Queen’s Management School became a signatory to PRME in July 2017. Dr. Laura Steele was appointed to lead on the integration of PRME and develop their wider Ethics, Responsibility and Sustainability Strategy. This included compiling the school’s first Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) report, which went on to be recognised at the PRME Virtual Global Forum for Excellence in Reporting. I spoke with Laura Steele about the report, lessons learnt and plans for the future.
Briefly, how do you put your report together? What is the process and who is involved for example?
As this was our inaugural report, the first step involved reading through the guidance provided by PRME and, importantly, looking at submissions from other institutions. I also took every opportunity available to ask other members of the PRME community about how they had approached their first SIP report. Numerous people, including Professor Sheila Killian at Kemmy Business School and Dr Kjartan Sigurdsson formerly of Reykjavik University, were very generous with their time. It quickly became clear that there was huge variety in terms of the structure and content of SIP reports. As a result, it then became a question of what was most appropriate for us as an institution.
The next stage was to reflect on what information we needed to include and how were could access it. As discussed below, this proved to be tricky. A lot of phone calls were made, emails sent, and doors knocked upon! However, we now have stronger systems in place to help us capture this information going forward. That has been an unanticipated benefit of the process. The final step was to produce the actual report, which leads me into the second question…
Is there a part of the report that you are most proud of? Why?
I spent several days considering how to structure the document. I was struggling to find the approach that worked best for our institution until I had an ‘ah ha’ moment! Prior to joining Queen’s Management School, I worked in the public sector for an organisation that disbursed EU funding. One of the criticisms we had encountered in the past was in relation to accountability and impact. As a result, significant work had been done to develop realistic targets and regularly report on the level to which these had been achieved. I realised that the same approach could be applied to the SIP report and that completely changed our strategy. Once the data was collected and the format was in place, the report actually came together relatively quickly. So, in terms of what I am most proud of, I would say having clear Key Performance Indicators in relation to what we want to achieve by October 2021.
Do you find the SIP to be a useful exercise? Why or why not?
Hugely useful! Firstly, it helped us to develop a rich picture of what was happening across the institution that we simply did not have before. Secondly, the data collection process assisted us in breaking down internal silos and forging stronger relationships. Thirdly, the final document is valuable for raising awareness both internally and externally about the actions the School is currently taking in relation to PRME and the UN SDGs, as well as setting out our future plans.
How is your report used internally? Externally? How would you like it to be used or think it should be used?
I think this is definitely an area we could and should work on. The report is available on our website and we do regularly direct both internal and external stakeholders to it. However, we could definitely do more. As with drafting the SIP report itself, I suspect there is a wealth of advice within the PRME community about how to best utilise the document to enhance engagement.
What did you find most challenging about the SIP and how do you tackle that at Queen’s Management School?
Undoubtedly identifying and accessing the data needed to compile the report. Much of this was held by individuals or groups within the School, or simply had not been collected before. We had to develop new systems to capture this information. For example, annual reviews are conducted in relation to each module taught within the School, so we added in a section to the form related to ethics, responsibility, and sustainability. This means we now receive an annual update about how these issues are being addressed across both modules and programmes. Keeping track of relevant engagement activities, such as seminars and workshops, happening within the School has been similarly challenging. Often we have to rely on word of mouth. However, I think it is important to remember that PRME is a long-term commitment, there is no expectation that you will have all the answers immediately!
What would you like to see change in terms of business schools reporting on sustainability?
One thing we were very conscious of, however, was in avoiding superficial coverage of the SDGs in our SIP report. For example, just including the icons because they looked good (both from an aesthetic and a marketing perspective). They were only added where we felt we could demonstrate meaningful, sustained engagement with the relevant Goal(s). If we are going to push back against ‘greenwashing’ by businesses, then we have to start by thoroughly critiquing our own actions first.
Earlier this year I had the honour of being involved in setting up a new seed funding competition for ‘Developing Innovative Pedagogic Approaches and Teaching Practices in PRME’ for the UK and Ireland Chapter. Through this, I got to learn about numerous current and proposed initiatives aimed at bringing the SDGs into the classroom. As a result, I would be keen to see more reporting on the integration of the SDGs within teaching and learning. I think it could help to inspire more people to engage with the Global Goals, particularly those from outside of the PRME community.
How is your work around the SIP (or beyond) changing given the current situation? For the better?
One of the challenges has undoubtedly been that we were forced to cancel a number of face-to-face events, particularly in the early months of the pandemic. Plus, many of us saw our workloads increase as we attempted to rapidly shift to online and blended learning. The 2020-21 academic year will likely be quite ‘bumpy’ and some of the KPIs contained within our inaugural SIP report may be threatened. However, there is also scope for innovation. For example, we will be running the first session of our Business and Human Rights Student Ambassador Programmeonline. In addition, the rise in the use of platforms such as Zoom means that new opportunities for international collaboration have opened up that may not have existed before.
Any advice for other schools working on their SIP?
Help and support is out there! Both from PRME itself, but especially other signatories. I have universally found that the people involved in PRME are very generous with their time and advice. They are keen pass on learning and the focus is on collaboration not competition. In pre-Covid times this would have usually taken place at Chapter conferences and other face-to-face events, but now I think we have to send an email or pick up the phone.
What’s next? (Both what you have planned as well as your wish list, what would you do with this if resources and COVID were not an issue)
We decided to produce an interim SIP report, one year after the submission of our formal document. There are a number of reasons for this, not least that it gives us a helpful starting point when it comes to preparing our second SIP report and also ensures that we are staying on track. For example, I was able to see the areas in which we are making good progress, as well as those that will need additional attention over the next 12 months. For example, we had intended to host a conference on ‘Business and the SDGs’ in June 2020, however, this had to be postponed. We are now investigating the possibility of moving the event online. In addition, the first workshop in our Business and Human Rights Student Ambassador Programme will now take place online in November 2020. It is open to students from any discipline, so we are keen to see a diverse cohort this year.
Apart from your answer to Q2. Can you tell us 3-5 other parts of the report that you would like readers to notice, or initiatives featured that you would like them to take note of?
Things that we would be particularly keen to highlight include the:
- Business and Human Rights Student Ambassador Programme, as described on page 30, as we are hoping to make the resources developed in relation to this available via our website next year in case anyone would be interested in replicating it.
- Global Peace Index, as discussed on page 32, which will likely be of value to anyone interested in SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
- Pathway Opportunity Programme, as considered on page 36, which is a widening participation initiative open to young people living in disadvantaged communities and/or who are care experienced. We are very proud of our Pathways students and the huge value they bring to the School. Delivering the Programme is a highlight of the academic year.
This post is part of a Special Feature on Reporting that will be published throughout the month of October. To share your thoughts on the future of the SIP click here.