Accountability and the use of Multi-Modal Impression Management Strategies in corporate social and environmental reporting
thesisposted on 2023-05-27, 13:00 authored by Horner, C
This thesis explores whether Australian organisations engage in social and environmental reporting (S&ER) for the purposes of discharging social and environmental accountability (S&EAA) to stakeholders. In doing so this study explores whether certain organisational choices result in a difference in the use of multi-modal impression management strategies, and the role external design and reporting consultants play in such organisational choices. Organisations operate in complex social systems, and it is suggested that a single theoretical lens is not appropriate to examine organisational activities and communication. Rather a nexus of theories based upon the social constructionist, impression management, legitimacy theory, and stakeholder theory literature is proposed. A four-stage multi-case field study was undertaken adopting interviews and content analysis. Results emphasise the importance of an S&ER 'champion' within the organisation, and that efforts to discharge S&EAA are hampered both by a lack of internal social and environmental accounting (S&EA) systems and a lack of support at top management level. This influences not only the provision of resources to S&EA and S&ER but also organisational culture toward S&EAA. The employment of external design and S&ER consultants plays an important role in supporting clarity of message in S&ER, and in encouraging organisational introspection and cultural change. Socially constructed organisational identities are complex and somewhat anthropomorphised. Of concern is that this construct fails to acknowledge the true nature of the organisation as a network of individuals. Accountability requires an acknowledgement of responsibility, which when assigned to the corporation also needs to be linked to the individual to be operationalised. This study is one of the few to consider the role of design and designers in S&ER, and is one of the only known studies to provide interview data regarding the views of external consultants on the S&ER process in an Australian context. It contributes to the existing literature by providing rich primary qualitative data supported by an analysis of secondary data resulting from a field study involving ten cases. The exploratory nature of this study provides opportunities for future research, including experimental analysis to determine the effectiveness of organisational communication methods from a stakeholder perspective, in addition to a longitudinal study involving follow-up interviews in five years' time with the early-stage reporters, to explore the extent to which they were able to implement their personal ideals in practice, and the challenges they faced in endeavouring to do so.
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