Tuesday, March 20, 2012

How big is your brain-print?

Yogesh Chauhan is Chairman of the Corporate Responsibility Group and BBC Chief Adviser Corporate Responsibility. He is slowly but surely transforming the CSR landscape at the BBC. We recently had the opportunity to chat about our expectations of the upcoming Smart Sustainability Reporting Conference on May 15th in London. Yogesh will be leading a session called: Moving towards the report of the future - creating engaging, dynamic and accessible content and distributing through segmented data sets. Sounds intriguing - the report of the future - segmented data sets - engaging, dynamic - not the sort of language most people currently associate with sustainability reports. Therefore, being rather a delayed-gratification-challenged person, I couldn't wait to ask him about what all this means. I found Yogesh very open and willing to share his views. But I am not going to tell you specifically about segmented data sets. You can hear more about that at the conference.

What I will share are some of the other things we talked about.

For example, how Yogesh sees his role: "The fundamental task I have is to challenge the organization in a positive and constructive way. I need to personally to be ahead of the game and identify what the challenges are likely to look like in the future." The BBC employs 23,000 people around the world, so this is no small undertaking.

For another example, how do you influence brain-print? Brain-print is to the media is what ice-cream-print is to Elaine (me), or what foot-print is to a corporation's environmental impacts. Brain-print is the sector jargon which refers to the impact of the media on the way people think. According to Yogesh, in terms of CSR, the "most substantive impact of  the media is its influence in how people make sense of the world around them and how they are informed by the media". The BBC approach, according to Yogesh, goes like this:
"What guide us are the BBC core editorial values – these are sacrosanct – they have been around much longer than I have and will stay around - impartiality, fairness and integrity are core to all that we do. We cannot afford to side with a particular viewpoint. The debate about climate change is very interesting and there is massive external scrutiny on how we report about climate change: some say the BBC is highly responsible in the way it reports, others say we are too cautious, other say we give too much time to the skeptics. But when you have critics on both sides, you tend to know that you have reported impartially and provided the right balance of content. "

The BBC's overall Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability Program goes under the heading of Outreach, and includes the BBC's approach to journalism, promoting learning, education, creativity and cultural excellence, engaging with local communities, managing environmental sustainability, supporting charitable causes and maintaining a responsible workplace. When Yogesh Chauhan introduced Sustainability Reporting at the BBC some years ago, it was like "pushing an open door". The BBC acknowledged the role it needed to play as a Big Media Company. Since then, the BBC has been reporting, and experimenting with reporting.

Currently, the BBC produces an annual Corporate Responsibility Performance Report which  in 2011 was a mere 24 pages long, the center piece of which is the way the BBC upholds its Public Purposes. It's rather like a storybook, with accounts of how the BBC Outreach has advanced citizenship with the BBC News School Report project in which 11-14 year olds are encouraged to produce their own news reports and BBC Learning Works which maximizes learning content linked to BBC programmes. Other themes include promoting culture with the Proms Plus Intro series for families to get to know the experience of classical music and the BBC World Class project that helps schools in the UK develop a twinning partnership with schools around the world.

In addition, the BBC has started to publish quarterly newsletter supplements which provide a focused update on a specific aspect of CSR activities. The latest update, from January 2012, zooms in on Diversity at the BBC in all of its facets, providing an in-depth look the BBC workforce, procurement activities and community outreach and supplemented by a BBC Diversity website. This reflects the experimental aspect of reporting for the BBC - drilling down holistically and more comprehensively than in a single Sustainability Report which covers all issues, four times a year. This reflects a desire of the BBC to experiment with different ways of reporting and viewing the reporting process as one of evolution rather than a static one-model template. In many ways, it's the best of both worlds- a full annual report with more frequent subject-specific updates to keep stakeholders interested and engaged. It also perhaps reflects the view of the BBC that the GRI framework (which the BBC reporting does not formally align with, though the BBC is supporting the development of the Media Sector Supplement) is more of a procedural approach to reporting, which is rather different from the way the BBC (and Yogesh) want to use the report, which is to generate interest, not just information.

Yogesh made the point,  that as a publicly-funded broadcaster, the BBC has an absolute commitment to disclosure. "The BBC is subject to freedom of information legislation. Anyone can ask us any question about how we run our business. We reveal everything - salaries, travel expenses, Board meeting minutes – there is lots of information available. Above and beyond our Sustainability Reporting, every single response we have ever given is available on the website. We get the most wonderful and weird questions thrown at us. Therefore, as an organization we are probably one of the most transparent. The challenge for us is not what to put in the public domain but how we present in a digestible form – what, if anything, to leave out rather than how much to put in."

By the way, the BBC participates in the MediaCSR Forum, which I discovered while browsing the BBC CSR site. If you haven't seen it - take a look. It's a wealth of information about what's happening in the Media and CSR, and why.

I am looking forward to hearing more from Yogesh on 15th May. Hope you will stop by.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen   on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (Beyond Business, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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