WikiRate London forum 2014: The Future of Transparency & Ratings

By | April 30, 2014

This past March, Kaleidoscope Futures and WikiRate gathered thought leaders in London to explore the future of transparency, preview WikiRate (an innovative Web 2.0 platform in development) and reveal a research paper on key issues including trends on this topic, as informed by experts through a series of interviews. The discussions were lively and informative and the forum guests included representatives from 3BLMedia, CSRHUB, European Commission, Transparency International, Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, Ethical Consumer Research Association, SustainAbility, Hexagon and Liveminds.

While it is clear crowdsourcing platforms present a great opportunity to drive transparency issues and curate a community that puts increased pressure on business; it is less clear how we can ride the wave of this hyper connectivity to enable consumers in making ethical decisions and companies to act more responsibly?

Other issues are engagement related, how do we reach the mass consumers and break the glass barrier to the mainstream audience? Social media engagements are powerful, but can we evolve to engagement rather than mere conversations. Socially based initiatives have become a powerful tool for evoking empathy and engaging the mainstream on social and environmental issues, but is that enough to create measurable impact? And finally, do we need more regulation in place at a time when our planet is in a fragile state? We can see the melting ice caps, the floods in distant lands, and the rise in droughts and hurricanes. Climate change is real and it is affecting all of us. So how do we justify voluntary regulations at a time when our planetary systems begin to collapse? These are some basic questions explored during the project.

HowGood is using big data to empower citizens by continually increasing the number of products rated and getting that information to people at the point of purchase, so that you can find the best products for you and your family. Alexander Gillett (CEO of HowGood Ratings) is convinced that when it comes to crowdsourcing engagement, if you are successful at bringing together enough information, interesting and credible information, then you suddenly give people the ability to vote with their dollars. “You know, brick by brick building that trust. It should be about authenticity of whatever the mission is. The things that are going in favour of crowdsourcing sustainability information is the public’s increase interest and awareness in more than just the price tag and the durability of the product, but the factors that have gone into making that product. We verify our data by doing lots of testing and work with different ranges of sustainability indexes. We are constantly trying break our own data. We are constantly trying to figure out what could be wrong. There is no such thing as perfect data, but we want to build the best database possible.”Alexander Gillett, CEO of HowGood Ratings

So while Wiki type platforms are informative, a lot of them are promotional. That is why the verification process is such a critical step to the credibility of such platforms. So that we can avoid being bombarded with promo content from companies with big marketing budgets, as they actively monitor websites for data about them.

Alexander Gillett brought up an important reminder during one interview and that is we cannot necessarily fight capitalism with the current systems in place, but we can use capitalism to support something more than pure monetary means. And we can do that by giving people the resources and incentives, so they are willing and able to do that.

We must remember that corporations are increasingly playing an even bigger role in our lives than governments do, and we are regularly playing an active role on how we want to take hold of that power. Another important factor raised while interviewing on future trends of web 2.0 technologies is the hype about Big Data. For those of you not familiar with the concept, the idea behind ‘Big Data’ is that everything we do in our lives is (or will soon) leave a digital trace (or data), which we (and others) can use and analyze. There is already a huge amount of data out there and it includes actual environmental, human right data on labour conditions and data on medical trials. And this data exists. So while being mindful of individual privacy is important, perhaps promoting transparency of corporations is even more important. “We may, unfortunately, be trending the other way right now and we need to turn the tables, and make important data that concerns our planet and livelihoods available to the general public. There is a huge movement for corporate transparency. You can look at the Sunlight Foundation or Open Knowledge for freeing data in a way that is useful for the betterment of humanity.”Pratap Chatterjee, Executive Director at CorpWatch

  • Below are some interesting questions raised by forum attendees for the project in development.
  • How do we get companies to report on their real sustainability impacts and issues vs. promotional content?
  • What is the desired impact of this platform? Information or action?
  • How will WikiRate engage with the 30 million companies that are not reporting?
  • What are the incentives for organisations to share data and information?
  • How will WikiRate integrate ‘influencers’ and advocacy groups that affect the decision making process of corporate behaviour?
  • How will WikiRate achieve transparency while maintaining neutrality?

While there are few exemplary organisations actively using data to change the world, we need more community-driven projects that support and promote corporate transparency and WikiRate is another great attempt at capturing the ways companies affect our lives. WikiRate is for anyone who wants to discover or share information about how companies affect societies. You could be a shopper, a salesman, a supplier of goods to business, a newspaper columnist, or anyone who interacts with companies.

WikiRate is using this project as a building block to get a fuller picture on the transparency issue and aims to avoid biased content. WikiRate recognises that community and people are key and that incentives to engage people will be crucial. WikiRate needs the support of the wider CSR and technological communities to help make the project a success; putting the power of information in the hands of stakeholders from the grassroots up. Please join the WikiRate community by adding a claim, and share suggestions with WikiRate on communities for contact and collaboration.

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Azadeh Ardakani
Azadeh Ardakani is an independent sustainability advocate and consultant. She has a postgraduate degree in Corporate Social Responsibility and extensive professional experience working within corporate, consulting and NGO cultures. For the past year and a half, Azadeh has worked as a founding member at a think tank consultancy that helps organisations understand, anticipate and strategise around future changes in their sectors. Her work has involved working with a diverse range of clients – businesses, academics and not for profits – to help solve complex issues within the sustainability arena. Azadeh is available for consulting projects and provides purpose inspired strategy, stakeholder research/engagement, report writing, course design and project management services.
Azadeh Ardakani

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About Azadeh Ardakani

Azadeh Ardakani is an independent sustainability advocate and consultant. She has a postgraduate degree in Corporate Social Responsibility and extensive professional experience working within corporate, consulting and NGO cultures. For the past year and a half, Azadeh has worked as a founding member at a think tank consultancy that helps organisations understand, anticipate and strategise around future changes in their sectors. Her work has involved working with a diverse range of clients – businesses, academics and not for profits – to help solve complex issues within the sustainability arena. Azadeh is available for consulting projects and provides purpose inspired strategy, stakeholder research/engagement, report writing, course design and project management services.