Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Data Dependency

Most CSR practitioners, I believe, continue on a quest for data. We all want data to support our theses that good corporate citizenship adds value to the company. Value can come in the form of cost savings, enhanced reputation, employee engagement or any number of other shapes and sizes.

The tricky part about gathering data to support CSR is that there are very few defined ways to measure impact and value. And as such, there are very few methods or systems to gather meaningful CSR data within companies. Much of my job is spent trying to take the company's existing data and either performing some calculations to arrive at CSR impact metrics or finding proxies for the value I'm trying to describe.

Since returning to work from the holiday break, I've been working a lot with data for two separate projects. One has to do with calculating environmental impacts of a particular process and the other relates to measuring consumption of a particular resource across the enterprise.

For the first project, I've been trying to get at some raw data from other Business Units. In theory, this should be rather simple. I pick up the phone, call someone in another department, explain the project and describe my need. They, in turn, either take some time to "run some numbers" and send me back the relevant information or they refer me to someone else. Usually, it's the latter, so it typically takes a few days (yes, days!) to track down the right person. More often than not, the data that returns isn't quite what I'm looking for, so we work together until we arrive at something meaningful.

Well, this process has been playing out for nearly two months with a particular business partner and his unresponsiveness has resulted in me not being able to deliver on some promised metrics. I hated to throw him under the bus, but I had to bring in a VP to finally get him to send me the data he'd promised back in November. Approximately an hour later, I delivered the metrics that were expected of me.

In the second case, I recently received a spreadsheet with spend data from every cost center in the company (thousands) and I've been diligently pouring through it, figuring out which line item is relevant and which is outside the scope of this project. Essentially, I'm taking the spend data, translating it into units purchased and figuring out the resources necessary to create those units, resulting in the environmental impact of our consumption. The problem here is that I have to make sense of a spreadsheet that isn't necessarily meant for this purpose and is riddled with codes, acronyms and sequences of numbers I don't understand. It's time-consuming work and rather tedious, but hopefully will tell a good CSR story in due time.

With both examples, you see how CSR practitioners must rely on others to supply information before we can produce results. For my business partners, they can simply run a report through an existing information management system, but I have to spend time doing manual calculations because no system exists (or we can't afford such a system) to extract data in the format we need.

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