Title: Corporate Accountability, Community, and Gas Fields in Australia: Exploring the Landscapes, Transforming the Landscapes
As a key element of corporate accountability, social and environmental accounting (SEA) has failed to yield significant results in terms of firms embracing goals other than financial profitability. Consequently, accountability by business is being tested worldwide. With stakeholder engagement being a key element of SEA, the purpose of this research is to democratize engagement and address negative social and environmental impacts.
Seeking effective social and environmental outcomes by firms through SEA, scholars with a critical orientation towards corporate accountability include a cohort of accountancy scholars who aim to better theorize SEA. They propose agonistic dialogic accounting as a possible theory, and as such a practice-base for the theory is also required. Parallels are evident between agonistic dialogic accounting, particularly dialogic informed engagements, and practice-based critical futures theory and methodology Causal Layered Analysis (CLA). This dissertation explores the potential of CLA in contributing to closing the gap between theory and practice. With CLA as the primary research method, a vital and complimentary method was photo elicitation. Guided Visual Photo Analysis (GVPA), the software tool Leximancer, and manual colour coding were the tools applied in the analysis of the data.
Research required access to multiple views on a contested industry concerning corporations and community, and the unconventional gas (UCG) industry was chosen from among numerous options. As a field study, the case study site is a town in Victoria, Australia. Field work was undertaken in two stages, the first being a series of interviews, the second being a workshop. The overarching research question to be investigated was: ‘how might CLA facilitate the (agonistic) democratization of corporate-community engagement and enable preferable social and environmental outcomes?’
Findings suggest CLA enabled several key requirements of agonistic dialogic engagement. These include the recognition of multiple ideological orientations; effective participatory processes; attention to power relations, and steps towards transformation. Other related findings are that the methodology broadens the concept of corporate-community accountability beyond business case framings, narrow definitions, and binary thinking; deepens critical understanding by participants of their own views, and the views of others in relation to UCG, and facilitates the identification of ‘preferred futures’ and ‘uncertainties’ concerning energy needs.
Practical implications are that CLA, coupled with visual research methods are tools to enable a pluralist, democratic and transformative approach to stakeholder engagement. The approach could be applied when preparing and identifying material issues for sustainability reports, in implementing accountability standards, and for consideration by regulators when setting standards. Ultimately, findings suggest opportunities for creative decision making through deep-level scenario identification and strategic development as a ‘leverage point’. As such, these findings in combination with the research of other SEA scholars, could lead to interventions that give rise to moving firms, and indeed civil society, closer to reaching preferable social and environmental outcomes.
The research is original in that it seeks to contribute to addressing a gap in current research within critical accounting by introducing critical futures as theory and method – in other words the research approach is cross-disciplinary. This approach is enriching, while also being met with challenges.
With an early grounding in the social sciences Marcelle managed programs in relation to health and well-being utilising an action research and community development approach to change. She carried forward this approach to enabling social and environmental sustainability and accountability by organisations from 2000. She is an accredited social accountant and social auditor and has a Masters Degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Adelaide.
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