Creating an Inclusive Report – Experiences from Birmingham Business School

Every PRME Signatory has a first Sharing Information on Progress Report. For most, starting from zero can be a difficult place. How do you put into practice a model of committing, collaborating, collecting, creating, communicating and continuous improvement that will be useful and impactful to the school itself. The quality of first time reports has increased tremendously over the past few years. This is why when a First time report comes by my desk, I read it right away. This time it was from Birmingham Business School in the United Kingdom who signed up to PRME as an Advanced Signatory in February 2017. I spoke with report champions Nishat Azmat, Delphine Gibassier and PhD student Raeni about their report and how they went about putting it together.

How did you go about putting together your first report?

That work was undertaken from November to March 2019. It required about 1 ½ to 2 days of work a week during that period. The report was designed through a benchmark of the best reports from business schools around the world, as we wanted to demonstrate BBS’s leadership in responsible business in the best possible way. We also looked at the model outlined in the SIP Guide. Secondly, we brought together best practices around the school highlighting the strengths of everyone in teaching, research, engagement and dialogue. Thirdly, we also were helped by the accreditation team a lot, while they were preparing the EQUIS report for this year, as there are lots of overlap between the two processes.

What steps did you take to make it as inclusive as possible?

In preparing the report, there was constant interactions between the School’s PRME team and stakeholders. We were fully supported by the senior management team and had a wonderful first year PhD student who helped us gather the most important data on publications, courses, events, blogs etc. We tried to be as inclusive as possible. So basically we had input from the accreditation team as well as the staff, both academics and professional services on informal curriculum, formal curriculum, research centres, projects, strategy etc. We gathered data in many ways, through regular meetings, one-on-one interviews, discussions, email and of course records and databases.

We organised a strategy workshop early on with senior management to come up with our responsible business strategy. This was something we were really keen on doing, to show the pathway to the future in a visual and easy to understand way. One of the implications of this model is that it allows us to further explore and implement ways to make Responsible Business accessible to all students in both the formal and informal curriculum. The model is outlined on page 19 of the report.

We decided to include information about our process in the report as well.

How did you approach the Sustainable Development Goals in your report? How are you hoping to report about them moving forwards?

Delphine had been working on the SDGs for corporations and research, and one of the things we did not want is have the SDGs appear everywhere as a “legitimacy” tool. We decided to scarcely use it within the report (it appears in the Future Though Leader Page, in the Gender Equality Page and against the SeaBos Project in the engagements), and to privilege a summary per SDG at the end. We summarized projects by SDG, PhD thesis by SDG and publications by SDG. This was an interesting exercise, as it allowed the school to realize that it had strong and weak connections to different SDGs, but also that within the business school, there were specialists of all topics, including hunger, health and “life below sea”!

Is there a part of the report, or the process, that you are particularly proud of?

Nishat insisted on making this report as inclusive as possible. Therefore, we made a priority to show minorities (in all the ways possible), and people at “lower” levels of the pyramid (lecturers, PhDs) that are doing great things. This is represented by the “Future Thought Leaders” which highlights the work that four of our PhD students are doing around the SDGs (page 33). It is also a key reason why we added the “inspirational women page” which highlights 6 faculty and the incredible work they are doing (page 56).

We made sure we shared passion. This was done by prioritizing input from people that emailed us after we sent out a call for input. We were able to gather lots of fantastic examples from faculty of how they embed these topics into their curriculum and feature these in the report. We especially love the “theater and ethics class”, the “SeaBos project” and of course, Delphine’s engagement work with primary/high schools.

Are you and how are you measuring impact (of your initiatives/projects)?

We made sure we had the numbers and facts to back up our report. Raeni helped us gather data on teaching, on research (our number of 45% of the faculty doing relevant research is backed by 6 different sources of data). Our data is strong, and that was unanimously approved by the senior management team. This is our starting point.

The responsible business strategy is new and currently being deployed around the business school. Within the strategy, that is described in the inspirational model (page 19) and the future goals (page 21), there are quantitative targets that have been set out in terms of attendance, coverage of programmes by responsible business modules, number of publications in responsible business, but also goals have been set out for means deployed such as specific research funds targeted at responsible business projects.

How has the report been received? How have you been using it/sharing it? 

The report was being finished when the AACSB board came, and they made positive comments about the work in progress in February 2019, and then when the EQUIS board came in March, they received a copy each and was positively impressed.

Many positive comments were received from senior academic staff and senior professional services staff. After having sent out the first 25 copies to the advisory board and College senior member of staff, our Corporate Relations Manager ordered a 100 more copies for the promotion of BBS, as it was deemed the “best written narrative about the school”. One of our professors of sustainability accounting uses the report as her main “calling card” when she is introducing herself or the business school to any new external parties. One the most retweeted tweets was on the “Inspirational Women” Page!

Following the report, we also prepared our first “PRME day” on Responsible Business Innovative Teaching in May 2019. While there has been focus on content of responsible business courses and modules in the literature, there has been less discussion about how to deliver specific topics of responsible business that span both formal, informal and subliminal curriculums. We proposed a half-day workshop, where academics and educators will present innovative ways of delivering responsible business to students.

What advice do you have for schools putting together their SIP report based on your experiences?

We wanted to build solid foundations for the report as it was our first one. Therefore we benchmarked other reports using the PRME champions, the award winning ones, but also the PRIMTime blog’s list of best reports. We also read the guide for SIP report on the PRME website, and made sure we were reporting in accordance to the guidance.

We also think it is of utmost importance to have senior management team’s support: we had meetings with them regularly, it was read and approved at different stages, used and diffused by them afterwards. They also supported us through budgeting time for a research assistant, and budget for the design of the report.

We would also advise to make the report inclusive, basically, make it “their” report, not yours. The more people participate, the more the report represents the school, its soul, and is then becoming the narrative of the school.

Finally, I would certainly build a strong relationship with the accreditation team and all professional service staff in your school because they are key to making the report trustworthy in terms of accessing the right data and numbers.

What plans do you have for your second report?

We decide to go with an interim report every two years, that will go only online, and will summarize one year’s achievement. That should be published late January 2020. Then, we plan to take more time to do the second report! It will start in June 2020 to be published in January 2021. The plan is to keep some key features such as the “Future Thought Leaders”, and also a focus on a research theme (such as Gender Equality). There will be a strong update on the achievement of the goals and the strategy as well. We want to give more space to engagement & dialogue in the 2021 version. And finally, we are looking for ways to feature the MBA and the alumni more prominently in the next report.

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