Finding a framework

I am preparing to do some semi structured interviews with people across the college. I want to find a framework that gives the interviews coherence and makes sure they are relevant to our purpose. This is also helpful given that it is hard to come up with a precise definition of CSR and ethics, and we need to establish common ground.

So the approach is very pragmatic, but here is some of the reading I have covered to inform our approach.

In Ethics Matters: Managing Ethical Issues in Higher Education it is proposed that ethical frameworks can take any of the following approaches:

  1. Stakeholder: Structured in terms of relationships with specific groups of interested parties such as staff, students, suppliers, business partners, funding bodies etc (Apparently the Association of Colleges ‘a Model Code of Ethics for Colleges’, 2003, takes this approach. I am trying to get hold of a copy.)
  2. Issues based: This explains the institution’s approach to a series of important issues eg equal opportunities or academic misconduct. In a more corporate environment may include bribery & corruption; gifts & hospitality; conflicts of interest; diversity; health and safety, environmental stewardship and political donations and lobbying. According to IBE/MORI research published in October 2006, the three major areas of public concern are speaking out/whistleblowing (32 %), environmental responsibility (32 %) and discrimination in treatment of people (31 %), followed by executive pay and harassment and bullying.
  3. Functions-based: They suggest: Teaching, learning and assessment; Research and development ; The student experience; Business and local communities; Leadership and governance Management (human resource issues), plus Adherence and Resources.
  4. Hybrid approach: a mix of the above

(This is an incredibly useful report, published by the Council for Industry and Higher Education and Brunel University and based on extensive consultation.) I have also looked at what some other CSR experts have to say about possible frameworks. Alexander Dahlsrud for instance (How CSR is defined: an analysis of 37 definitions) found five dimensions commonly associated with definitions of CSR (as part of an online analysis of frequency of definitions):

  • Environmental: the natural environment.
  • Social: the relationship between business and society.
  • Economic: socio-economic or financial aspects, including describing CSR in terms of a business operation, relating it to economic development, profitability and business operations.
  • Stakeholder: stakeholders or stakeholder groups, such as employees, suppliers, customers and communities.
  • Voluntariness: actions not prescribed by law.

Dahlsrud makes some interesting observations: he looks at the issue of balancing economic activity with CSR and says ‘the optimal performance is dependent on the stakeholders of the business’ (p6). He also says that CSR needs management tools, not because it is new (business ethics have been around a long time), but because in today’s society, there are rapidly changing demands and new stakeholders.

Carroll and Shabana suggest limitations to Dhalsrud (The Business Case for Corporate Social Responsibility: A Review of Concepts, Research and Practice, 2006, p89).  Instead, they identify CSR as the fulfilment of four responsibilities: Economic; Legal; Ethical; Discretionary/philanthropic. This model was first put forward in 1979 by Carroll. ‘The social responsibility of business encompasses the economic, legal, ethical and discretionary / philanthropic expectations that society has of organisations at a given point in time.’ The first two are necessary (mandatory) for a business to survive. The second two are discretionary  Carroll then talks what is required, expected and desired of businesses. I find this rather broad for our current purposes, but the ‘required, expected, desired’ criteria are interesting.

Some frameworks make a clear distinction between strategy and implementation, and between different stages of implementation. In The Ethical Business, Mellahi, Morrell and Wood (2010, p43) set out two domains:

  1. Issues facing management: Corporate governance; Social partnerships; Green issues; Ethics in a globalizing world
  2. Ethical management in practice: Accounting and finance; Organisational behaviour and human resource management; Marketing; Supply chain management

Business in the Community appears to do something similar, with an index  that measures: corporate strategy; integration; management: performance and impact; assurance and disclosure across four key areas: community, environment, marketplace and workplace. This is in another important report: Universities that Count: a report on benchmarking environmental and corporate responsibility in higher education, resulting from a partnership between Leeds Metropolitan University, the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges and BiTC, funded by HEFCE. Interestingly, while 25 universities took part in the environmental component of the HE Benchmarking Project, only five took part in the overall Corporate Responsbility Index. The universities were positive about the process overall, but found the language and perhaps the complexity of the CR Index to be a barrier.

I am therefore moving towards a mostly functions-based approach as the most useful to our mapping at Bradford College because it fits with the roles and responsibilities of departments and individuals, and it should therefore be easier for them to talk about what they are doing, and for us to implement any future recommendations.

I will use additional lists to crosscheck the information: a college stakeholder list, a list of principle areas of college activity, our 7 Es, a list of college policies, and the list on pages 30 and 31 (Ethics Matters: Managing Ethical Issues in Higher Education) which sets out issues and subjects that might be included within any ethical policy framework. I will also monitor for what is mandatory and what is discretionary as another important distinction.

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