.
- A standard is a big deal. Now we know how close or far we are from best practice. It’s also affirming for practitioners in the field to see their skills and expertise recognised in a standard.
It would have been useful to include some examples of performance indicators for the quality of stakeholder engagement. This is an area where organisations often struggle to make the link between quality engagement and overall business performance.
So it was encouraging to read The State of CSR in Australia Annual Review 2010/11 from the ACCSR which found that ‘stakeholder engagement is the most important CSR capability to develop in order to improve CSR performance, closely followed by CSR dialogue’.
The report authors offer some tips for building stakeholder engagement capabilities which includes acknowledgement and recognition by organisational leadership that it matters to the success of the organisation. I couldn’t agree more. Yet I think Australian managers need a lot of guidance in this area before the consideration of stakeholder perspectives becomes an instinctive decision-making practice. The AA1000SES is a good starting point for practitioners charged with the responsibility of helping their organisations to achieve this.
I’d like to hear from some assurance professionals - how would you go about assuring the AA1000SES? Any tips for practitioners and reporters?