It was fantastic to be part of the CIPR – Chartered Institute of Public Relations national conference today where we hosted a session on ‘Corporate Digital Responsibility (CDR) – What You Need To Know Right Now’. Chaired by Allegory’s Associate Director Iain Aitch, our panel included: Allegory CEO Charlotte McLeod; Anne Gregory, Professor Emeritus in Corporate Communication at The University of Huddersfield; and Rob Price, Director at Alchemmy and founder of corporatedigitalresponsibility.co.uk.
Allegory is a strategic communication agency that helps organisations lead the conversation on technology. That includes us, too. For the past ten years, we’ve been working with one of our clients, the Open Data Institute (ODI) co-founded by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web. Just last week, Tim and I were chatting about how much the world has changed in the last decade, and now Allegory wants to help fellow communicators be a driving force for good in the emerging CDR field.
Communicators should be proactively helping organisations to identify, address and prepare for the challenges, risks and opportunities – both existing and emerging – in the digital world. We know that when a data-related crisis reaches the public’s awareness, or that of any external stakeholder, it will fall to us to deal with. This means that communicators being ‘front-footed’ on CDR is in everyone’s best interests.
The panel first worked together on the subject of CDR back in April, when Allegory convened a roundtable discussion that led to the publication of our report on the subject – available to download here.
Allegory saw a gap in available resources for communications professionals, which is why we created a six-stage practical framework (below) that helps communicators get CEOs and boards talking about CDR, and taking steps to address both the opportunities and risks inherent in CDR.
It is quite likely that your CEO or board may never have heard of the term Corporate Digital Responsibility, though once put to them, it has a ‘Ronseal’ appeal. We’ve reached a tipping point in history, where every business – regardless of size, service, or sector – is a data organisation, so they simply can’t ignore it. CEOs may naturally want to confine CDR to being an issue for the IT department to manage (perhaps because of their own low level of interest in data and digital), but data is always about people, and the CEO is ultimately accountable for responsible business practice.
If your organisation gets CDR right, it can help you to generate funding and retain investment. It can help attract and retain the best people, as well as maintaining and building your own reputation. That’s money, people, and reputation all at stake.
One of the best ways to start a conversation with your CEO is to use the existing language that boards know. The CEO might say to you: “Where does CDR fit in, it feels like it is the G bit of ESG*?”. Actually, CDR sits across all three areas of ESG. It is like the nervous system of the body of an organisation and affects every person and team within it. In that way, it is a bit like the EDI** agenda. If you can get the CEO’s buy-in, it will trickle down and permeate the organisation. If it’s just stuck within the IT department, then it won’t get the level of board understanding needed. When things go wrong, it will ultimately land back on the communicators’ laps to sort out the mess.
* ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) represents a more stakeholder-centric approach to doing business. ** EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) ensures fair treatment and opportunity for all, by eradicating prejudice and discrimination on the basis of an individual or group of individual’s protected characteristics.
The good news is that the only way to get CDR wrong, is to do nothing. It’s an emerging issue and everyone is in the ‘Discovery phase’ for now. The next bit of good news for boards is that they shouldn’t be expected to have all the skills needed to address this, quite the opposite. Successful CDR requires a multi-stakeholder approach, a strong CDR culture and community of practice – all of which communicators can help convene and create.
Six steps to protect your business from digital risks
Practical steps you can take right now to identify challenges, mitigate risk, build a CDR culture and prepare an effective communications function to deal with challenges in advance.
1. Conduct a landscape analysis audit
By the time a problem gains the attention of the public, it’s too late to stop the media fallout. A full landscape analysis will help you identify the potential threats to your business in advance and prepare you to fix them quickly.
- Identify and interview key stakeholders (CEO, CTO, Head of Marketing etc.)
- Run a workshop to map risk factors, opportunities and audiences (SWOT/PESTLE analysis)
- Write up workshop results and publish them internally
2. Plan communications strategies
With your key threats identified, it’s prudent to have communications plans in place to deal with them if and when they arise. Make sure you plan carefully for every foreseeable eventuality and include a listening strategy, as well as an outbound comms strategy, to ensure you’re one step ahead of the conversation.
- Analyse existing policies and practices, channels and stakeholders
- Hold a workshop to map strategies to threats and opportunities, noting any gaps
- Develop CDR-specific reactive ‘Lines to Take’ and brief relevant stakeholders
3. Build a strong community of practice
No single team member has all the skills to address Corporate Digital Responsibility. You’ll need a multi-functional approach that engages with all key stakeholders if you want to succeed. Start by identifying essential personnel to form your CDR team. C-level executives will be the foundation – they’re ultimately responsible for digital security – but technology and communications experts are an essential piece of the puzzle, too. You might also consider including those most at risk from data breaches to ensure a participatory approach to CDR. Remember, diverse voices give you a better chance to identify threats and opportunities.
- Hold a workshop to identify and prioritise stakeholders
- Convene a working group of stakeholders and agree on an operational memorandum
- Launch the working group publicly to key audiences
4. Ensure effective horizon scanning
The playing field of digital technology is constantly changing, so you’ll need to create a function dedicated to monitoring your organisation’s environment. This is key to understanding challenges at the earliest point in their lifecycle. With a close eye on the changing landscape, your team can ensure you have the correct procedures in place to combat emerging threats.
- Review identified stakeholders, policies and procedures
- Hold a workshop to map key stakeholders’ sensitivities and identify potential critics
- Map prominent individuals and groups, identify their position in advance and develop engagement strategies
5. Plan your internal communications architecture
CDR may be a leadership-level responsibility but it’s a team effort. Employees are a critical audience you’ll need to engage with to ensure compliance across your organisation. To mobilise their resources, you’ll need to communicate effectively with them.
- Review existing communications processes and procedures, as well as past successes and failures
- Conduct a deep dive into engagement channels and map the most effective strategies
- Plan communications monitoring and analysis across a set timeframe (6 to 12 months)
6. Plan to manage stakeholder engagement
Customers, partners and other external stakeholders have their own parts to play in managing data security. You’ll need to make sure they’re aware of their responsibilities, as well as the consequences of their actions. Governance is most effective when it’s run on a participatory model, so include stakeholders from the ground up. Remember, open and transparent communication is the foundation of trust. Never hesitate to bring your audience into the conversation.
- Create a deep-dive stakeholder engagement report as a framework for your messaging strategy
- Develop messaging and materials
- Build reactive ‘Lines to Take’ and brief key stakeholders
Of course, each of these key activities represents a great deal of work on behalf of your team. However, these six steps offer a framework for organising your CDR activities to ensure great outcomes. To learn more about the process in action, reach out to us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re experts in delivering quality Corporate Digital Responsibility strategies for leaders in the technology space. You can also download our latest report on CDR here.