Posts By / kthompson

Sustainability changes everything

Sustainability as ‘an outcome of conscious thinking’ was discussed at the Faculty of Management’s ‘Sustainability Symposium’ recently.  The event was organised by Dr Karen Thompson and Professor Janet Dickinson in collaboration with the Association of Sustainability Practitioners and we began exploring ideas for new research on sustainability.

Changing economies across the globe to low or no carbon will require new understandings of the relationships between profit, people and the planet.  The new understandings are needed to inform development of new models and ways of doing business that reflect the complexities of social practices.  Three characteristics for research on sustainability issues were identified during the event:

  1. Incorporate partnerships building with practitioners and stakeholders
  2. Cross-disciplinary thinking that seeks to understand the complexity of social practices
  3. Fundamental re-thinking of existing models and ways of doing business.

New approaches to research will be required to address the challenges that face society today and will need to incorporate partnership building.  Derek Robbins, Faculty of Management, is already doing this in his research with bus companies on developing smart apps.  Dr Karen Thompson and Dr Nigel Williams shared their example of using social learning to collaborate with practitioners to develop the new concept of Responsible Project Management.

Their work has recently been shared with local councillors and they are exploring the possibilities for using a framework based on the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals to promote better decision-making.

Research will also need to be cross-disciplinary.  New models of business that link social practices with the possibilities arising from technological innovation, such as driverless electric cars, are required.  One participant commented:

“this is a really important topic and it was useful to have people here from multiple disciplines because they have different views and are prepared to challenge.  Personally I found I learnt a lot from the other speakers even though I’ve been working in this area for quite some time, so thank you very much.” (EC)

Research that seeks incremental improvement is unlikely to deliver enough change quickly enough.  Re-thinking existing economic and business models from the bottom-up is required, and new models must balance the need for environmental restoration, reducing conflict between communities as well as being economically viable.

As well as the dependencies between economy, people and planet, there are other dependencies to be understood.  There are internal dependencies that underpin our actions and determine outcomes.  Values and information underpin the choices humans make, and our choices determine our actions and the outcomes.  Understanding and, ultimately changing values, will clearly be very challenging.

Four sustainability ‘mindsets’ have been identified and the challenge is how to move society towards the top right quadrant of conscious awareness.  Research is urgently required on understanding what will work and what are the barriers to change.  Researchers will need to work closely with practitioners and businesses to experiment and evaluate alternatives, and they urgently need to do so.

 

 

For further information, or to discuss how these models can be used, please contact Dr Karen Thompson, Dr Nigel Williams or Professor Janet Dickinson, all from Faculty of Management.

Can sustainability be taught?

At the FoM ‘Sustainability Symposium’ yesterday, we explored what sustainability means for teaching and learning.

Sustainability is high on the list of priorities for BU, with KPIs for aligning all courses and research with one or more of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the launch of a Strategic Investent Area for ‘Sustainability, Low-Carbon Technology and Material Science’ last week.  Yesterday an audience of academics, students, professional services colleagues and external practitioners came together to better understand the crises facing humanity today.

Gwyn Jones, Director of Association of Sustainability Practitioners, argued for sustainability to be viewed as the outcome of conscious thinking.    Accordingly, sustainability is experienced and practised rather than learnt in a classroom and is enacted as a mindset.

Four mindsets have been identified and our challenge is to move society and our learners towards the top right quadrant of conscious awareness.

 

The question we asked was ‘What does extinction mean for business?’   It became clear that the question is relevant not only to the Business School, but for all disciplines at BU as indicated by a comment from one participant “I found it really interesting and frankly rather scary (and I’m informed) … I’m keen to try to do something similar [in my Faculty] and be active in this agenda more broadly” (FC).

Most models of business are based on assumptions that value profit and growth above all else.  Many of these models were developed during the industrial revolution and are now contributing to the destruction of our environment and society.  According to Gwyn, those who claim to have answers to sustainability, don’t understand the problem.

We discussed new business models and case studies that are based on understandings of purpose and decision-making that balances competing priorities.  One student who was with us for the day commented “I am very excited to interact with all the bright minds in the room discussing sustainability … it was a great day for me” (Sacha, MBA student).

So, what does this mean for programmes and pedagogy?  We can no longer rely solely on text books because we are only just starting to uncover the questions we need to ask.  Understanding how we can live sustainably with ‘enough for everyone, forever’ has not been addressed before and we do not have answers yet.  We need to be comfortable asking difficult questions and seeking answers in novel ways.  Social learning is one approach being used to develop new concepts.  Dr Karen Thompson and Dr Nigel Williams have been collaborating with practitioners to ask novel questions and develop new resources for education, research and practice of Responsible Project Management.

An argument made by Karen is that sustainability should not be seen as an ‘add on’ to the curriculum, rather it should be used as a lens through which we view all aspects of our discipline.

Experiential learning will be important for developing a sustainability mindset among learners.  ‘Living Labs’ are recognised in BU2025 and can be expected to play a useful role for both education and research in the future.  We need to develop learners’ sense of agency and confidence that they can make a difference in the world.  Virtual reality may have a role to play in developing the capabilities for managing more responsibly.  Lastly, we need to encourage our graduates to become advocates for better decision-making in the organisations they will work in.

For further information, or for advice about running your own sustainability event, please contact Dr Karen Thompson or Professor Janet Dickinson, both from Faculty of Management.

Sustainability Symposium

The Faculty of Management held a “Sustainability Symposium” yesterday as one response to the challenges facing businesses today. Organised by Dr Karen Thompson in collaboration with Professor Janet Dickinson and Gwyn Jones, a Director of the Association of Sustainability Practitioners, the event brought together over 50 participants, including academics from a range of disciplines, students and external practitioners.

Sustainability is not just about technology, as Professor Janet Dickinson explains:

“The Committee on Climate Change suggest the UK could achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  Technology is expected to produce 38% of the reduction, societal/behavioural change delivering 9% and the remining 53% coming from a combination of both.”

Clearly, social scientists and business experts will need to work with the technologists to develop solutions and change society if we are to achieve this target.

Nor is sustainability just an issue for future generations.  The impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are here today and, according to the latest models, we only have a very short window of opportunity before the planet reaches a ‘tipping point’ beyond which we will be unable to reverse progress towards an uninhabitable planet.  “Being less unsustainable is not the same as being sustainable” (Hugo Spowers, Founder & CEO of Riversimple).

Sustainability is high on the list of priorities for BU.  Our BU2025 vision includes KPIs for all our research and education to be aligned with one or more of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and a new Strategic Investment Area has recently been launched in ‘Sustainability, Low-Carbon Technology and Materials Science’.

Business is one of the greatest forces on the planet.  Emerging research suggests that companies who proclaim their ‘green’ credentials most loudly often perform the worst, not just in terms of the environment but also in terms of profits and shareholder value over the long term.  Trading-off between the short term and the long term, or between domains, does not produce sustainability for a business.

One of the questions posed by Gwyn Jones was ‘What are we trying to sustain?  He suggested that what we are aiming to sustain is life.  And the question we do not yet have an answer to is ‘How can 10 billion people live in harmony and peace, equitably by 2050?’

Seeking answers to this question in a business context involves developing our understandings of the dependencies among profit, people and planet.  In other words, every business depends upon a community, and all communities depend on the natural environment.

All businesses draw resources from and have impacts, both beneficial and detrimental, on the other domains.  Awareness and understanding of these dependencies will be required if we are to make progress.  The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals can provide a useful framework for analysing impact and are mapped against the biosphere, society and the economy.

Sustainability has profound implications for both education and research.

We explored the question ‘Can sustainability be taught?’ (see a separate post on this).

Research on sustainability is likely to require one or more of the three characteristics identified during the event:

  1. Cross-disciplinary thinking that seeks to understand the complexity of social practices
  2. Fundamental re-thinking of existing models and ways of doing business
  3. Partnerships with practitioners and stakeholders representing the interests of all domains.

Further thoughts on the implications for research are discussed in a separate post (see ‘Sustainability changes everything’).

For further information please contact Dr Karen Thompson or Professor Janet Dickinson, from Faculty of Management.

Re-thinking the Profession of Project Management for Sustainability

Project management contributes trillions to the global economy; driving business innovation and converting politicians’ promises into new systems and constructions that are intended to improve everyday life.

Sustainable development is a global priority and yet sustainability and project management do not sit comfortably together.  There is tension between the long-term focus of sustainable development and the inherent pressure on projects to deliver against short-term measures of success.  Furthermore, projects regularly fail.  For example, Meier (2017) suggest 71% of projects in 2015 failed or were challenged.  The financial, social and environmental costs of wasted resources and lost opportunities each year are also measured in trillions across the globe.

The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Dr Karen Thompson and Dr Nigel Williams, both from the Department of Leadership, Strategy and Organisations, recognise that principles of responsible management and sustainability must be effectively incorporated into project management research and practice.  Without responsible project management, projects are likely to hasten degradation of the environment and increase tensions in society.  As a growing population competes for scarce resources, human conflict across the globe is likely to worsen.  Responsible management of projects is therefore globally significant.

An international, cross-disciplinary workshop to think about Responsible Project Management was recently hosted by Nigel and Karen at BU.  One focus was the project manager competencies because Wheatley (2018), among others, argues that enhanced project management capabilities would increase the beneficial impact of projects.  A central premise to emerge was that managing projects responsibly will require project managers to go beyond delivering defined results for specific customers to managing the impact of their activities on society and the environment.

The workshop brought together leading academics and practitioners to begin exploring the concept of Responsible Project Management, with a particular focus on what competencies project managers require to think and act responsibly.  An amazing 43 people engaged with us over two and a half days.  Feedback collected formally and informally was incredibly positive.  One outcome is recognition that the role of a project manager need to shift from a functional role, to leading and facilitating sustainable change.

Steve Knightley

The event began with a relaxed and informal afternoon with Steve Knightley, multi-award-winning musician/song writer, who shared his journey of creating a sustainable business.  The following day, BU’s Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Tim McIntyre-Bhatty, welcomed participants and shared his vision of the future, including BU2025.  Other participants from BU included the Head of BU’s Programme Management Office, Jackie Pryce; BU project managers; and Sustainability Manager, Neil Smith.  Colleagues Dr Mehdi Chowdhury, Senior Lecturer in Economics, Tilak Ginige and Dr Sulaf Assi, both from the Faculty of Science and Technology, and several BU students contributed presentations and stimulated discussion.

External participants included Professor Darren Dalcher, Director of the National Centre for Project Management; Professor Andrew Edkins, Director of the Bartlett Real Estate Institute and Professor of the Management of Complex Projects; Professor Gilbert Silvius, thought leader and author on sustainable PM from the Netherlands, and other UK academics.  Representatives from two professional bodies – the Association for Project Management (UK) and the Project Management Institute (USA) – reflected a range of practitioner perspectives; Arup Director Rob Leslie-Carter joined us via Skype, and Rowan Maltby, Project Consultant at Pcubed participated.  Sustainability thinking was used to provoke discussion and challenge norms, led by a Director of the Association of Sustainability Practitioners, Gwyn Jones.  We discussed B-corps, a new type of business organisation where the aim is to deliver value to stakeholders without preference.  Unlike not-for-profit organisations, B-corps recognise the importance of profit, because without profit a business is not sustainable.  Organisation and governance of B-corps reflect a need for stewardship of resources and impacts across a wide range of stakeholders, including the environment, users of outputs, staff, suppliers, and the wider community.

The workshop generated ideas about making project management a profession that goes beyond a technical function delivering outcomes defined by others.  We suggested a range of competences and understandings project managers will require if projects are to be managed responsibly in the future, such as dealing with uncertainty, ethical complexity, and better anticipation and mitigation of damaging unintended consequences.  Workshop outputs included ideas for research bidding, writing papers, learning, teaching and module content.  Already we are collaborating on a guide for project practitioners to begin sharing the ideas with national and international audiences.

References

Meier, S.R. 2017. Technology Portfolio Management for Project Managers. Available online: https://www.pmiwdc.org/sites/default/files/presentations/201703/PMIW_LocalCommunity_Tysons_presentation_2017-02.pdf [Accessed 7 July 2018]

Silvius, A.J.G. 2017. Sustainability as a new school of thought in project management.  Journal of Cleaner Production. Vol. 166. Pages 1479-1493

Wheatley, M. 2018.  The Importance of Project Management.  ProjectSmart. Available online: https://www.projectsmart.co.uk/the-importance-of-project-management.php [Accessed 8 July 2018]

Creative launch for Responsible Project Management research

Dr Karen Thompson and Dr Nigel Williams, of the Department of Leadership, Strategy and Organisations, are drawing on the creative industries to kick-start research on Responsible Project Management.

They have designed a 2-day interactive workshop that will bring together leading researchers and practitioners from across the UK and Europe.  This inter-disciplinary event will begin to consider how Project Managers can develop sustainability competencies to meet the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  A social learning approach, incorporating ‘Open Space Technology’, will be used to develop new understandings, practices and relationships.  Building on existing literature on Responsible Management, an important objective of this workshop is to identify a future research agenda for Responsible Project Management.

To get participants into a creative mindset, the workshop will be preceded by a relaxed and informative event with multi-award winning singer/songwriter Steve Knightley.  His journey is one of growing a business from grass roots to international fame.  A business that delivers excellence and fosters a warm embracing sense of community, and a journey that has taken him from local pubs to the Albert Hall, and beyond.

Academics and practitioners with a keen interest in sustainability from any discipline are invited to join one or both events.  Booking is essential.

Monday 2 July Growing a Sustainable Business  https://growingasustainablebusiness.eventbrite.co.uk

Tuesday 3 & Wednesday 4 July: Responsible Project Management Interactive Workshop https://responsibleprojectmanagement.eventbrite.co.uk

 

Background and rationale for research on Responsible Project Management

Responsible project management is the concept of incorporating the UN’s 17 Sustainable Goals in Project Management.

Projects and project management are now widely recognized by organizations as being essential to achieving their strategic objectives (Turner 2014).  Project management is a transferable skill, and projects are the engines of change across industries and in many aspects of business.  Research on project management therefore sits at the heart of business, management and education.  Since projects are conceptualized and realized by temporary, heterogeneous groups of individuals, existing management interventions from Operations and Supply Chain Management such as ISO14000 may be of limited value. There is therefore a need for Project Management researchers to develop academic insights that can encourage the application of responsible principles as well as the development of Project Managers with the competencies to deliver projects informed by knowledge of sustainability issues.

Sustainability is formally recognized as a global priority and impacts all aspects of project management (Silvius 2016).  The domain of management has begun to incorporate sustainable principles using the UN Goals which inflenced the Global Compact framework on Human Rights, Labour, Anti-Corruption and the Environment. At BU, Sustainability is a strategic investment area.

There is an emerging strand of research at the intersection of project management and sustainability.  However, the focus of existing research is developing metrics to evaluate project outcomes.  Incorporating sustainability into projects requires project managers to go beyond delivering defined results for specific customers to managing the impact of their activities on society and the environment.

Building on existing literature on Responsible Management, an important objective of this workshop is to identify a future research agenda for Responsible Project Management, with a focus on developing new researchers and practitioners. The workshop will feature organised, cross-disciplinary interaction among researchers and practitioners.

 

Responsible Project Management in Bangladesh

A multi-disciplinary team led by academics from the Business School have been awarded part of BU’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to conduct research on Responsible Project Management (RPM) in the context of the ‘Rohingya crisis’ in Bangladesh.

“New knowledge about project management will be developed by studying and sharing understandings in the context of a human and environmental crisis, with particular emphasis on the competencies required to successfully engage diverse stakeholders” explains Dr Karen Thompson, from the Department of Leadership, Strategy and Organisations (LSO).

Dr Nigel Williams, Senior Lecurere in the LSO Department, elaborates, “Project management is often presented as an instrumental sequence of activities with defined outcomes.  However, the reality of project practice involves uncertainty, ambiguity and complex human interactions with unpredictable outcomes.  These challenges vary by context and particularly in developing countries which may be recovering from natural or man-made disaster, the rational/instrumental perspective of project management may be of little value.”

Bangladesh faces a large scale human disaster and is a country already highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of natural disasters due to its geographical location, flat and low-lying landscape and population density.  Refugees arriving from neighbouring Myanmar are living in “an extremely precarious situation” (MSF 2018), and creating serious economic, social and environmental challenges.  The economic impact of Rohingya refugees on the Bangladesh economy was already the subject of investigation by Dr Mehdi Chowdhury, Senior Lecturer in Economics at the Business School, who is a former resident of Bangladesh and joins the team.

Tilak Ginige, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Law, Faculty of Science and Technology, completes the team and has previously worked in the field of asylum immigration law.

The project will be funded for two years and will bring together the two disciplines of project management and responsible management.  Empirical research in Bangladesh will be complimented by a collective social learning process with stakeholders to jointly frame and define problems, determine boundaries and intra team interactions.  Outcomes are expected to improve the management of projects in Bangladesh and to develop new understandings, practices and sustainable relationships.  New knowledge will have the potential to improve the management of projects and stakeholder engagement in other developing countries and projects where sustainable development is a priority.

For further information please contact Dr Mehdi Chowdhury  mchowdhury@bournemouth.ac.uk

MSF 2018. Rohingya Refugee Crisis. Available online at: https://www.msf.org.uk/issues/rohingya-refugee-crisis?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIrd6skYCP2gIVyZkbCh2BKAwZEAAYASAAEgLEOPD [Accessed 29 April 2018]

Photographs courtesy of Mohammad Romel