Embedding Project: The Road to Context

Project Lead:

The road to Road to Context is easier than it might seem.  Several of the corporate members of the Embedding Project — a long-term partnership hosted at the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University involving dozens of companies and several universities from North America, Europe, and South Africa — found they were increasingly being asked to put their sustainability performance in context. While eager to understand how they could best factor social and environmental limits into their corporate strategy and goal setting processes, they were directed towards multiple different initiatives and tools that promised to assist them in this process. Many felt overwhelmed and the need for a freely available resource to help navigate this evolving space became apparent. The Road to Context began.

The bulk of the work was undertaken by Rylan Dobson, Project Manager Community of Practice on Contextual Strategy-making and Dr. Stephanie Bertels, the driving force behind the Embedding Project.  Together, they interviewed companies and spoke with experts to identify what methodologies, frameworks, and tools were available and to find out what companies were doing about context. At the same time they worked with the companies to break things down into a 4-step framework and matched the various tools to these key steps.

The companies also wanted to know what others were doing, so they applied the framework to a selection of leading companies who were beginning to explore integrating context into some of their more relevant social or environmental issues. Drawing on information from their websites and their reports, and then reaching out to the companies themselves, they were able to assemble almost 50 cases (and the work continues).

Each stage of the project was shared with the members of Embedding Project’s Community of Practice in order to gather important insights on how the language and the framing of different steps could be improved and made more practical for use in a corporate setting.

The end result of “Road to Context” is a free guide that lays out four key steps to contextualising strategy and goals. Assisted by the guide, which combines rigorous research methodology with practical testing in a corporate setting, companies are better able to understand and prioritise their largest impacts on social and environmental issues in order to better allocate resources where it makes the most strategic sense to direct efforts. A supplemental interactive casebook illustrates how these steps are being applied in practice by comparing and celebrating the efforts being made by early adopters of a contextual approach.

The team is now piloting the framework with partner companies and helping support them as they begin to address context as part of their corporate strategies.

At a time when a lot more companies are trying to head in the right direction, a map is now in place.