Grand Challenges and Robust Action

Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited

My latest paper — Tackling Grand Challenges Pragmatically: Robust Action Revisited — is now available online. Co-authored with Fabrizio Ferraro (IESE Business School in Bacelona) and Dror Etzion (McGill University in Montreal), in the paper we theorize a novel approach to addressing the world’s grand challenges based on the philosophical tradition of American pragmatism and the sociological concept of robust action. Grounded in prior empirical organizational research, we identify three robust strategies that organizations can employ in tackling issues such as climate change and poverty alleviation: participatory architecture, multivocal inscriptions and distributed experimentation. We demonstrate how these strategies operate, the manner in which they are linked, the outcomes they generate, and why they are applicable for resolving grand challenges. We conclude by discussing our contributions to research on robust action and grand challenges, as well as some implications for research on stakeholder theory, institutional theory and theories of valuation.

For those without access to a university library, the paper is available through ResearchGate.

Risk, Sustainability and Oil Sands

I was recently invited to to give a talk on risk and sustainability at the CSPG-AAPG Oil Sands and Heavy Oil Symposium: A Local to Global Multidisciplinary Collaboration. The symposium is being jointly sponsored by the Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists (CSPG) and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), the two predominant petroleum geology organizations in North America. It will be held in Calgary at the Metropolitan Centre on October 14-16, 2014.

According to the organizers, the conference is expected to attract 500 geologists from Canada and the U.S., plus representatives from other heavy oil producers in China, Venezuela, and Russia. The topics of discussion will include the international nature of oil sands and heavy oil resources, the geology and characterization of producing deposits, technological advances, and sustainability.

My talk will be part of a session on regulatory and sustainability issues, being co-chaired by Kevin Parks and Travis Hurst. I’ll be speaking on work that I have been doing with Michael Lounsbury, Lianne Lefsrud, and Chang Lu that looks at multiple perspectives on risk, with a particular emphasis on cross cultural understandings of risk. Our analysis finds that technical, financial and perceptual understandings of risk are seldom sufficient to explain how societies decide what is risky, what is safe, and whether and how to proceed.

Update: A copy of my presentation is below. Additionally, a short companion paper is available through SSRN.

Sustainability and the AACSB

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredits business schools around the world. As of December 2013, 687 schools were AACSB accredited in 45 countries and territories (or less than 5% of the estimated number of schools offering business degrees worldwide).

Recently I was perusing the AACSB’s Business Standards, which are the basis for business school accreditation, and was surprised at the extent to which sustainability and related themes (e.g., corporate social responsibility) are an integral to the revisions adopted in 2013, from the opening paragraph of the document, through to the AACSB’s three core values and guiding principles, and into its expectations regarding undergraduate educational content. Below are some excerpts:

From the Preamble:

The business environment is undergoing profound changes, spurred by powerful demographic shifts, global economic forces, and emerging technologies. At the same time, society is increasingly demanding that companies become more accountable for their actions, exhibit a greater sense of social responsibility, and embrace more sustainable practices. These trends send a strong signal that what business needs today is much different from what it needed yesterday or will need tomorrow.

From Part 1: Core Values and Guiding Principles:

The following three criteria represent core values of AACSB. There is no uniform measure for deciding whether each criterion has been met. Rather, the school must demonstrate that it has an ongoing commitment to pursue the spirit and intent of each criterion consistent with its mission and context.

A. The school must encourage and support ethical behavior by students, faculty, administrators, and professional staff. [ETHICAL BEHAVIOR]

B. The school maintains a collegiate environment in which students, faculty, administrators, professional staff, and practitioners interact and collaborate in support of learning, scholarship, and community engagement. [COLLEGIATE ENVIRONMENT]

C. The school must demonstrate a commitment to address, engage, and respond to current and emerging corporate social responsibility issues (e.g., diversity,  sustainable development, environmental sustainability, and globalization of economic activity across cultures) through its policies, procedures, curricula, research, and/or outreach activities. [COMMITMENT TO CORPORATE AND SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY]

 Diversity, sustainable development, environmental sustainability, and other emerging corporate and social responsibility issues are important and require responses from business schools and business students.

 The school fosters sensitivity to, as well as awareness and understanding of, diverse viewpoints among participants related to current and emerging corporate social responsibility issues.

Guidance for Documentation

 Demonstrate that the school addresses current and emerging corporate social responsibility issues through its own activities, through collaborations with other units within its institution, and/or through partnerships with external constituencies

From Standard 9: Curriculum content is appropriate to general expectations for the degree program type and learning goals. [CURRICULUM CONTENT]

Curriculum content refers to theories, ideas, concepts, skills, knowledge, etc., that make up a degree program. Content is not the same as learning goals. Learning goals describe the knowledge and skills students should develop in a program and set expectations for what students should do with the knowledge and skills after completing a program. Not all content areas need to be included as learning goals.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs and Higher

General Business and Management Knowledge Areas

 Economic, political, regulatory, legal, technological, and social contexts of organizations in a global society

 Social responsibility, including sustainability, and ethical behavior and approaches to management

In sum, sustainability and related themes are now apparently integral to the AACSB business school accreditation process. Given the disciplinary power of ratings agencies, it will be interesting to see whether and how business schools respond.

Developmental Workshop on Innovation for Societal Impact: A Process Perspective

I’m pleased to announce the details of a developmental workshop on Innovation for Societal Impact: A Process Perspective.

Northern Advanced Research Training Initiative (NARTI) Developmental Workshop on: INNOVATION FOR SOCIETAL IMPACT: A PROCESS PERSPECTIVE Professors: Raghu Garud, Joel Gehman, and Krsto Pandza Thursday, 26 September 2013, Leeds University Business School

The workshop will be held on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at the Leeds University Business School. The workshop faculty include Raghu Garud (Pennsylvania State University), Krsto Pandza (University of Leeds) and me (University of Alberta).

Advanced Ph.D. students and junior faculty will have an opportunity to present their research, network and exchange ideas, and to learn more about studying innovation and sustainability from a process perspective. The discussion will draw on:

  • Garud & Gehman. (2012). “Metatheoretical Perspectives on Sustainability Journeys: Evolutionary, Relational and Durational.” Research Policy
  • Garud, Tuertscher & Van de Ven. (2013). “Perspectives on Innovation Processes.” Academy of Management Annals.
  • Pandza & Ellwood. (2013). “Strategic and Ethical Foundations for Responsible Innovation.” Research Policy.

The deadline for registration is September 2, 2013. Applicants will be considered on a first-come, first-served basis. Further details and registration instructions are available here.

Act 13 Reporting Paper a Top 10 Download Again

According to SSRN, our paper — An Analysis of Unconventional Gas Well Reporting under Pennsylvania’s Act 13 of 2012 — is once again a top 10 download in several categories, including:

The paper was published in the December issue of Environmental Practice and analyzes the extent to which the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) complied with its reporting requirements under Act 13. Using publicly available data, we find that the DEP likely omitted between 15,300 and 25,100 unconventional gas wells from its Act 13 report. Left uncorrected, we estimate that Pennsylvania’s state, county, and municipal governments could forfeit fees of $205-$303 million in 2012 and up to $0.75-$1.85 billion cumulatively over the expected life of these wells. We propose the implementation of a relational database and geographic information system as a way for the DEP to fulfill its Act 13 obligations.

Paper on Act 13 Reporting Published

Our paper — An Analysis of Unconventional Gas Well Reporting under Pennsylvania’s Act 13 of 2012 — was published in the December issue of Environmental Practice. According to SSRN, the paper has been among the most frequently downloaded papers in the following categories:

In the paper we analyze the extent to which the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) complied with its reporting requirements under Act 13. Using publicly available data, we find that the DEP likely omitted between 15,300 and 25,100 unconventional gas wells from its Act 13 report. Left uncorrected, we estimate that Pennsylvania’s state, county, and municipal governments could forfeit fees of $205-$303 million in 2012 and up to $0.75-$1.85 billion cumulatively over the expected life of these wells. We propose the implementation of a relational database and geographic information system as a way for the DEP to fulfill its Act 13 obligations.

The paper’s findings were reported by several newspapers and industry publications, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Platt’s Gas Business Briefing.

Dow’s Sustainability Strategy

The March 19, 2012 issue of Fortune featured an interview between Geoff Colvin and Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Company (NYSE: DOW).

Entitled “Dow’s New Direction” I found several snipets of the interview to be interesting.

What’s Dow’s strategy now? This is the third great transformation of the company. It started out as an inorganic chemistry company 115 years ago. It became a petrochemical and plastics company. The transformation of the past seven or eight years is to a science-based company that takes feedstocks and adds value to them. So less commodities. We’re bringing in biological science, physics, chemistry, material science.

Basically, Liveris is offering a real-time narrative that makes sense of Dow’s past legacies while seeking to insure Dow’s future relevance. Later, Liveris connects these “great transformations” with Dow’s sustainability journey.

I think we’ve really elevated our position, representing ourselves not as Dow Chemical but as Dow, a company based on sustainable business… “Sustainable” is no longer an option, it’s an adjective — sustainable business, sustainable science, sustainable solutions.

Finally, an interesting comment that I don’t believe has received much attention: sustainability as a recruiting strategy.

Our recruiting strategies have changed with our advertising strategy, rebranding the company around the human element and sustainability, presenting a company that is innovation-centric vs. the notion that it was a legacy company in commodity chemicals.