The directors of AccountAbility and the practical caretakers of the AA1000 standard have suffered a major setback. In their efforts to turn the previous “open source” standard into a basis for a sustainable business model they are experiencing a crisis of identity.
On the 11th the whole standards board (SB) resigned in an open letter to the directors of the organization. You can find the letter here.
The event that is described shows a couple of issues that I think one can learn from.
- That culture matters. The AA was established as a multi-stakeholder run organisation with the aim to:
- Enable open, fair and effective approaches to stakeholder engagement;
- Develop and recognise responsible competitiveness in companies, sectors, countries and regions;
- Create effective collaborative governance strategies for partnerships and multilateral organisations that are delivering innovation and value, and
- Set and influence sustainability standards.
None of which it has been able to achieve with any great success creating a crisis of the purpose of the organisation was really in sync with the stakeholders it so badly wanted to communicate with. When the AA became professionalised in order to “turn the ship” around the old culture of the NGO had to be put aside this created a identity crisis from which the organisation have been unable to recover.
- When creating change you also need to change the artefacts. The AA1000 was the artefact of the old organisation it meant something to them that somehow was sacred and untouchable. When the professional management took this icon of what was “right” about CSR reporting they practically tried to sell the cultural soul of all the people that was involved. This cultural sell-out created tension within AA which it was unable to control and resulted in first that the Governing counsel in November 2010 resigned and finally the SB.
I do not offer an opinion (even though I have one) on if it is right or wrong for AccountAbility to change their reison d’etre. I the case of this organisation I find it interesting that that change is a difficult thing even for those that wanted change is their main purpose.