What the SIP of the Future Will Look Like – According to Signatories (Part 1 of 2)

To finish off this month’s special feature on the Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) report, I asked several Signatories what they felt the SIP of the future might look like. I asked them two questions. The first was to share their thoughts on how the SIP report itself might be structured (part 1). The second question, which will be explored further in part 2 of this post, focused more specifically on what might be highlighted more within these reports. 

Overall the responses showed a very broad range of opinions, and experiences, in relation to the SIP. The vast majority of respondents found the SIP to be an important and useful exercise, one that many note they initially enjoyed being part of.  However, almost all respondents also expressed concern about the amount of time and effort putting together a SIP takes. 

“Some schools perceive it as a barrier. Putting together a thorough and snazzy report takes massive amounts of time and resources – and not every school has that. While PRME has mandated few requirements, allowing schools to determine where on the scale of simple to elaborate their report should be, any reporting requires resources.”

Cathy Dubois, Kent State University, USA

Several Signatories also highlight how important it is that reporting not be used purely for PR purposes. As Marcus Granlund from Turku School of Economics put it “I am torn between thinking the SIP-report is a powerful and useful tool and thinking that its mostly a green/sdg(wash)-ish advertisement for schools that take a lot of energy and time to compile.”

Whilst is should be welcoming (in terms of layout, accessibility and readability) it should not be used purely as a vehicle for PR and marketing. Well written SIPs are authentic in capturing the essence of the real work of the School/University and provide genuine evidenced examples that can inspire others. They also demonstrate a team approach in how different colleagues, students and key stakeholders engage and lead on this agenda.”  

Carole Parkes from the University of Winchester, UK

Ultimately, respondents note that the value of the SIP often comes from the process of putting together the report rather than the report itself. As one respondent put it, “The SIP is a lot like a company’s sustainability report, it’s the journey of collating what has been done that is important rather than the destination. Similarly, I’m not sure that many folks actually read either!?”

The key with the SIP report is to ensure that the process, and the final report, are useful to the institute that creates it, but also to management education more broadly. Here are seven common points that came out of signatories’ responses in relation to how we might go about doing this.

1. Rethink when we report: Some signatories felt that we should report more often, while others felt that we should report less frequently or even not at all. Some mention allowing schools to align their cycle as works for them. A few mention specifically connecting PRME reporting to major business accreditation (AACSB, EQUIS, etc) as these are increasing requiring reporting on sustainability/CSR/SDG related activities and therefore felt there is duplication of effort. 

2Provide more structured guidelines: While respondents believed that the Secretariat should provide more structured guidelines for SIP reports, there was little consensus in terms of what these might look like. Some felt that there should be a very simple, basic template while others believed it should be evolving guidelines that are updated based on changing report content and approaches. 

“I would like to see more standardization across reports. PRME has a guide to writing SIP reports, and I think that schools should adhere to that a bit more closely.  We have embraced the SDGs so heavily that it has become the focus of many reports, and that leaves some of the PRME principles unanswered in some SIP reports.”

Heather Ranson, Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, Canada

“I’d suggest a similar process but a much more concise and focused end product. Without detracting from the creative nature of the process, some form of GRI-style standardisation might be useful for comparability’s sake. Perhaps less is more? For example, a case study on teaching, another on research, and maybe one particularly productive collaboration.”

Simon Wright, Charles Sturt University, Australia

3. Still allow for flexibility in terms of how schools report: While many called for more guidelines as to how exactly to report, almost all respondents also felt that these should still be voluntary.

“I value PRME’s appreciation of diverse reporting approaches and the scope that exists for deciding on report formatting and content. I think the guidelines for preparing the SIP report are good and they let every school write a “personal” report, that looks like them.

Marcus Granlund, Turku School of Economics, Finland

“PRME should create a template that includes basic information – one that would keep reporting very simple. Should a school wish to create something more elaborate, something that would better suit the array of uses I listed above, they would be free to do so – but it should be clear that the templated report will meet the PRME Signatory requirement.”

Cathy Dubois, Kent State University, USA

4. Reports should be comparable: At the moment the SIP is not seen as a good basis for comparison between schools. Several respondents believed that it would be not only useful, but important to create reports that are comparable. 

“SIPs of the future would be template-based and filled out completely online.  They should be completely digital and searchable.  Presently, SIPs are more public relations pieces that are too glossy and overproduced.  SIPs have lost touch with their original purpose: As a reporting mechanism illustrating support for PRME Principles. All signatories should use the templates provided, with modest opportunities to overproduce the report”

Al Rosenbloom, Dominican University, USA

5. Reporting should recognise the differences between schools: Several respondents highlighted the need to recognise that while all signatories are committed to PRME, they each have access to different kinds of resources to implement actions that embed PRME into their institutions. One suggestion offered was to classify schools by size, scope, etc in so that schools can connect more with others that are similar. 

“There needs to be more recognition of the types of institutions that are signatories and how each category of institution can be “aspirational” in their pursuits, within the context of their own limitations or resources. It seems that similarly-situated institutions could be models for each other. In the North America Chapter we will eventually expand our annual awards to include more of a distinction between the types of institutions that can be models for each other, since there are several different categories of places.”

Elizabeth W. Collier, Brennan School of Business, USA

6. Reports should be able to reach diverse audiences: Virginia Lasio from ESPAE in Ecuador hopes that the SIP in the future will be a more “interactive SIP, sharing the voice of several stakeholders”. Schools currently use their SIPs to communicate to a wide range of audiences. This includes donor communication, corporate communication, student and staff recruiting, marketing. However, several signatories believed that we need to “improve the balance between reporting that is useful for internal purposes (but not always thrilling for other readers) and reporting that is engaging and useful to those outside of the school.” (Eloise de Lautour, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand). 

7. Most importantly, reporting should be a driver of change: Schools shouldn’t see the SIP simply as a report that needs to be compiled, but as a tool to help assist them in developing, and implementing, their PRME related strategies. As Elizabeth W. Collier from Brennan School of Business put it, “How can the SIP process result in PRME being more of a “driver” of change, than just a reporting? I say this in part as someone at a very small, understaffed and underfunded institution. There is interest on the part of people involved in sustainability at the university overall for the business school’s signatory status to help them make the case for further initiatives in operations overall at the university. But that might take an infrastructure that we don’t have. If there were more of a roadmap, or collaboration or strategising  that might be helpful.”

A special thank you to those who shared your thoughts about the SIP.

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