I’ve had difficulty coming to terms with the concept of hyper-transparency.
On one hand, it is easy to be awestruck by the promise of transparency. The internet of things offers the potential for real-time decision-making about the status, content, and origin of just about everything. The internet of people creates powerful incentives for openness, authenticity, and connectivity. The Panama Papers and the Edward Snowden leaks have transformed the global dialogue on key issues.
On the other hand, there is more than just a whiff of sensationalism in the air. It is not clear to me that transparency has done much to alter global fundamentals—human rights are still being violated, greenhouse gas emissions are still being belched at an alarming rate, and presidential elections (or national referendums) can still descend into farce.
It would be a mistake to assume that a mega-trend like hyper-transparency will automatically lead to positive outcomes. It is only by deliberate, disciplined, and conscious effort that transparency can be harnessed for sustainable development.
The “Bold Transparency” track at our annual BSR Conference 2016 is intended to help us move beyond the hype of hyper-transparency and design ambitious strategies that have practical impact on our progress toward the creation of a just and sustainable world.
- “Is Sustainability Reporting Becoming Obsolete?” will debate the impact of hyper-transparency on sustainability reporting. Does the availability of real-time data mark the end of sustainability reporting as we know it—or does it reinforce the importance of the annual reporting cycle, lest the glamor of real-time reporting diverts attention away from important, long-term trends?
- “Creating the Internet of Sustainable and Trusted Things” will investigate how to manage the privacy and security risks that will no doubt arise when people, data, things, and processes are connected and available for others to see like never before.
- “Creating Value by Giving Workers a Voice” will explore the use of technology and transparency tools to improve understanding of factory workers’ needs and increase worker participation in management decisions.
- “Engaging Stakeholders in an Era of Hyper-Transparency” will consider how companies can use transparency to think more broadly about who their stakeholders are, where they are, and what increased connectivity and transparency can mean for their products, practices, impacts, and reputations.
- “Is Traceability the Supply Chain’s Holy Grail?” will demonstrate how to turn the theory of product and materials traceability into reality and share examples of success stories by large companies, niche players, and entire industries.
As we prepare for these discussions, let’s remember that any conversation about hyper-transparency should not be reactive—or characterized by mild panic about how we will all cope when everything is public and connected. Rather, let’s focus on the more important question of how to harness transparency in support of the bold and ambitious sustainability agendas set out by the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals.
This will be my 13th BSR Conference. In the past, I’ve found our Conferences most valuable when we bridge long-term mega-trends—such as the rapid growth in transparency—with the practical discipline of managing sustainability at large companies. I think we’ve designed a Conference track to allow you to do just that, and I hope you’ll join us in these important discussions this autumn.
The "Bold Transparency" track at the BSR Conference 2016 is sponsored by Thomson Reuters.