A Crowd of Watchdogs: Toward a System Dynamics Model of Media Response to Corporate Social Responsibility and Irresponsibility Initiatives
Posted: 20 May 2010 Last revised: 19 Aug 2013
Date Written: April 21, 2010
This article applies system dynamics analysis to understand the interaction of actors whose opinions and activities impacted on corporate initiatives in the Danone boycott of 2001 (Hunter et al. 2008) and the “Beyond Petroleum” branding campaign of BP P.L.C. in 2001-2005 (Hunter et al. 2010). The analysis shows a complex interaction of 59 feedback loops in the two cases, demonstrating how at different moments, different stakeholders play a highly visible watchdog function in defence of their own interests. Over time, the delayed responses of stakeholders combine into new vectors of influence, stabilising or disequilibrating different points of the overall system. In one of our cases, these dynamics partially explain the paradox of how “doing well by doing good” may be transformed into “looking bad by doing good.” In the other case, these dynamics indicate why management efforts to frame divisive issues in a positive manner for the firm failed. Both cases suggest how factors identified in previous research, such as attributions of motive to actors in a crisis, may be amplified as correlations between distinct objectives are established by stakeholders occupying positions in various sectors of the organisational environment. We conclude that initiatives aimed at reinforcing organisational image or reputation may be less dependent on the responses of individual actors than on the effects generated by feedback loops within the overall system within which such initiatives occur. Thus attempts to disrupt the system may increase the risks for an organisation, by increasing its isolation relative to other actors.
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