Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Crowdsourcing Corporate Transparency through Social Accounting: Conceptualising the ‘Spotlight Account’

By Dr Stephanie Perkiss, Dr Bonnie Dean & Dr Belinda Gibbons, University of Wollongong, Australia 

Winners of the 2019 Reg Mathews Memorial Prize for the paper considered to have made the most significant contribution towards the social and environmental accounting literature published in Social and Environmental Accountability Journal. The paper is FREE to download here.

Image L-R: Stephanie Perkiss, Theresa Heithaus
(Program Manager, WikiRate), Belinda Gibbons, Bonnie Dean.
Organisations play a key role in addressing global economic, social and environmental challenges. Increasingly we are seeing organisations selecting to integrate sustainability activities into their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts. Yet, these CSR reports are indispensably limited, privileging self-serving discourses. 

External accounts, such as alternative and counter accounts, offer opportunities to increase transparency and accountability in the areas of sustainable development. While external accounts challenge organisations’ social accounting, there remains a need to develop this further and investigate new models of social accounting that engage multiple viewpoints and stakeholders. With the evolution and public adoption of technology into our everyday lives, there is great potential for crowdsourced applications to enhance organisational accountability. 

This paper explores the role of accounting in the context of social and environmental change agendas and introduces a new framework for social accounting, the ‘Spotlight Account’. What is significant about the Spotlight Account is the use of the crowd and technology as a way of creating new visibilities and channels for participation. Unlike shadow or silent external accounts, the Spotlight Account seeks to illuminate and transform global organisational transparency and disclosure practices by centrally locating and recording comparable, aggregated and independently sought organisational information. 

The paper conceptualises the Spotlight Account through the exploration of a new technological platform, WikiRate. WikiRate is a collective awareness platform for sustainability that organises corporate narratives, disclosures and accountings relating to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other frameworks such as the GRI, into a peer-produced, crowdsourced database. While crowdsourced platforms are not new - think about websites such as TripAdvisor - WikiRate is unique to the CSR field as a free platform that engages stakeholders through information sharing. 

Image: sample of a 'metric' on Wikirate

This conceptual paper highlights a new social accounting framework, empowering anyone to assume the role as a social accountant through participation in the platform and leveraging technology to facilitate transparent and comparative organisational data. In naming this new account, we wanted our readers to think about a spotlight – how it gives centre stage to a space, a number, a metric – each light coming from a member of the crowd to brighten sustainability information for decision-making or, to brighten a lack of corporate sustainability information that may drive better disclosure. 

Spotlight Accounting has the potential to address (some) issues of contemporary CSR practice as it focuses on the process through which accountability information is created. It represents an accounting theory or practice (process, method) and an effective form of social change. We conclude that the exploration of new social accountings can bring about emancipatory change. It opens up the possibilities for social accounting to achieve greater accountability and communication between companies and their stakeholders. We invite accounting scholars to consider the implications of Spotlight Accounting, and consider how advances in technology and increased participation from stakeholders can drive organisational SDGs. 

You can check out WikiRate at: wikirate.org or contact the WikiRate team via info@wikirate.org to discuss setting up your own WikiRate higher education program. 

Editor’s note: As part of the award, Stephanie Perkiss, Bonnie Dean & Belinda Gibbons’ original paper published in Social and Environmental Accountability Journal is available FREE to download via the publishers' website, via this link.

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