Want to know what business is doing for its workforce, or for its local community? Ask your smartphone
To date, transparency policy has focused mainly on data held by public authorities or the impact of transparency on public services. But that focus is developing, and nothing illustrates this better than an exciting new collaboration between government and business.
In February, at the Business in the Community conference, the prime minister announced the open business forum, a working group where business and government would come together to help make the wider contribution of business to society both more apparent and more transparent.
He said this social contribution was under-appreciated, and that transparency could do much to change perceptions and help consumers make more informed decisions. As an example of what the future might bring, he invited his audience to imagine an app that would enable the consumer to choose a supermarket not just on its prices but on its values, or a mobile phone supplier not just on tariffs but on the level of carbon emissions.
Such an app could be closer than you think. Some of Britain’s leading companies are among the 20 or so participants in the open business forum. They are collaborating to see if they can develop accessible and comparable measures of, for example, business support for their workforces, their contribution to local communities and their impact on the environment.
Of course, measuring and reporting these things is not a new idea. There are a number of highly developed frameworks for reporting emissions of greenhouse gases or aspects of employee welfare. What would not be so familiar is presenting meaningful indicators in a way that is easily intelligible to the layperson and immediately available on their smartphones.
Accessibility does not stop there. It is one thing for large corporates with sophisticated internal data-gathering systems to contribute information that they are already collecting for other purposes – it is quite another for small or medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to do so. How can we help these businesses use this facility and tell the story of the contribution they are making to their communities?
The Open Business Forum has ideas for this, too. As long as the methods that are developed rely on data that is accessible within a business, then it should be possible to create a free app or online toolkit that will allow an SME easily to assemble the relevant data, so that the measures of its social contribution can be made available, too.
SMEs can also benefit from the development of Trading for Good, announced by the prime minister at the same time as the Open Business Forum. This will allow SMEs to showcase online, free of charge, the good work they do in their community – and gain accreditation for doing so.
The work of the Open Business Forum is in its infancy, but the participants are keen to move it on quickly. Look out for a report on its progress, which it aims to issue during the summer.