Thursday, 28 June 2018

Alternative Accountabilities and Inclusive Mapping: Lessons from The Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor

By Mercy Denedo, Ian Thomson and Akira Yonekura

In our paper titled “Accountability, maps and inter-generational equity: evaluating the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor” published in Public Money and Management 38(5), 355-365, we explored the accountability expected of Public Sector Organisations (PSOs) assigned the responsibility of protecting the natural environment, intergenerational and intra-generational equity. If PSOs are not held accountable for the social consequences of their activities, then this might negatively affect the distribution of social, economic and environmental rights, risks and resources between present and future generations. Our central theme is whether enhanced accountability will drive changes in organisational practices associated with more sustainable ways of living. This paper evaluates the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor (OSM), an innovative public sector accounting sustainability system created by a coalition of campaigning NGOs and the Nigerian National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA) by exploring the OSM system along with interview evidence conducted with different stakeholders in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Unusually for accounting-sustainability hybrids which are practices used to make visible and thinkable the sustainable governance of economic, ecological and social life, the OSM is adapted from public participation geographic information system (PPGIS).

PPGIS comprises techniques that address the absence of information on the social and environmental impact of the action of others. PPGIS use a combination of community engagement practises and geographic information system (GIS) to facilitate public participation in policy making, problematisation of the actions of others, supporting civic society groups, and reforming governance systems (Carver et al., 2001; Ramirez-Gomez et al., 2017). PPGIS also incorporates activist practises such as counter mapping or maptivism and is often an integral part of citizen science programmes. From the perspective of accounting hybridisation, there are a number of common attributes associated with PPGIS. These include making invisible data visible, connecting high level concepts with specific geographic localities, presenting information from different sources, co-production, filling critical information gaps, stakeholder inclusion, and visualising complex relationships for intra-generational engagement and intergenerational equity (Brown et al., 2012). PPGIS have also been observed as increasing the power of communities to demand greater accountability from institutions whose actions affect their ability to live sustainably (see also here and here). Many of these attributes are shared with sustainable accounting and sustainable governance offering an alternative pathway to accounting hybridisation. In this paper, we explored the OSM’s effectiveness in terms of enhanced accountability, stakeholder engagement and improved regulatory practices in preventing, stopping and remediating oil spills in the Niger Delta.

Unsustainable activities of oil companies, corruption, third party interference and sabotage in conjunction with ineffective regulators have led to Niger Delta being ranked as one of the worst petroleum damaged ecosystems in the world. The OSM was designed to improve the governance and accountability associated with oil pollution provides open access to detailed accounts of the cause, timing, location, quantity of pollutant, remediation programmes related to all oil spills. The OSM makes visible oil spill data, how oil corporations are fulfilling their legal duties, as well as, the impact of third party interference. The OSM’s origin lie in activist campaigns against the actions of oil corporations and regulators using a range of tactics including PPGIS. Following years of campaigning against the oil spill regulatory regime, corporate practices and third party sabotage; the OSM was developed by a coalition of NGOs in partnership with NOSDRA as a solution to the lack of reliable information from corporations and NOSDRA. The OSM provides real-time information on the management of oil spills measured against NOSDRA’s statutory responsibilities. The OSM was intended to enable government agencies, oil corporations, civil society groups and communities’ members to co-produce accounts of oil-spillage, engage and share critical information.

Integrating sustainable development into public sector accountability and sustainable governance systems is deemed necessary to create social, economic, cultural, political and environmental wellbeing for present and future generations. Protecting the natural environment is linked to protecting intra-generational and inter-generational equity, particularly when damage to the natural environment persists overtime. Aligning public service accountability practices with sustainable development is critical for the governance of others to achieve an equitable redistribution of costs, risk, harm, resources and benefits across generations.

Sustainable governance systems are concerned with managing the social, economic and environmental risks emerging from unsustainable practices. Accounting possesses a powerful set of practices that can play a number of important roles in sustainable governance systems, in particular rendering visible and governable the risks of unsustainability. Accounting can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of those institutions responsible for sustainable governance. At an operational level, accounts of actual or potential harm through regulatory breaches can trigger corrective actions or policy interventions by PSOs. Managing social, economic and environmental sustainability across generations requires accounts to challenge institutions to fully discharge their responsibilities by ensuring effective risk management policies and stakeholder engagement. Given the importance of PSOs to sustainable governance, we argue that PSOs should integrate relevant aspects of sustainable development into their accounting and accountability systems. The absence of effective accounting-sustainability systems in PSOs, including environmental regulators, might limit the attainment of inter-generational equity. Accountability practices need to be embedded within robust governance systems in order to change policies or practices to protect the environment and human rights in the context of sustainable wealth creation and its distribution across generations. Within the Niger Delta, whether the dramatically improved disclosures of oil spillage through the OSM system will lead to future reforms of the social, economic and environmental governance of the oil sector remains an open question to be answered by practitioners, oil corporations and the regulatory agencies.

Brown, G., Montag, J. M. and Lyon, K. (2012). Public participation GIS: a method for identifying ecosystem services. Society & Natural Resources, 25(7), 633-651.

Carver, S., Evans, A., Kingston, R. and Turton, I. (2001). Public participation, GIS, and cyberdemocracy: evaluating on-line spatial decision support systems. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 28, 907-921.

Denedo, M., Thomson, I. and Yonekura, A. (2018). Accountability, maps and inter-generational equity: evaluating the Nigerian Oil Spill Monitor. Public Money and Management, 38(5), 355-364.

Ramirez-Gomez, S. O. I., Verweij, P., Best, L., van Kanten, R., Rambaldi, G. and Zagt, R. (2017). Participatory 3D modelling as a socially engaging and user-useful approach in ecosystem service assessments among marginalised communities. Applied Geography, 83, 63-77.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Meet the Members: Andrea Romi & Mohit Dar

Dr. Andrea Romi, Associate Professor, Texas Tech University, USA

I remember vividly the moment I was introduced to the CSEAR family. I was a PhD student at the University of Arkansas and Robin Roberts interviewed for our department chair position. I spoke with him about my research interests, which included "environmental accounting" at the time, and he was one of the very first people who responded positively and supportively to this declaration. It was as that time he discussed CSEAR. Just a brief time later, I was presenting a paper on environmental sanction disclosures in France and I met Charles Cho. He too was enthusiastic and shared with me information about CSEAR. The combination of these encounters culminated in my very first CSEAR conference in Montreal, Canada, in the summer of 2008. I know this date well because it was barely a week after my daughter, Seda, was born and she attended the conference with me and my partner. Charles still reminds me that she is likely the youngest person ever to attend a CSEAR conference. I met so many people and I have been attending conferences ever since. I have also published papers with CSEAR members/friends, including Den Patten and Giovanna Michelon, and hope to someday work with many others. I haven't always felt like I fit in the CSEAR community, given I am situated between two different research worlds, geographically and culturally, but CSEAR members have been supportive, have pushed me to expand my perceptions, and have created a space for me to become a better researcher.

I have somewhat shifted my research methodologies and areas of interest as of late. With a strictly mainstream education in the US, much of what I have experienced in CSEAR has motivated me to educate myself in new theories and methodologies. After clearing my plate of some older projects, my new focus is on, what I consider, more unique topics, from more interesting vantage points. One such project is my paper on the use of accounting in the U.S. as the cannabis industry transitions from the black to the gray market. This paper is currently under R&R at Contemporary Accounting Research and I will be presenting it this summer at various CSEAR conferences for feedback. I am also working on a paper about the MeToo/Time's Up movement and how feminist theory might inform or be informed by the accountability within the movement. We have had the distinct opportunity to meet with movement founders, fund administrators, policy-makers, those individuals effected by sexual harassment in the workplace, without the power or economic capacity to fight for themselves, etc. Moving forward, I would like to develop the skills necessary to better articulate the critical aspects of my research. For me, research is a continual learning, always shifting, never mastered craft. I feel that social accounting research is important; the only thing I can do is draw attention to some of the world's problems, call out injustice when I see it, and offer some plausible solutions with the limited skills set I possess.

Mohit Dar, PhD Student, Aston Business School, UK

I returned to Aston University in October 2017 to take up a full-time PhD, researching social accounting and accountability practices in UK housing associations. It has been a full circle for me as my first degree, BSc (Hons) in Management was from Aston. In between, whilst working (I'm qualified ACA and ACCA), I completed the Executive MBA from The University of Birmingham and MSc in Accounting from The University of South Wales.

As a "technical" numbers expert, I held senior finance appointments in both private and public sectors. In recent years my passion and focus has been social housing and I was delighted when my housing paper was published in an academic journal in 2013 . It was based on my MSc dissertation, which was a case study in a housing association.

I believe in lifelong learning and PhD allows me to stretch further in accounting. It explores an interesting field, social accounting, which is beyond "technical" external and regulatory reporting. So, the plan is to make a significant contribution along with impact in this area. I'm also on the Board of Cymorth Cymru  which allows me to contribute and keep in touch with practitioners in social housing.

My mentors are Professor Ataur Belal (first supervisor) and Dr Florian Gebreiter (second supervisor) and both have been very supportive and helpful.  Advice and ideas from SEA experts outside my supervisory team is always welcome. 

I'm truly delighted to be part of the CSEAR community, where I hope to meet and make friends with fellow SEA researchers. I look forward to meeting my "new family" at the CSEAR conference in August 2018!

Monday, 18 June 2018

Meet the Members: Madlen Sobkowiak & Lee Parker

Madlen Sobkowiak, PhD Student, University of Birmingham

I am currently in my second year of PhD research at the University of Birmingham, looking at biodiversity accounting and in particular national biodiversity indicators. Before starting my PhD I did my MSc in International Accounting and Finance also at the Birmingham Business School, after graduating with a BSc in Business Administration from the Technical University of Freiberg in Germany.

My current research focuses on the construction of national biodiversity indicators within the public sector, especially the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and how the are being used in decision and policy making.

I was able to attend last years CSEAR conference thanks to a CIMA bursary and had the opportunity to present my work at last years CSEAR Emerging Scholars Colloquium. This was really valuable in terms of feedback as well as getting to know other PhD students as well as academics in SEA. It was great meeting all of you at last years conference and to get an impression of all the different work going on within the CSEAR community. I am really looking forward to the next CSEAR conference in August and hopefully I will have the chance to present at this years ESC as well. In addition, I received a "Universitas 21" scholarship to visit the University of British Columbia for two months last September and October, which was a great opportunity to see different interdisciplinary research around the issues of sustainability and biodiversity.

I am lucky that with my two supervisors, Ian Thomson and Tom Cuckston, I have found two highly knowledgeable academics to support me during my PhD. They have both been excellent mentors, but I would be delighted to connect with other academics working in this area.

Lee Parker, Distinguished Professor, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia
Research Professor, Glasgow University, Scotland
Honorary Fellow & Distinguished Expert Advisor CSEAR

I have been involved in CSEAR since its earliest days in the early 1990s, having been associated with Rob Gray, James Guthrie, Reg Matthews and David Owen (among others) right at the beginnings of the social and environmental accounting research movement to build an international research literature and community of scholars in this field. In 1976 my first publication on social accounting appeared in the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland magazine The Accountant's Magazine, titled "Social Accounting - Don't Wait For It". To see the field and its community of scholars grow into today's cohort, and to see CSEAR and all its associated groups around the globe brings me considerable satisfaction. The 2018 thirtieth anniversary conference at St Andrews stands as a hallmark of the movement's ongoing development.

Unlike some social and environmental research colleagues, my research spans not only the social and environmental fields, but includes corporate governance, strategic management, professionalisation, accounting and management history (and more). However my published social and environmental research includes over 20 research journal papers (attracting Google Scholar citations currently exceeding 5000) extending from the mid-1980s to today. They have covered social reporting, professional ethics, environmental cost management, social and environmental research developments, corporate social accountability history, and social and environmental management and accountability in the international hotel industry. 

It is self-evident that the social and environmental accounting research field is a matter of priority for global humanity and ecology. Yet so many of our accounting research community members and journals have still not recognised the challenges and important of these issues despite the regular attention they now attract across media, governments and communities. We also see the entrance to this research field of some new researchers who are unacquainted with decades of prior research produced by the CSEAR community and risk repeating well-worn foci and themes that previously focussed purely on stockholder interests and the business case. WE have moved on from such narrow preoccupations to embrace the wider issues and stakeholders upon which our field should rightly focus. As a research community we have both significant opportunities and challenges to embrace qualitative engaged research approaches; identify strategic, historical, and emerging industry areas; return to engage with policy issues and debates; refresh our attention to social as well as environmental responsibility; and present and promote our work across specialist, interdisciplinary and general conferences and journals. The greatest challenge remains one of avoiding being locked into a ghetto of self-referential conversations between ourselves within our research conferences and literature. If we do that, we become voices lost in the wilderness. I am reminded of a conversation I had with the late Professor Reg Matthews, one of the founders of our field. When asked why he was choosing to take one more academic position beyond what might have been a logical retirement point, he replied "because I want one more shot at making a difference!" 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Meet the Members: Martin Freedman & Aurélia Heurteux

Professor Martin Freedman, Towson University, USA

In 1978 when I returned to the US after 2 years on a kibbutz in Israel I started to look for an academic job. When I interviewed at SUNY Binghamton (now Binghamton University) Bikki Jaggi said he would be happy to do research with me on social accounting. Although Bikki left Binghamton a few years later, we managed to collaborate until last year when he retired. With Bikki and with A.J. Stagliano (with whom I am still collaborating), I found colleagues willing to do research in this nascent field. However, when we were looking for outlets for our earlier work, there seemed to be no accounting journals that believed that social accounting was really accounting.  Eventually a few new accounting journals more devoted to social/environmental accounting were created and eventually CSEAR was formed. Rob asked me if I would like to join and he made me one of the North American representatives. I was excited that a community of scholars focusing on social and environmental research existed and that I was asked to be a member.

The research that I have done with Bikki, Stag, and a number of other colleagues has focused mainly on social and environmental disclosure. Although many of the earlier papers were concerned with occupational health (working with asbestos or cotton dust), most of our publications are about pollution (air, water, toxic wastes, and climate change). We began with the hypothesis that firms that were best at curbing pollution in a given industry do best economically. No one to our knowledge has ever disproved the hypothesis.

I have attended all the CSEAR North American meetings and have found them to be stimulating affairs. When I was on sabbatical a few years ago, Jan Bebbington (and Rob) organized a workshop for me to present some findings concerning climate change at St. Andrews, and they both treated my wife and I royally. I plan to attend the annual meeting in the next few years.

Our role as researchers is to help to make the world a better place for its inhabitants. Studying methods to reduce pollution, improving working conditions, eliminating discrimination at the workplace, and forcing corporations to be good citizens are endeavors that I feel are worthwhile to study. I would be happy to mentor people who focus on these issues and are not hung up on ideology. Ideological battles are important for understanding the issues, but in my mind, they seem to slow the process of making a healthier planet.

Miss Aurélia Heurteux, PhD Candidate, Nice-Côte d'Azur University
Second Year in CSEAR

I became a CSEAR member last year before my participation in the CSEAR France 2017 Conference held at Toulouse Business School, where I met mentors and researchers from several countries. My research interest includes Sustainable Development, Accountability and Public Policy. So it is important for me to be part of different associations.

The last decade in particular has seen sustainability come of age. Many companies, states and countries now recognise sustainability to be strongly linked to business growth and sustainable development still a hot topic. For me, it was interesting to compare the different methods of local authorities to integrate Sustainable Development in management tools. Some are more advanced than others. It is my last year of thesis but I want to continue my research in this area to study political behavior or to create management tools adapted to Public Sector.

Sustainable Development and global performance are a logical evolution for the transparency of local authorities. Citizens have become much more aware of its issues and local authorities must be accountable to follow all these new expectations. So research in social and environmental accounting fields are important.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Meet the Members: Rob Gray

Professor Rob Gray, Emeritus Professor, University of St Andrews
Founder of CSEAR

What circumstances brought you to start CSEAR?  

Beware of revisionist histories! Trying to develop "social accounting" (whatever that was) in the 1970s and 1980s was a very lonely enterprise until I met Dave Owen, Keith Maunders, Lee Parker, James Guthrie and Reg Mathews and suddenly we were a gang - which is much more fun.  By 1990 we were beginning to be appointed to chairs and we realised we could do more. For me, the turning point was 2 Australian academics turning up in my office in Dundee complaining about being lonely and pretty beaten up: introducing them to each other and trying to scrape a bit of money together to set up a network seemed like an inevitable next step. The first Summer School funded by the BAA was a week long and a truly extraordinary experience for everybody who needed to come out as a social accountant!  People simply refused to go home at the end of the week - I have never experienced anything like it. We decided to experiment to see if there was an appetite for another summer school and we set up a (temporary?) network to support delegates….. hello CSEAR: which has been vastly more successful than we could have ever anticipated.

Why do you think it is an important organisation? 

Ken McPhail called CSEAR a "community of faith" and George Harte referred to it as the "place where we recruit guerrillas in the social and environmental wars". It is a tolerant and safe place where ideas can be explored with others who think similarly… but it must not become an echo chamber/nursery that folk cannot leave. The world in general and the academic world in particular are arguably as malevolent as they ever were and CSEAR would be a failure if it didn't match its nurture with the encouragement to tackle real issues.

What publication (of yours) are you most proud of, why?

Always an amusing question. I guess Corporate Social Reporting (1987) with Dave Owen (and Keith Maunders) because we actually did it! Put together a semi-coherent field that could be taught and could be shown to have purpose. Most publications represent something of a personal achievement of one sort or another and I have been proud of many of them - because they at least advanced what I thought of as my understanding of the subject and lots of them were really hard! If I am allowed two then I suppose I would choose {Gray Rob (2006) "Trustworthy plc" Green Futures  March/April p45} because it is very short, still makes me laugh and kind of says all I have to say!

What work are you presently interested in?

Mostly, in the sense in which the question is probably intended, I am interested where the next burst of outrage and innovation is going to come from. I remain involved in work with a few colleagues; I am enjoying writing the odd speculative chapter for the more wacky books; and I continue to try and read around (what I suppose we might summarise as) cognitive dissonance. I remain obsessed by the puzzlement as to how intelligent and informed people with no particular obvious self-interest can continue to ignore the very real possibility that their/our/my work is entirely missing the point and makes fiddling whilst Rome burns seem focused and pro-active. I have enjoyed looking into the possibilities offered by the extinction of humanity!

Where do you see the social and environmental accounting research will grow to in the future? 

I am not sure I currently have any particular views on that. I think it would be sad if we let normal science - which is a really important theme of course but inevitably immanent - come to dominate work which was explicitly grubby, painful, which dealt with dead animals and starving babies, which drew from the anguish of intolerance and refused to take the myths of international financial capitalism for granted.