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Are materiality analyses starting to get boring?


A company doing corporate responsibility reporting, should perform a materiality analysis regardless of which reporting framework it uses. Many of us have either responded to materiality questionnaires or been involved in compiling, analysing and reporting on their results. As a rule, mass surveys are laborious, and often the issues that arise from them are already known to the management. However, the materiality analysis itself is important for the company's value creation, corporate responsibility focus and reporting as well as get proof for company’s own assumptions. But could it be done somehow more concisely?

The analysis usually begins by examining the industry sector’s negative and positive impacts on  environment, people or society, as well as the results of various stakeholder consultations, such as customer surveys. The next step is to involve stakeholders in identifying the potential impacts, following by the assessment of the magnitude and probability of the effects and, finally, the prioritisation of issues. Instead of using traditional surveys in the second phase, participatory methods of service design, could bring relief. Instead of a survey, we would find out stakeholder views in couple of workshops. The workshops provide an opportunity to bring together stakeholders who rarely meet and get to hear each other, such as staff and investor representatives. It could be motivating for employees to hear from investors what is expected of a company in sustainability in order to be invest in. At the same time, it would be possible to share information and get personnel and other key stakeholders committed to responsibility. Surprising clashes can also bring out some completely new kind of information and ideas.

The workshops are also well suited for the next stage of the analysis, i.e. estimating the magnitude and probability of the effects. Senior management, who are expected to oversee the materiality analysis process, prioritise material themes, and define the boundaries of reporting, appreciate effective work. In work shops the results can also be tested by experts and information users who base their decisions on the results of the analysis.

However, if you want to do the interviews/surveys and get a larger group of respondents, you can still use participatory methods to refine and deepen the information received. Or they can be used to renew the analysis, recommended to be carried out annually, instead of a massive survey every year. The key is that materiality analyses are carried out systematically, the process is documented and can be replicated.

Outi Mikkonen, Corporate Responsibility Advisor at Impaktly Strategy