‘One of the key dangers facing society is the lack of trust and belief in experts, in government and in one of the cornerstones of Enlightenment thought; verifiable facts’
(Gavin Esler, 2017 Magnusson Lecture, Wigtown Book Festival)
Esler summarised succinctly in his lecture the ‘trust gap’ between reality and media, both in the US and here in the UK. What can really be relied upon to be ‘good news’ and what is ‘fake news’ made up to strengthen a point, cover up failings, or stir up feelings, for example?
And the same is true in the social economy sector in social impact reporting….
‘Social Value’ and ‘Responsible Business’ practices are increasingly popular across all sectors with the number of social value accounts, social impact reports, community accounts and so on being published every day on the increase (I know; I wrote one of them for Salford City Council recently).
So how do we know whether the ‘social impact’ we are reading about is truth or ‘covfefe’, (as Donald Trump put it recently)?
‘Despite the constant negative press covfefe’ (Donald J. Trump (TWITTER @realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017)
Having read how Donald Trump mobilised small local Facebook groups to swing the vote in the 2016 Presidential election in his favour, how can we be sure that in the social economy sector information provided is honestly and accurately presented in the reporting of social accounts?
Whilst we might accept that President Trump’s ‘covfefe’ tweet was extreme, it is amongst a host of thousands and millions of other social media posts which have harmed public trust in ways not seen before. Some of us recognise the persuasive powers of propaganda and the insidious, unreliable nature of much mass social media communication.
When something is new and becoming ever increasingly popular – social media or social impact reporting, for example – it’s easy to build a fragile following and just as easy to lose it – resulting in reputational damage, loss of support, withdrawal of funding or sponsorship and so on… caused by spreading unreliable information.
As someone who has been active in leadership around social value, I am interested to know what can reasonably be relied upon to be true in social value reporting? I want to know whether the data that is presented has been robustly collected, quoted, and sampled. And if the ‘facts’ that social reports contain can’t be measured in numbers or currency, that they can, at least, be rigorously examined and verified.
In the UK we don’t have a standard format for social impact reporting as financial accountants do. There are no national standards, and as responsible businesses become more popular, maybe there should be a nationally (and/or internationally) structured framework that everyone can use which confirms the credibility and reliability of independent auditing and verification?
But that exists already, so why isn’t it used more?
The Social Audit Network (SAN) has operated in the social and community sector for many years. At the grassroots of social and community enterprise, organisations have been preparing social accounts to a standard framework for audit for many years.
On 20th October, SAN has invited social economy experts into a discussion on the subject of presenting and verifying the reliability of information. The SAN Annual Gathering – Good News, Fake News, and the need for Social Audit! will examine the credibility and integrity of the social audit and explore practice around audit and assurance.
The event will include an assembly of experts in the field of social audit and assurance who be sharing different methodologies for establishing the credibility of social accounting & auditing and responding to questions from the audience.
The Experts include Alan Kay (SAN UK), Latha Suresh (SAN India), Jeremy Nicholls (Social Value UK), Mike Thomas (Grant Thornton) and Richard Cobbett (Social Enterprise Mark).
Can we build trust in social accounting and reporting? If there is indeed a lack of trust and belief in experts, as Gavin Esler says, then we must be able to establish verifiable facts if responsible and ethical business practice is to survive and grow.
Anne Lythgoe – Vice Chair of the Social Audit Network
 Covfefe – cov-fef-fay- n. – Used to describe press lacking journalistic integrity, modern-day Lugenpresse, fake news
The term covfefe originated in a tweet by US President Donald Trump, in an apparent misspelling of the word coverage.
Lugenpresse: Lying press would be “lügende Presse” in German. Lügenpresse means literally “lies’ press” or “press of lies”, since Lügen is the plural form of Lüge, meaning “lie”.