Why explore Integrated Thinking and Reporting?

Ten universities are participating in a year-long project to explore Integrated Thinking and Reporting. Kim Ansell, managing consultant, Leadership Foundation asks Richard Dale, executive director of finance, Newcastle University, why they are taking part, what they have already learned and what they expect to gain from it.

What was the main driver which prompted you to explore integrated thinking and reporting?
Participation in a BUFDG review in early 2016 of a sample of financial statements for 2014/15 stimulated an internal discussion about the opportunities that Integrated Reporting could bring in providing a more holistic view of the University’s performance and plans. Our journey towards Integrated Thinking and Reporting has continued since then and has informed our approach to developing a new vision and strategy for the University. This will place increased emphasis on inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary work and the importance of joined up thinking both across the campus and between academic and professional services teams. We see an Integrated Thinking and Reporting approach to how we work as adding value in taking forward the vision and strategy.

Selected as one of the pilot universities for external review by the IIRC we wanted to understand how well our 2015/16 report met the International Integrated Reporting Framework and to understand how far we had to go.

What impact has your journey so far had at the University?
The IIRC review was, rightly, a challenging review and pointed to a number of areas where the University needed to do more, including the articulation of our business model and clearer identification of how we create value for a diverse range of stakeholders. With that in mind, our annual report for 2017 has been designed as an Integrated Report.

Although we recognise, as others outside the sector have advised, that this is a three year journey, we believe the report is a significant step forward from the approach in previous years. It has been particularly well received by our Finance and Audit Committees as well as Executive Board for its holistic approach.

What has been the most valuable part of the integrated thinking and reporting journey so far?
Engagement with the IIRC has enabled us to take advice from a number of successful UK and non-UK organisations who are further ahead in adopting Integrated Reporting.
We have been able to learn from their experience of how Integrated Reporting has facilitated discussion among their leadership teams on key strategic issues in a new and more innovative way. For us, the development of a value creation model in 2016-17 was a significant step forward for the University on the journey to adopting Integrated Reporting. It brought together a number of different perspectives on the relevance of Integrated Reporting to the higher education sector and shaped our approach to developing a new vision and strategy.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Within our Business School we have a particular link between practitioner and academic interests which helped us to articulate a single business model for the University – or rather a value creation model. This was a challenge partly due to the multi-faceted nature of university operations, but also because we view students and external partners as co-creators in the process of generating and transmitting new knowledge. The development of a value creation model in 2016-17 was therefore a significant step forward for the University on the journey to adopting Integrated Reporting. We believe, however that the model can be refined in future iterations to reflect value creation over different time horizons to promote a long-term sustainable approach to strategic decision making.

What advice would you have for anyone starting the integrated thinking and reporting journey?
It is important to recognise that integrated thinking and reporting is a journey that will take minimum of three years to complete. The advice we received from others outside the sector was to engage the leadership team very early in the process and to seek an explicit statement from the governing body on their commitment to complying with the Integrated Reporting reporting principles. The measures of success here at Newcastle are the feedback from internal stakeholders on the usefulness of our reporting and also from external peer review exercises which provide a more objective evaluation.

How do you plan to include colleagues across your institution in the use of Integrated Thinking and Reporting?
As we take forward our new vision and strategy, we are hoping to embed some of the principles of integrated thinking and reporting – for example to elicit better understanding of how value is created and potentially diminished over different time horizons. This will help us in our strategic planning to identify how we invest for the future in terms of our human capital, and also our infrastructure and natural environment. A first step will be to encourage key budget holders to think more holistically about all the resources available to them – not just the financial envelope available to them in the short-term. This, we hope, will help us to develop a deeper understanding of the factors that drive long-term sustainability and build value for all stakeholders.

The 10 universities who are taking part in the Integrated thinking and reporting project are; City, University of London; Leeds Beckett University; Abertay University; University of West London; Newcastle University; University of Winchester; SOAS; Sheffield Hallam University; University of Exeter and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

The next workshop of the Integrated Thinking and Reporting project will be on 8 March in Sheffield. You can find out more about the Leadership Foundation project here: Integrated thinking and reporting project

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