A Discursive Struggle for Getting the Balance Right? An Explorative Study of Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility as Shared Value Creation

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The dissertation takes its point of departure in the notion that Scandinavian companies practice shared value creation with considerable success due to their strong tradition for stakeholder cooperation (Strand and Freeman, 2015; Strand et al., 2015). While Danish businesses provide an interesting research context from which to find examples of shared value creation, several questions remain unanswered: what characterize the actual interaction processes between the company and multiple stakeholders when creating shared value? Are these interaction processes unproblematic and tension-free as the CSV concept theoretically assumes? And how do interaction processes with multiple stakeholders affect the CSV concept?

With these questions in mind, the purpose of the dissertation is to theoretically and empirically explore the interaction processes related to the creation of shared value through analyses of how a Danish-based company and its multiple stakeholders construct the meaning of shared value in a CSR context. The objective of the study is addressed by providing an answer to two main research questions: RQ1) how does CSR communication contribute to the processes of shared value creation? and RQ2) how is CSR as shared value creation constructed through interaction processes between the company and multiple stakeholders? These main research questions guide the dissertation, comprising three independent, yet interrelated, papers and an overall synthesizing framework text. In order to gain in-depth understandings of, and knowledge about, real time interaction processes related to shared value creation, a qualitative single case study has been conducted. While the Danish CSR frontrunner Arla Consumer Denmark (Arla CDK) is chosen as the overall case, the case study of the interaction processes related to malnutrition among the elderly and inpatients in Denmark includes multiple internal and external stakeholder voices.

Paper I “Corporate Social Responsibility as shared value creation: towards a communicative approach” focuses upon how a communicative approach to shared value creation provides an alternative to the current approach in which the notion of shared value creation is caught between a management perspective and a societal perspective. The paper provides a re-conceptualization of shared value creation as continuous negotiation processes of potentially contradicting interests, values, and voices, challenging the idea of unproblematic and tension-free processes (cf. Dembek et al., 2016).

Paper II “Caught in a communicative catch-22? Translating the notion of CSR as shared value creation in a Danish CSR frontrunner” explores how the notion of CSR as shared value creation is translated by the Danish CSR frontrunner Arla CDK and its internal stakeholders through different strategies. The study shows that the organization and its internal stakeholders employ different strategies to reconcile the institutional logics of ethics and economy, suggesting that translating CSR as shared value creation is a complex communicative matter of continuously balancing the contradicting institutional logics to maintain legitimacy in the eyes of external stakeholders.

Paper III “Discursive tensions in CSR multi-stakeholder dialogue: A Foucauldian perspective” explores the underlying assumptions, expectations, and principles guiding CSR multistakeholder dialogue in an empirical setting. The empirical setting of this study is a case study of the multi-stakeholder dialogue initiated by Arla CDK concerning malnutrition among the elderly and inpatients in Denmark. The paper reveals that CSR stakeholder dialogue is not always an unqualified success and easy access route to shared value creation; rather, it demonstrates that CSR stakeholder dialogue is trapped in an overall tension between idealization of the dialogue and its actual execution.

On the basis of the three aforementioned papers, the answer to RQ1 is that a communicative approach, and thus the bridging of contradicting management and societal perspectives on shared value creation, suggests that the interaction processes related to shared value creation are continuous negotiation processes of (potentially) contradicting interests, values and voices. The communicative approach to CSR as shared value creation acknowledges that the interaction processes related to shared value creation are complex and tensional processes, which challenge the assumption of unproblematic and tension-free processes (Porter and Kramer, 2011).

The answer to RQ2 is that the actual interaction processes through which the company and multiple stakeholders construct the meaning of CSR as shared value creation are not unproblematic and tension-free, as the CSV concept theoretically assumes (section 1; see also Dembek et al., 2016); rather, the empirical papers show that the meaning of values is contingent upon and continuously negotiated in complex and tensional processes.

These insights pave the way for a final overall discussion on how research can address the tensions inherent in the interaction processes related to shared value creation and help understand how actors work through them. Drawing on recent research on communication and tensions (e.g. Cooren et al., 2013; Putnam et al., 2016), I propose that a communication-centered paradox approach contributes to an understanding of how tensions are communicatively enacted in the interaction processes. Such a communicative-centered approach suggests a new path to the study of shared value creation that focuses upon how tensions develop as part of the interaction processes.

Theoretically, the dissertation contributes to the CSR communication literature by suggesting that a communication-centered approach is able to bridge the contradicting management perspective and societal perspective on shared value creation advancing the understanding of the tensional interaction processes between the company and multiple stakeholders. Methodologically, the dissertation contributes with two analytical approaches suitable for future research exploring the interaction processes related to shared value creation, namely: 1) an analytical framework of the processes of adapting institutional logics of creating shared value at macro-, meso-, and micro-level; and 2) an analytical framework that is able to develop a more in-depth understanding of the stakeholder dialogue processes related to shared value creation, including how roles and agendas are continuously negotiated and focal points and objectives changed as the dialogue processes develop.

Empirically, the dissertation contributes with valuable insights that can guide companies and stakeholders in their future work towards the creation of more sustainable shared value: first, it is suggested that companies and stakeholders need to consider the co-construction of shared value as complex negotiation processes to which multiple stakeholders actively contribute; second, companies need to consider the potential of adopting a more critical and reflexive approach to the notion of CSR as shared value creation rather than simply adopting an idealized win-win rhetoric; third, companies and stakeholders need to abandon the idea of stakeholder dialogue as an idealized practice and easy route to create shared value; finally, companies need to recognize the importance of being transparent about the different roles and agendas they represent internally and externally. In other words, the dissertation suggests that CSR communication is not just a matter of communicating the outcome(s) but also about creating awareness and acknowledgment of the individual and organizational values, agendas, and roles in interaction processes related to the creation of shared value.

Finally, paths for future research are suggested with the aim of advancing the understanding of the interaction processes related to shared value creation including: 1) studies that are sensitive to how different national, organizational, and individual contexts influence how the notion of CSR as shared value creation is translated, 2) studies that examine the complexity of multi-stakeholder processes focusing upon the different roles and positions that each stakeholder adopts or is imposed, and how this affects the notion of CSR as shared value creation, and 3) studies that distinguish further between the voices of different NGOs as they represent different (and potentially conflicting) interests, values and agendas.
Original languageEnglish
Place of publicationAarhus
PublisherDepartment of Management, Aarhus BSS, Aarhus University
Number of pages274
Publication statusPublished - 2017
SeriesPhD Dissertation

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