Measurement: competitive advantage and reduced risk?

Corporate failures and scandals often have deep relational roots. So too does success, for the essence of any business is to invite people into relationship as investors, customers, employees or suppliers and to make such relationships more valuable. Yet, as the authors of The Relational Lens recently published by Cambridge University Press point out, these relationships are too often like dark matter – the fabric of the universe that passes unseen.

As a global leader on corporate governance and reporting I have advocated since 1994 that in its decision making process a board needs to take account of the legitimate and reasonable needs, interests and expectations (NIE’s) of its primary stakeholders.

Either management must have an ongoing communication with stakeholders or a Corporate Stakeholder Relationship Officer (CSRO) should do so. The CSRO informs management of the stakeholders’ NIE’s and does a written report to the board on the quality of the relationships.  At every board meeting there should be an agenda item “Stakeholder relationships.”  This will result in the board having an oversight which is informed in regard to managements’ proposals on strategy.

The Salz Review into Barclays, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie (a major UK public service failure), or indeed the reviews into almost any corporate failure show that weaknesses in relationships between the company and its stakeholders are readily identified after things have gone wrong. But would Volkswagen or Deutsche Bank have landed in their current situations if their internal and external stakeholder relationships had been better founded and managed?  Could the many corporate disasters, of which Enron, Lehmans, Cendant, Worldcom, HealthSouth, Tyco, Qwest Communications, Toshiba, BP and Arthur Andersen are just some of a long litany, have been avoided by a more systematic management of stakeholder relationships?

Restoring confidence in corporate, political and other institutions will require more than clever PR. It requires systematic measurement and reporting on the quality of relationships with all major stakeholders so that companies can take specific steps to address the key issues seriously.

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England puts it this way in his comments on The Relational Lens: “There is widening acceptance that organizations – large and small, public and private, commercial and charitable – may be failing to meet the needs of their societal stakeholders. This has, in some cases, caused a rupturing of trust, a loss of social licence. This book … equips companies with the tools to begin the slow process of rebuilding trust, relationship by relationship.”

In corporate reporting on social and relational capital, companies have too often resorted simply to recording their CSR spend. With integrated thinking and embedding sustainability issues into a company’s business strategy CSR has become yesterday’s thinking.

The lack of available quantitative measures is perhaps the main reason why the boards of companies, as well as executives and managers, invest so little monetary, temporal and other resources into understanding, managing and measuring relationships with their stakeholders.

A way forward is shown by the new book by John Ashcroft and his colleagues, based on over 20 years of measuring relationships within and between organizations across the public and private sectors, as well as in different parts of the world. They demonstrate persuasively that all relationships operate in 5 domains – communication, time, information, power and purpose. Using these 5 domains will aid the CSRO in carrying out their mandate.

This approach identifies whether the conditions for effective relationships are being put in place and identifying perceptions gaps around the effectiveness of such measures. Looking at the preconditions for relationships serves as a way to assess a leading indicator of risk, focuses on the relational building blocks of such outcomes as trust, accountability or loyalty, identifies the factors that can be managed and changed, as well as enabling more constructive and effective dialogue about the issues identified.

All that makes this book timely, especially for the corporate world.

Here is the framework, here are the tools and the case studies to enable companies to give stakeholder relationships the kind of detailed and systematic attention which will bring an informed understanding to a board about a company’s social capital, and help bridge the divide between financial and social capitals.

‘The Relational Lens: Understanding, Managing and Measuring Stakeholder Relationships’ was published by Cambridge University Press in October 2016. A video of the launch can be found at Relational Analytics.

By Professor Mervyn King SC, Chairman, International Integrated Reporting Council

Photo: Mervyn King by Sveriges Kommunikatörer on Flickr.

This article originally appeared as a blog on the International Integrated Reporting Council website. It is reposted with permission from the International integrated Reporting Council.

The debate over Brexit – does distance matter?

The debate concerning Brexit, whether Britain should leave the EU, has well and truly begun. The Financial Times has published a short debate over the issue, between the Labour politican Peter Mandelson and Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan. During the debate, Daniel Hannan, arguing for Brexit, says that geographical proximity has never mattered less. There is, therefore, no reason why Britain should prioritise trading with those closest i.e. Europe; instead Britain should focus on trading with the rest of the world. With open global markets, rapid transportation and high speed communications, geography simply doesn’t matter that much anymore.

It might be true that geographical proximity has never mattered less but it is not the case that geographical proximity is unimportant. A recent study on ‘The Impact of Venture Capital Monitoring‘ shows just this. The authors show that venture capitalists’ “on-site involvement with their portfolio companies leads to an increase in both innovation and the likelihood of a successful exit”. Specifically, direct flights increase the interaction that venture capitalists have with their portfolio companies and management, helping them to better understand the companies’ activities.

So regular face to face communication between venture capitalists and their portfolio companies led to increased innovation. In an earlier blog we focused on cluster initiatives to show the link between face to face communication and innovation. The important point there, as in the case of the venture capitalists, is that the innovation is a result of the greater communication possible in face to face encounters.

The fact that direct flights increase interaction is clearly because of the reduced time it takes. It is also the case that the closer two countries are, the shorter the flight between the two. Therefore, geographical proximity is not irrelevant.

While open global markets, rapid transportation and high speed communications mean that it is easy to do business with anyone in the world, it is not true that physical distance is irrelevant or unimportant. Distance is still important because face to face communication is so important. Physical encounters lead to greater connectedness; high levels of directness lead to good quality communication. Whatever one’s views about Brexit, physical proximity still matters, because physical proximity affects relational proximity.

Joshua Hemmings works for the Relational Thinking Network in marketing and communications.

Image: Blank_map_of_Europe_(polar_stereographic_projection)
_cropped.svg: Ssolbergjderivative work: Dbachmann (talk) – Blank_map_of_Europe_(polar_stereographic_projection)
_cropped.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The Relational Academics Symposium 2015 – a report

The Relational Academics Forum is a network of scholars interested in exploring relational approaches to their studies. On the 16th September, at St. Catharine’s College Cambridge, the inaugural Symposium of the Relational Academic Forum took place on the theme ‘Relational Research in the Social Sciences: concepts and methodologies.’

The Relational Academics Forum is part of the Relational Thinking Network, which is a global association of individuals, corporations, NGOs and think-tanks committed to developing and applying relational thinking in all areas of life. Relational thinking as understood in this institutional context builds on the work established by Michael Schluter, David Lee and others from 1993 onwards.[1] A number of scholars from a range of academic disciplines had been meeting privately on previous occasions, but this Symposium was the first event for which there was a public call for papers.

The theme of the Symposium was deliberately broad; even the restriction to ‘social sciences’ was arguably too narrow, as the interests of participants extended to humanities and human sciences. The purpose of the event was to draw in to the emerging network scholars hitherto unfamiliar with relational thinking, particularly the younger generation of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers.

The day was chaired by Julian Rivers, Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Bristol. As he explained in his opening remarks, the motivation behind the Symposium was highly ambitious: to trace a Big Idea through a series of subjects and disciplines usually kept separate. But the coherence of the event was anchored in three overarching questions:

  • What are the connections and distinctions between relational thinking in the narrow sense as developed over the last 20 years by members of the Relational Thinking Network, and the wider phenomenon of a recent ‘relational turn’ in many areas of the social and human sciences? This could be called the Family Resemblance Question.
  • What difference does relational thinking make to the motivation, methods, context and subject-matter of study? This is the Relevance Question.
  • Does relational thinking have sufficient explanatory power and normative salience to constitute a ‘grand narrative’ capable of competing with others such as liberalism, Marxism, feminism or discourse-theory? Is there such a thing as Relationism? This is the Grand Theory Question.

Eight papers were then presented and discussed.

Paper 1: Dr. Jeremy G.A. Ive, ‘A Philosophical Basis for a Relational Methodology’[2]

In this paper, Ive sketched out a philosophical basis and the outline of a relational methodology for the social sciences.

He argued that there are three ‘transcendentals’, i.e. necessary conditions for any possible experience:

  1. That there are persons/things/social entities
  2. That these are related according to certain universal ways of relating.
  3. That both a. and b. are subject to a series of changes and development.

If any one of these conditions is not met, we cannot speak of created existence or experience – it is impossible to conceive of created existence or experience without all these conditions being met together. A fruitful correlation can be made with the ‘Analogies of Experience’ in Immanuel Kant’s ‘Transcendental Analytic’ in his Critique of Pure Reason. Slightly changing Kant’s order, these are: the principle of succession in time, the principle of co-existence at any one moment in time, and the principle of permanence or continuity through time.

Ive then drew on and developed the insights of two Christian philosophers Dirk Vollenhoven (1892-1978) and Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) who together provide a comprehensive ontology and epistemology for the analysis of the social order, and indeed the created order as a whole.  Between them they developed a thoroughly pluralistic understanding of the world. Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd start with experience in its rich and irreducible diversity and identify different levels of description or explanation called ‘modalities’. Together, in their mature thought, Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd identified fifteen modalities ranging from the numerical (quantitative) to that of faith.  These identify the different ways in which particulars function, are related to one another, and in which relationships develop and unfold over time.

Using this, Ive traced three different points of entry, or what he called ‘descriptive views’.  These allow us to uncover the relational richness of the social order through looking at society as persons or entities in relationship, and then as the development of those persons or entities, and, complementary to this, the unfolding of the many different relations which connect those persons or entities.  This affirms relationships, in all their richness and diversity within the whole diversity of social structures without undue emphasis on any at the expense.

Paper 2: Sarah Pawlett Jackson, ‘Measuring ‘Relational Proximity’: The Importance of Multi-Person Contexts’[3]

Pawlett Jackson’s research, in the discipline of philosophy, attempts an analysis of basic intersubjective structures. Relationality, a richer and more specific concept that intersubjectivity, nevertheless presupposes these intersubjective structures. In her paper, she laid out some of her own ongoing doctoral thesis work in the philosophy of intersubjectivity. She demonstrated how the concepts and methodologies employed by the metric of Relational Proximity are underpinned by fundamental philosophical assumptions about the nature of human subjectivity and intersubjectivity. She attempted to show that the overarching claims and vision of the Relational Thinking movement, namely that ‘good relationships are not simply a desirable extra; they are fundamental to the stability and wellbeing of our societies,’[4] are well supported by philosophical reflection on current interdisciplinary research into the nature of intersubjectivity.

The second and more substantial part of this paper attempted to outline the argument that there is nevertheless a ‘dyadic paradigm’ in the philosophy of intersubjectivity: an emphasis on the relationship between two individuals remains in predominant models of philosophical analysis, sometimes implicitly. Jackson argued further that other disciplines tend to analyse relationships under this paradigm. More attention needs to be paid to multi-person contexts, i.e. relational interactions between more than two people.

The authors of the Relational Proximity metric are clear that they do want to speak to multi-person contexts with their metric, and the importance of networks, groups, organisations and communities is often made much of. However, Pawlett Jackson argued that the metric of Relational Proximity as it stands can be developed further in order to account for the fact that the different types of intersubjective structures involved in multi-person interactions are themselves a necessary component of the relationships in question, and therefore must be incorporated into the analysis. She outlined different varieties of multi-person intersubjective structures, and explored how these might be integrated into the Relational Proximity metric itself, both in the content of the category of multiplexity, and in the method of the application itself in multi-person contexts.

Paper 3: Henk Hadders, ‘Relational Sustainability: Measuring and Reporting Organizational Sustainability Performance with Relational Footprinting’[5]

Hadders’ starting-point is that sustainability is about the quality of our relationships, but everywhere in this world we see the ecological divide (between self and Nature), the social divide (between self and Others) and the spiritual-cultural divide (between self and Self) as visible signs of our current reality. We deplete natural, social and human vital capital resources needed for a fair and safe operating space for humanity and its health and well-being.

Why do we collectively create these unsustainable results that nobody wants? Meeting the challenges of this century requires updating our relational logic, -thinking and -intelligence and a shift of our Relational Operating System from an obsolete “ego-system” focussed entirely on the well-being of oneself to an eco-system awareness that emphasizes the well-being of the whole.

Relational Thinking and the Economics of Mutuality are two promising possibilities to help solve our wicked problems in the world. Relational Thinking involves learning to see life from the perspective of relational well-being and “thriveability” as opposed to viewpoints of individualism and materialism. The Economics of Mutuality recognizes that value is more effective and sustainable when all of the stakeholders are considered, not just the shareholders. In this paper Hadders added a third promising possibility to the mix: Context-Based Sustainability (CBS), as developed by Mark McElroy (2008). CBS-theory can be used to explore relationships “in sustainability-context” and to clarify what the concepts of “Relational Sustainability” and “Relational Footprinting” look like.

How to describe, analyze and measure relational sustainability performance? This theoretical paper dealt with these questions at an organizational level. The first part of the paper was about the conceptualization of “sustainability” and “relational sustainability”. The second part was about operationalizing, quantifying and measuring relational sustainability by introducing a Relational Quotient. Here, Hadders used Relational Footprints as an analytical tool for impact measurement and developed a new Relational Strategic Performance Scorecard, as a successor of the Balanced Scorecard.

Thus CBS-theory can be used to conceptualize and operationalize the notion of “corporate relational sustainability”. Hadders gave an example of water use to illustrate the Relational Footprint for the relationship of an organization with its local community as stakeholder in an ecological area of impact. This paper was a contribution to the dialogue about an emerging transformation of business thinking, where the purpose of business is to enhance the well-being of society. It ended with some conclusions and suggestions for further research.

Paper 4: Brendan Bromwich, ‘Institutional bricolage as peacebuilding: theory and practice of a relationships-based contribution to resolving conflict over natural resources in Darfur’[6]

This paper was written based on the premise that conflict, governance and peace can be described in terms of the improvement and deterioration of relationships: between people, communities and institutions.    Conflict comprises a process of contesting relationships; governance is a process of regulating relationships; and peace carries the notion of a quality in relationships.  The paper reviewed a theoretical approach to describing relationships developed in a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) programme in Sudan supporting Darfur to make the transition to peace.  UNEP drew on relationship descriptors identified by Schluter and Lee to enable analysis and reporting of work to develop collaboration amongst diverse actors in the environmental sector in Sudan.[7]  The notion of governance as a complex network of relationships informed the development of UNEP’s theory of change on governance and peacebuilding.[8]

The paper compared UNEP’s analytical framework with the academic literature.  Of particular relevance is the notion of institutional bricolage developed by Cleaver, which highlights the complexity of social and institutional interaction; the importance of inequalities in power; and the way that institutions evolve, fragment and re-form over time.[9]  The paper argued that this process is relevant to peace-building, as well as the broader development processes Cleaver describes.

Another focus in the paper was how the development of collaboration between parties can be described over time.  Discrete transactions, once negotiated and implemented, may or may not lead to ongoing collaboration. This is relevant to peacebuilding given the potential of external actors to incentivise discrete acts of collaboration in the hope that these lead to lasting collaboration.  Understanding this dynamic is essential to many forms of peacebuilding. The pattern is seen in traditional local peace-processes in Darfur and is also important in the role of peace-keeping missions.[10]  UNEP used a “relational pathway” as yardstick to describe the emergence of these relationships in peacebuilding and governance contexts. The paper reviews the use of this pathway as an indicator in aid programming.

The paper was written as the third in a series on natural resources and peacebuilding in Darfur.[11]  Building on the contextual analysis provided in the first two papers, this paper described in practical terms how a response to the complex problems of conflict and failed environmental governance may be developed.  Recalling the immense challenges faced as a result of social and environmental change in the Sahel and Horn of Africa, the paper concluded by highlighting the need to support environmental governance initiatives that enable inclusive transitions in livelihoods and society, thereby mitigating the risks of violent conflict.

Paper 5: Zolile Mlisana, ‘Relationships, Power Abuse and Humanity’s Psychomutation’[12]

Zolile Mlisana’s paper drew on his experience in child psychology to consider the longer-term impact of child (including sexual) abuse.  The abuse of power is a pervasive social challenge which is both cause and effect of ‘relational disease’. Power abuse reshapes the ‘collective unconscious’ (Jung). It threatens the material future of humanity and next generations by reshaping ‘reality’, i.e. values, choices and actions. This ‘mutation of psyche’ derives from social pressure on a template of relationships over time. Mlisana argued that abuse inflicted within an intimate relationship is the most toxic to the psyche and offers the best lessons in analysis.

Different roles can be identified in the dynamics of child abuse: perpetrator, victim, passive witness, accomplice, the system (since some vulnerabilities are systemically prescribed) and ‘evil mercenaries’ (who intentionally commercialise the evil). A standard progression can also be identified in the mind of the victim: startle/shock – disbelief – fight or flight – surrender (predisposing to self-deprecation) – ‘drift of psyche’ in accepting a new perceptive reality. The last step can be supported by social condonation or pontification facilitated by intricate permutations of systemic stakeholder collusions in abuse.

This model is capable of application in a range of areas. In economics, politics and the domain of the psychosocial one can see patterns of self-perpetuating, psycho-mutative social abuse as societies get locked into sophisticated processes of legitimization, glamorization and obfuscation. The result is that elites continue to dominate victims. The paper closed with a bleak view of the future of humanity. Humanity seems to have an intrinsic self-preserving and self-indulging instinct which pivots on the mutation of psyche. The abuse of the child in particular recreates psychosocial reality and steadily grooms a psychologically mutant breed of human beings to the detriment of our collective well-being.

Paper 6: Dr Paul Grimshaw, Dr Elaine McNichol, Prof. Linda McGowan and Peter Lacey, ‘Exploring the role of relational value in health and care’[13]

The authors argue that there is a growing need within healthcare policy and management to understand the essential role that human relationships play within and around health and social care systems, which exist and influence at a number levels; individual to health institutions, organisation to organisation, group to group e.g. inter-professional and interpersonal e.g. GP/patient interaction.  Each person and each system is nested within each other, interacting and changing, hence any attempt to understand any part of the system needs to take account of the others.  It is fairly well established that social or relational factors play an important role in individual health & well-being outcomes. With social support providing access to resources both psychological and material, and social integration providing benefits through the mechanism of buffering and more general effects that are in place regardless of stress. However relational factors also cascade through social systems to influence organisational performance and community cohesion.

This paper summarised ongoing research by Whole Systems Partnership and the University of Leeds which aims to develop a framework for enabling leadership and management to define and conceptualise intangible elements of relationships that span across the whole system in differing health & care environments. The research explores a number of relational attributes, focussing on integrity, respect, fairness, empathy and trust and seeks to find out which potential behaviours, activities and processes support these attributes and potentially lead to improved system level outcomes. This project is part of a process which over time will develop repeatable routines for measuring the pattern of these behaviours with the aim of revealing what WSP are describing as a systems’ ‘relational value’. Underpinning the research is the working concept that relational value can be a component of a relationship, and that relational value ‘does work’ within a system that is dependent upon but distinct from the individual actors.

The research examines the extant research from the management and health fields for behaviour, activities or processes that underpin healthy relationships and seeks to build on this by validating and extending the work in an elderly care context. Residents, staff, family and wider stakeholders in the care setting will make sense of the derived statements, e.g. “There are opportunities to begin activities with others outside the unit”. This statement expresses (i) the potential behaviour of maintaining social relations (ii) that requires some degree of the relational attribute of trust to enable positive risk taking (iii) which in turn relates to a particular element of the organisational system, in this case community and (iv) a consideration of the physical space or infrastructure. These statements are arranged across two further categories (1) organisational level (organisation, community and intra-personal) (2) a socio-technical framework comprising of 6 headings (Vision/People/Process/Culture/Technology & Infrastructure). The system-wide validation (across stakeholders) of these statements will position the importance of the associated behaviours, activities and practices and provide the bedrock for a framework that can be applied in other similar settings, and ultimately begin to enable comparison of differing patterns of relational value across different contexts.

Paper 7: Alexandre Sayegh, ‘Relational Justice in a Non-ideal World: the problem of illicit financial flows’[14]

Sayegh’s paper explored a distinct way to answer the question ‘what does global justice consist in?’

In the global justice literature, growing attention has been given to problems particular to a globalized economy such as tax competition and illicit financial flows. Political philosophers have begun to reflect on how these problems intersect with theories of global justice (Brock and Pogge 2014). These recent philosophical attempts represent a shift from the canonical debate between statist and cosmopolitans, whose central concern was on determining whether the scope of justice is global. Indeed, in reply to the question ‘what does global justice consist in?’, the global justice debate has been structured around three main positions: cosmopolitans, statists and what has been called ‘relational’ or ‘internationalist’ positions. Cosmopolitans claim that principles of global justice should be the extension of principles of domestic justice. Prominent cosmopolitan positions interpreted global justice in a ‘monistic’ way. They formulated one set of principles of justice for the global order (Beitz 1979; Tan 2004; Caney 2005). Statists on the other hand argue that there are no obligations of justice at the global level (Blake 2002; Nagel 2005). More recently, relational or internationalists positions contemplated the possibility that while justice considerations arose at the global level, principles of global justice needed not to be egalitarian in nature (Sangiovanni 2007; Valentini 2010).

Sayegh terms his approach a ‘relational non-ideal theory’ of global justice. The methodology of this theory is relational in nature. It argues that principles of justice are formulated according to the practice they intend to regulate. With regard to the content of principles, the relational non-ideal view put forward in this paper rejects the notion that non-ideal theory is simply applied ideal theory. Instead, it explores the main features of a conception of justice designed for a non-ideal world. This paper argued that the role of non-ideal theory in our theorizing about global politics is not limited to seeking compliance with ideal principles. Its purpose is rather to address non-ideal circumstances particular to the problems of global background injustice. By applying relational non-ideal methodology and content to the problems of tax competition and illicit financial flows, this paper sought to provide insights about how this theory could both contribute to the progression of justice while also evaluating the feasibility and desirability of ideal theories of global justice.

Paper 8: Lorna Zischka, ‘Relational Stocks, Giving Flows and Welfare Outcomes’[15]

This was a paper about the power of philanthropy to transform communities. Data from the Citizenship Survey of England and Wales was used to research the link between giving behaviours and welfare. ‘Giving’ is the time and money voluntarily offered into relational activities, or transferred to other people and to charity. ‘Welfare’ is measured in private terms (life-satisfaction) as well as in communal terms (higher levels of trust, lower levels of crime and deprivation).

The data revealed that giving interacted positively with all expressions of welfare. The sort of giving that made the most difference constituted regular giving; in multiple ways; and across social boundaries (giving across social boundaries counteracts the social exclusion of vulnerable groups). On creating an index of giving by the 10 regions of England and Wales defined in the data, we find that the level of giving by region has a 0.8 to 0.9 correlation with higher levels of trust, with lower levels of crime and with lower levels of deprivation by region. Whether or not a community was ‘giving’ was found to be more closely correlated with these factors than differences in income, in employment, in the racial mix of the community or in any other social factor. In other words, giving behaviours were found to be one of the key indicators of community health.

Giving is significant because it is indicative of positive relationships between parties. It is an indication that the giver is including other people into the decisions they make over the way they spend their time and money, and this ‘consideration for others’ captures an essential feature of relationship. Their giving does not guarantee a personal return, but it does improve the social environment for others. With reciprocation, this may eventually feed back into better outcomes for everyone. In our analysis we quantify how ‘cohesive civic sector relationships’, reflected in giving behaviours, lead to better outcomes for the community.

Relationships are complex and hard to measure, but the giving that flows to and from them is easier to trace. By monitoring giving behaviours in different neighbourhoods, decision makers might therefore gather information about the state of the relationships behind those giving patterns. It provides them a basis by which to evaluate which interventions help and which hinder social cohesion in the civic sector and its associated quality of life. Moreover focussing attention on giving may in itself put people in mind of what they could do for others or for their community (nudge theory). In this sense, including giving behaviours in measures of community health is both informative and prescriptive.


In spite of the wide range of ideas and disciplines represented during the symposium, in closing discussion participants agreed that there was sufficient commonality to make the Forum intellectually worthwhile. It was agreed that attempts should be made to extend the network of scholars interested in relational approaches to their work, and aim for another symposium in September 2016. Paper presented at this event would be published in due course in the journals and other scholarly contexts most suitable for their subject-matter.

[1] See David John Lee and Michael Schluter, ‘Briefing paper on relational analysis in academic discourse’ (2015).

[2] Jeremy Ive is Extraordinary Senior Lecturer at Northwest University, South Africa, and Director of the Relational Peacebuilding Initiative, UK.

[3] Sarah Pawlett Jackson is a PhD candidate in Philosophy at the Open University, UK, and a tutor in the Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford.

[4] [Accessed 07/08/2015]

[5] Henk Hadders is former Executive Director of the Board of the Mental Health Institute GGZ Drenthe, Netherlands, and a PhD candidate at the University of Groningen.

[6] Brendan Bromwich is a PhD candidate, Department of Geography, King’s College London, before which he was programme coordinator for UNERP in Sudan, 2007-2013.

[7] Schluter, M., Lee, D. (1993). ‘The R Factor’. Hodder and Stoughton, London.

[8] UNEP (2014). ‘Relationships and Resources: Environmental governance for peacebuilding and resilient livelihoods in Sudan’. UNEP, Nairobi.

[9] Cleaver, F., (2012) ‘Development Through Bricolage: Rethinking Institutions for Natural Resource Management’. Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, New York.

[10] Smit Duijzentkunst, B.L. and Dawkins, S.L.R. (2015) ‘Arbitrary Peace? Consent management in International Arbitration’. The European Journal of International Law, Vol.26 No1, 139-168.

[11] See Bromwich, B., (2015) ‘Nexus meets crisis: a review of conflict, natural resources and the humanitarian response in Darfur with reference to the water–energy–food nexus’. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 31:3, 375-392.

Bromwich, B., (Forthcoming) ‘Darfur conflict and environment revisited – what are the implications for peacebuilding?’

[12] Dr. Zolile Mlisana is Head of Paediatrics at Zola Jabulani Hospital, Soweto, South Africa.

[13] Paul Grimshaw, Elaine McNichol and Linda McGowan are at the University of Leeds, UK. Peter Lacey works for Whole Systems Partnership Ltd.

[14] Alexandre Sayegh is a PhD candidate in the Department of Philosophy, University College London, and a Visiting Scholar on the Global Justice Program at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University.

[15] Lorna Zischka is a PhD candidate in the Department of Economics at the University of Reading.

Location, Location, Location: Does Where We Work Matter?

Does location matter in business? Is physical proximity an obsolete concept in today’s technologically advance world? Through emails, phone calls or Skype, we can instantly contact people who live on the other side of the world. Through the internet we have access to almost unlimited information and we can easily share information and resources with our colleagues through email. If I need to get the advice of a colleague who is on the other side of the world, all I need to do is pick up the phone at an appropriate time.

Yet physical location matters hugely. Organisational clusters, the phenomenon whereby firms from the same industry gather together in close proximity, is a perfect example of this. Michael Porter, who is Professor at the Harvard Business School’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness and has been studying organisational clusters for some decades writes

“location should no longer be a source of competitive advantage. Open global markets, rapid transportation, and high speed communications should allow any company to source anything from any place at any time. But in practice, location remains central to competition.” (Porter, 1998)

A good example of this is the Silicon Valley, to where, in the 1990s, huge numbers of tech companies began moving. This geographic concentration of similar businesses increases productivity with which they can compete. There are a number of reasons for this, such as access to labour and suppliers. However, one of the most important reasons is the directness in relationships that geographical proximity brings. Despite all the many advantages that technology has brought, we need physical encounters.

This is because much of the most valuable information is obtained not electronically but from face-to-face meetings. Informal learning, acquisition of know-how, and building trust require the face-to-face contacts that occur through social, professional or trade, and business situations.

When we meet someone face to face, communication is enhanced, as facial expression, tone of voice, dress and the actual words used all add to what is communicated. Without this, opportunities can be missed. Furthermore, we base conscious and unconscious judgements about traits such as likeability, trustworthiness and competence on people’s faces. In fact, one study has found that physicians spent more time looking at diagnostic scans when they were accompanied with the photograph of the patient. It is suggested that this picture is a reminder that there is a real person behind the scans, which leads to greater ethical commitment (Turner & Hadas-Halpern, 2008).

If organisations are located close to one another, the number of meetings is also increased. Workers can much more easily speak to those who work around them or pop their head into their colleague’s office next door than call someone on the phone. It is also often in casual meetings, over coffee, or by the water-cooler, where important information is shared. In areas with organisational clusters, workers often end up living in the same neighbourhoods, where they are much more likely to meet each other outside of work, for example in pubs and bars. This deepens the relationship, builds trust and will increase the amount of information sharing there is.

Being together in the same place, at the same time also reinforces belonging in groups and communicates worth and importance. People who work away from rest of their team can quickly and easily feel isolated.

Physical encounters lead to greater connectedness. High levels of directness lead to good quality communication. This is why location is still a source of competitive advantage, even though in theory, in an era of global competition, rapid transport and high speed telecommunications, it shouldn’t be. It explains why different organisations in the same industry cluster together and the large amounts of money spent by companies in getting their staff together for their annual conference. It should encourage us all to make time for face to face meetings and think about how we can encourage directness in our organisations and communities.


M. Porter, ‘Clusters and the New Economics of Competition’, Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec 1998, p77.

Turner and Hadas-Halpern ‘The Effects of Including a Patient’s Photograph to the Radiographic Examination’, Radiological Society of North America 2008 Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting, February 18 – February 20, 2008.


Relational dysfunction: a silent killer

“We never manage to do what we intend to do as an organisation.”

“Our strategy looks good on paper but we never manage to actually make it happen.”

We are all familiar with organisations that are no longer able to implement their strategy or deliver their plan. In some cases, it has always been a struggle for them. For others, it just seems to be getting harder. Organisations often look for external explanations. Or perhaps they have tried changing key personnel to inject fresh vision. Cutting staff and tightening up inefficient practices is another common approach. Introducing new systems and performance improvement programmes will usually be attempted.

Yet for some, the ability to implement strategy remains elusive.

From our relational perspective, there are clear signs that there is something dysfunctional going on inside the body corporate. Yet, we meet many leaders who appear to be in denial.

“It can’t be a relational problem because people aren’t actually shouting at each other.”

“Checking whether there are relational issues will only give us bad publicity and won’t solve anything.”

“Let’s keep trying these other things and wait and see; maybe the problem will solve itself.”

Individual relational issues within or between organisations are usually about personality clashes or personal chemistry. Such personal issues are very visible and tend to get addressed (by changing the people or avoiding each other). Organisational relational issues are more insidious and pernicious and more easily ignored. Just as geographic proximity can influence how well two teams work together, relational proximity is a key ingredient of a smoothly functioning organisation.

But there is more to relational proximity than geography. Unbalanced patterns of influence and communication can trigger misalignment, causing people to work at cross-purposes. Lack of mutual knowledge and irregular periods of contact can reduce momentum and cause people to despair of effective change. All of these give a sense of relational distance.

It is not only possible to clearly identify where such issues are occurring, it is also possible to do something about them.

Whilst basic business processes and the usual measures of activity in an organisation might appear to be working normally, core relational issues may be silently hampering its ability to deliver. A sound strategic plan will include an understanding and assessment of relational dynamics, enabling you to deal with organisational silent killers before they take hold.

This article was originally published by Renuma, one of our member organisations, and is republished here with their permission.

Brave enough to challenge your boss?

Many will recognize it: the fear of speaking up to point out a mistake of someone senior to us. But this lack of ‘parity’ (power balance), which prevents us from speaking up, can have destructive consequences.

In 1977, two planes collided at Tenerife airport killing 583 people, making it the deadliest accident in aviation history. There were numerous factors contributing to the crash, but perhaps the most fundamental reason is that Captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten decided to take off without clearance from Air Traffic Control. The more junior first officer and flight engineer spotted this mistake but were hesitant to speak up against him.

The fundamental problem was a lack of parity in the relationship between the pilot and the first officer and flight engineers. These junior co-pilots were powerless to question the actions of the Captain. In the airline industry at the time, there was a culture of ‘the pilot is always right’. Furthermore, Captain Veldhuyzen van Zanten was one of the most respected pilots in the airline and had recently trained the pilots himself.

The significant disparity in the relationships in the cockpit meant warning voices weren’t heard and thus the tragic accident happened. Since then new training procedures, known as crew resource management, have been brought in to enable junior staff to speak up to more senior staff, including pilots, if they believe they have made a mistake.

The airline industry know that parity reduces risk. And so does the medical industry. For example, when some young children died during heart operations at a Bristol hospital it was found that nurses were unable to make their concerns heard.

As a result, pilots have been helping to train medical staff to stand up to their bosses. It is hoped this training will give doctors and nurses the boldness and language to challenge more senior staff when they believe a mistake has been made. Strong relationships with parity of power between staff reduce risk. When the balance is right, junior staff can question a senior colleague if they believe they are making a mistake.

When power is fairly used it increases organisational effectiveness. It empowers the effective participation of all involved which causes achievement to increase because it enables the contributions of others in time, skills and knowledge.

Parity is fundamental for interpersonal relationships to flourish. However disparity can reduce respect. This might mean failing to recognise a company’s history or working practices, or it might simply lead to bullying.

Through tragic accidents, the airline industry and the medical industry have been able to learn the importance of parity and the importance of effective relationships between colleagues and therefore equip staff to avoid future accidents. However, for many people, communities and organisations, there is a complete lack of awareness of the significant problems that can be caused by disparity. Yet, as the airline and medical industries have shown, the risk is great. Get parity wrong in a relationship, and the effects can be devastating.

Read more about ‘Parity’ and how it affects relationships here and here. For Partners of the Network more documents can be found in the Resource Hub in the Partner Section of the website.

Also, if you are interested in topic, why not come to our ANNUAL CONFERENCE where we will be exploring what happens when relationships are stressed and damaged, and what kind of risks organizations are exposed to through the relationships they depend on.