Have you ever started reviewing a corporate responsibility report only to find you’re a bit lost after a few pages?
It could be that material issues haven’t been woven into the organisation’s strategy and reporting story. There are characters and dialogue but not much of a plot.
Material issues give corporate responsibility report readers (and writers) a sense of purpose – they provide context and a rationale for why certain issues/topics were included and why others were not.
Identification of material issues helps to achieve a balanced report because they explain why certain performance indicators were chosen and therefore how the organisation performed in areas that were the most challenging. Overall, a focus on the most material issues should ensure the report is relevant and useful to a range of key stakeholders.
Easier said than done. So where do you start?
A good place is a picture of where you want to end up, such as a materiality matrix. This is a diagram illustrating how you’ve mapped stakeholder concern with business impact (which may be a combination of financial and non-financial impacts), and agreed upon some type of threshold where an issue is deemed to be material and therefore included in the report.
There are some great resources to assist in determining materiality such as the Materiality Report from AccountAbility.
The GRI is currently reviewing the Report Content and Materiality sections as part of its G3.1 update with a view to releasing a protocol as part of the revised guidelines. The GRI focal point in Australia is hosting briefings on the GRI’s strategic objectives in Melbourne today and Sydney tomorrow. I’ll be attending the Sydney one and am keen to find out where they’re up to on Materiality. You can follow me on twitter @thebriefingnote
Perhaps another chapter on materiality beckons.