Biodiversity offsets: market and measurement

Earlier in the year, I published a new paper in the Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal. This is based on my PhD research, and analyses the pilot biodiversity offsets market in the UK, which ran between 2012 and 2014. The paper is titled The contested instruments of a new governance regime: Accounting for nature and building markets for biodiversity offsets (catchy, isn’t it? I know!).

AAAJMy argument in the paper is that the pilot project was an attempt at devising a new form of nature governance in the UK. However, the various components of this plan – the political project which underpinned it; the knowledge base involved in bringing nature to market; and the actual existing biodiversity proved mutually contradictory, and as a result failed to ‘mesh together felicitously’, to use a phrase coined by Hébert (2014) (behind paywall).

I really enjoyed writing this paper. It strikes at the heart of my interests – the mechanisms, actors and techniques by which economies are constructed. The idea of appraising the internal contradictions in economic experiments is one which needs more attention, in my opinion.

The paper also does something else: by noting how marketisation can fail to take hold, it shines a light on the processes by which the neoliberalisation of nature can fail. Neoliberalism is not a given; making it work takes a lot of effort, which is why the cases of (apparent) failure are so interesting.

The paper can be found here.

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Avoiding adverts on social media

I have recently published a paper on the Journal of Customer Behaviour about the reasons why people may avoid adverts on social media. It was co-authored with Caroline Moraes, Nina Michaelidou and Michelle McGrath.

Our research question revolved around what can be termed ‘controversial adverts’: ads which attempt to cut through the noise of social media by shocking viewers. It’s a well-known and widely used tactic and there are plenty of examples out there. Personally, I always remember how shocked I was when I first saw this Plane Stupid ad on YouTube, back in 2009. Brilliantly executed, utterly sickening:

SMAdAvoid

The paper analyses how consumers’ perceptions of adverts as controversial can result in ad avoidance in the specific context of social media. Using a Structured Equation Modelling approach, we show that this is indeed the case, but that the effect is moderated by other dimensions, such as ethical judgement.

Personally, I found this a very interesting project. Thematically and methodologically it feels a bit removed from my area of expertise, but I enjoyed learning about and employing new methodologies (despite previous experience with quantitative methods I’d never used SEM), as well as working with colleagues from various other institutions.

The paper can be found here.

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Regional Strategies for Economic Development – an update

As I mentioned recently, the ReSSI project is fast coming to its end. The final delivery will be delivered on the 30th November, and we expect it will be available at some point in mid-January.

In the meantime, the 3rd (Draft Final) Report is now available on the ESPON website. This report involved a big conceptual step for the team: we worked really hard to develop a series of (draft) recommendations for our stakeholders, and took some clear steps in terms of ideas for policy transfer.

ReSSI R3

The team is very happy with the outcome, as we have also received positive feedback from the local and regional authorities involves, as well as from the funder. And if you’re interested in learning more about how we got to those findings, you can see the ‘Scientific Annexes’ for each of the case studies.

Feel free to click and read the report. And if you have any comments or suggestions, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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The executive summary, a dark art

The ReSSI project is fast approaching its conclusion. What a year it has been! The team has been hard at work on the various case studies, the third (draft final) report has been submitted, and I have been asked to rewrite our executive summary. Oh, I see.

Like any other researcher, I must have read dozens of Executive Summaries. I even wrote a couple of them myself, one for my PhD and another one for the Jewellery CSR project. But I not happy with either. They are too long, too detailed, and don’t really grab the reader’s attention.

It turns out that writing abstracts for academic papers is very different from writing executive summaries for project reports. Yes, both are sections that you write at the end of the piece, to summarise the work you’ve done. But that’s where the similarities end. And it can be surprisingly difficult to get the tone of the Exec Summary right, even for experienced academics.

So what is the way forward? As with so much else in life, one solution springs to mind: Google it. Yes, I know.

I found two very useful resources: SkillsYouNeed and WikiHow.

From the first, I got the idea that there are two important questions you need to ask yourself before writing an Exec Summary:

  1. Who is the intended audience of my executive summary?

  2. Which of the contents of the paper that I am summarising do they really need to know?

This sounds like basic stuff, but it’s fundamental: the Executive Summary is based on the needs of the reader. Your findings are only important in the sense that they can help with somebody’s problem. The ‘contribution’ of your research is only as important as the problem it helps solve.

From WikiHow I am getting a set of six points:

  1. Understand that an executive summary is a short review of a business document. “Short” and “review” are the key words here.

  2. Make sure it adheres to certain stylistic and structural guidelines: Short and concise (again); should make sense if you haven’t read the original report; written in language that is appropriate for the target audience.

  3. Define the problem, in clear, understandable terms.

  4. Provide a solution. In social science, academic papers ‘address questions’. Exec summaries provide solutions. Go big, or go home.

  5. Use graphics, bullet points, and headings if the document is easier to skim that way. An image is worth a thousand words, and nobody was going to read a thousand words in the first place. Paint a picture, it lasts longer.

  6. Keep the writing fresh and jargon-free. Picture your audience trying to find their way through a jungle of acronyms and discipline-specific terms. Then picture how far they’ll throw your Executive Summary once they get frustrated with your writing.

In short, if you are lucky enough to be the able to write an Executive Summary for a project, don’t waste the opportunity. Try to make it count with the people who can use the findings. Good luck!

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Transparency and technology: blockchain

Here is an interesting article on the potential usages and advantages of employing blockchain to manage supply chains. It’s an interesting piece, and deserves reading. I like the fact that the author clearly identifies a number of instances in which this is being done. But I have a fundamental question about the key claim of the article:

As a distributed ledger that ensures both transparency and security, the blockchain is showing promise to fix the current problems of the supply chain. A simple application of the blockchain paradigm to the supply chain would be to register the transfer of goods on the ledger as transactions that would identify the parties involved, as well as the price, date, location, quality and state of the product and any other information that would be relevant to managing the supply chain.

The public availability of the ledger would make it possible to trace back every product to the very origin of the raw material used.

Unless I am reading this incorrectly, the author suggests that the blockchain would impart total transparency in terms of the major pieces of information along a supply chain, by making the identities of the parties involved and the prices charged and paid publicly available. While I am not a supply chain specialist, this feels like a pipe dream.

Through my work on ethical jewellery, I was once invited to take part in a couple of workshops organised by a start-up trying to produce a dashboard software that would help companies manage their own supply chains (mostly, but not exclusively, in the textile sector). A blockchain approach would certainly help with the data gaps that stakeholders identified at the time. But it would have consequences: companies considered information about who their supply-chain partners were, and especially the prices they paid, as trade secrets. To reveal this information would put them at a disadvantage against competitors.

When new technologies come along that promise to revolutionise the way society does ‘X’ or ‘Y’, it pays to understand that we don’t always stick to ‘less efficient’ ways of doing things out of some misguided denial of the promise of the future. Economic processes are instituted the way they are for perfectly good reasons.

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ReSSI – Project Update

The team delivering the ReSSI project has recently submitted the second report to the funder (ESPON EGTC), for discussion and approval within the next two weeks.

ESPON-EGTC-logo-mdpi

The ReSSI project examines how sustainable, inclusive and smart economic development (as defined by the Europe 2020 strategy) can be promoted by local and regional authorities in Europe, in the context of evolving landscapes of territorial governance and planning.

Before the second report is made available, you can access the initial (inception) report, which details the project cases and research approach that will be taken in the project.

If you have any questions, please get in touch using the form available on the ‘Contact’ page (above).

 

ReSSI Inception Report

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Blockchain, and the construction of a (new) economy

Harvard Business Review has an article by Joichi Ito, Neha Narula and Robleh Ali about the potential of the Blockchain in reconfigure modern economies, provocatively titled The Blockchain Will Do to the Financial System What the Internet Did to Media. Leaving aside for a moment the fact that we still don’t entirely understand what the Internet is doing to the media ecosystems, and certainly cannot tell what the end results of the transformations are, this piece is a compelling read, presenting a quasi-evangelist vision of how technology can change economies.

Blockchain_Illustration.jpg

The argument put forward by the authors rests on two main pillars: the primacy of computer programming (‘code’), and the importance of standardisation. On the first, the paper sees the blockchain code as literally the building block of the economic:

[BitCoin] offers a compelling vision of a possible future because the code describes both a regulatory and an economic system. For example, transactions must satisfy certain rules before they can be accepted into the Bitcoin blockchain. Instead of writing rules and appointing a regulator to monitor for breaches, which is how the current financial system works, Bitcoin’s code sets the rules and the network checks for compliance. If a transaction breaks the rules (for example, if the digital signatures don’t tally), it is rejected by the network. Even Bitcoin’s “monetary policy” is written into its code

The second involves the need to harmonise protocols, in order to foster the economic potential of the code:

The internet and its layers took decades to develop, with each technical layer unlocking an explosion of creative and entrepreneurial activity. Early on, Ethernet standardized the way in which computers transmitted bits over wires, and companies such as 3Com were able to build empires on their network switching products. The TCP/IP protocol was used to address and control how packets of data were routed between computers. Cisco built products like network routers, capitalizing on that protocol, and by March 2000 Cisco was the most valuable company in the world. In 1989 Tim Berners-Lee developed HTTP, another open, permissionless protocol, and the web enabled businesses such as eBay, Google, and Amazon.

Nothing immensely groundbreaking there, but it is clear that specific ideas of how the economy should be are built into the blockchain, but that these are yet to crystallise. The blockchain economy is a ‘work in progress’.

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