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Social accountability and stakeholder engagement for sustainability: Shaping organisational change in higher education?

Special issue call for papers from Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

Guest Editors

Dr Christian Herzig, Dr Jasmin Godemann, Prof Jeremy Moon
University of Nottingham, UK

Prof Jan Bebbington
University of St Andrews, UK

The special issue

Higher education institutions are increasingly called upon to play a leading role in moving all of us to a more sustainable future.  They create economic, social and environmental impacts as they educate students, provide research, strengthen communities, operate their campuses and business, and influence behaviours that form today’s and future society.  It is a somewhat curious omission that higher education institutions have lagged behind other private and public organisations in being accountable for their social impacts for a long time.  However, in the last few years there has been considerable progress in the way higher education institutions approach issues of social responsibility in education, research and their organisation.  There is also an increasing understanding of public disclosure needs in relation to sustainability.  Much less is known, however, about the linkages between the processes of social accountability and the level of organisational change within higher education.

Recent research that has explored initial linkages between sustainability initiatives of universities and organisational learning has revealed potential to initiate organisational change, emphasising the importance of making data available to the public (Albrecht et al. 2007, Gudz 2004).  Similarly, Gond and Herrbach (2006) argue that social accountability procedures – seen as learning rather than adaptive process – may lead to individual and organisational dynamic changes that foster organisational performance.  They conclude that an important prerequisite is the creation of learning processes that involve a more critically reflexive process where accepted rules, strategies and norms are questioned and improved (Argyris and Schön 1974). 

This Call for Papers aims to explore how and under which circumstances social accountability systems intervene in organisational change and support higher education institutions on their way towards sustainability.  In doing so, it seeks to enrich the literature on social accountability and organisational learning within the higher education setting which is, in many ways, distinctive from research into other public and private settings (e.g. in terms of tenure, long-term employees, loosely coupled systems) (Kezar 2005).

To better understand the effects of specific organisational structure and the interaction between different groups involved we also call for closer examination of the effects of stakeholder engagement through dialogue within the contexts analysed.  There is considerable research to suggest that stakeholder dialogue plays a vital role in social accountability mechanisms (Gray et al. 1997, Owen et al. 2001) and may produce tangible changes in organisations’ practice (Burchell and Cook 2006, Godemann and Michelsen 2011).  Less is known, however, about how stakeholder engagement within social accountability processes initiate and/or support organisational change.  Bebbington et al. (2007) also criticise the absence of agreement on what types of stakeholder engagement facilitate incremental change of organisations.  They propose that engagements within social accountability research can only be understood if researchers consider a number of interrelated contextual factors such as institutional frameworks, power dynamics, epistemology, language and discourse heterogeneity, or community and identity.  Following this, we want to explore how the ability to change through dialogic social accountability and different forms of stakeholder engagement is viewed at various levels of higher education institutions.

This special issue calls for contributions that investigate the logic of higher education institutions for adopting social accountability and stakeholder engagement techniques to foster organisational change.  It intends to provide a platform for discussion and research into organisational and practical barriers to implementation of social accountability processes within higher education institutions and the implementation and effectiveness of different forms of stakeholder engagement.  In this way, the special issue is expected to provide new fruitful insights into the links between ‘university social responsibility’, social accountability, stakeholder engagement, and organisational change for sustainability.

Some research questions that might be addressed in this special issue include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • How can organisational change in higher education institutions be initiated and/or supported through social accountability processes and stakeholder engagement?
  • What are higher education institutions’ logics for adopting social accountability and stakeholder engagement techniques to foster organisational change?
  • How can the relationships between the kind of learning process and the level of organisational change be described?
  • What mechanisms promote and enhance social accountability and stakeholder engagement?
  • What are the limits of these mechanisms and how might these challenges be revolved?
  • What constitutes engagement with stakeholders and how do different forms of stakeholder representation and engagement affect different aspects of organisational change?
  • What are cultural and organisational barriers to the communication between stakeholders engaged in the social accountability process and to the overall change process and how might these be resolved?
  • How do individuals interact around and through forms of social accountability systems?
  • Which accountability and engagement frameworks can help to advance institutional capacity to sustain progress in the area of university social responsibility?

This special issue is open to papers from different academic disciplines that are theoretical, conceptual, or empirical in nature and present new insights and innovative ideas on the role of social accountability and stakeholder engagement to foster organisational change in higher education. 

Please note that this is not a call for papers on education for sustainable development.  Our interest is in organisational responses to the challenge of sustainable transformation and the role of social accountability and stakeholder engagement processes therein.

Submission instructions

The submission deadline for this special issue is 31st July 2012.

Manuscripts should be sent via Scholar One Manuscripts Please select the special issue from the list. Author guidelines can be found here.

The editors welcome enquiries and declarations of interest in submitting as well as earlier submissions.  All papers will be reviewed in accordance with AAAJ’s normal procedures.