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When Democratic Principles are not Enough: Tensions and Temporalities of Dialogic Stakeholder Engagement

Abstract

Stakeholder engagement and dialogue have a central role in defining the relations between organisations and their internal and external interlocutors. Drawing upon the analysis of dialogic motifs, power–conflict dynamics and sociopolitical perspectives, and based on a set of interviews with the stakeholders of a consumer-owned cooperative, the research explores the dialogic potential of stakeholder engagement. The analysis revealed a fragmented picture where the co-design and co-implementation aspects were mainly related to the non-business areas of cooperative life, while business logic dominated the most central aspects. Stakeholder engagement was mainly related to consensus building, while dialogic engagement based on a pluralistic understanding was only partially considered and then neglected. The social capital in the local area, the growing size of the organisation and the related power structure embrace stakeholder engagement, influencing the orientation of the (un)dialogic dynamic. The analysis indicates that a dialogic exchange is a relative concept which depends on the interests involved and the topics discussed. It also reveals that the key factors in the democratisation of stakeholder engagement are a mutual understanding and long-term opportunities. Common sociopolitical aspects are also important, but they do not necessarily guarantee the creation of dialogism paths. The research contributes to the critical dialogic literature in revealing whether and how stakeholder engagement has been implemented in a specific setting. It also shows the limitations of voluntarist stakeholder engagement initiatives.

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Acknowledgements

This research has been financially supported by The Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research with the PRIN Project 2010–11 “GOESE – Global Observatory on the Evolution of the Sustainable Enterprise”.

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Correspondence to Emilio Passetti.

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Appendices

Appendix 1: Interviews Summary

Category of stakeholder Role of the person interviewed Code Period Duration (minutes)
Social non-profit organisation 1 Technical manager S-NPO1 June 14 113.00
Social non-profit organisation 2 Project manager S-NPO2 May 14 84.00
Social non-profit organisation 3 President S-NPO3 June 14 84.00
Environmental non-profit organisation 1 Head of marketing for the Italian division of an international not governmental organisation E-NPO1 June 14 73.00
Environmental non-profit organisation 2 Head of consumer policies of a national non-profit association E-NPO2 June 14 87.00
Members and consumers 1 President of a local section MC1 April 14 90.00
Members and consumers 2 Representative of members in the cooperative board of directors and president of a local section MC2 April 14 57.00
Members and consumers 3 President of a local section MC3 April 14 48.00
Members and consumers 4 President of a local section MC4 April 14 45.00
Suppliers 1 Consortium of agricultural producers SUP1 May 14 97.00
Suppliers 2 Local representative of national agricultural body SUP2 May 14 81.00
Suppliers 3 Local representative of Italian farmers confederation SUP3 May 14 95.00
Public administration 1 President of a municipal hall of a metropolitan city PA1 June 14 65.00
Public administration 2 Mayor of a city of major investment for the cooperative PA2 Oct 13 65.00
Employees 1 Labour union representative EMP1 May 14 78.00
Employees 2 Labour union representative EMP2 July 14 85.00

Appendix 2: Interview Guide

  1. 1.

    General information about the interviewee: name, job position, employment history within her/his organisation, key characteristics of her/his organisation.

  2. 2.

    Identification of the nature, longevity and frequency of interaction with Alpha’s representatives.

  3. 3.

    Specification of the involvement of the interviewee with Alpha.

  4. 4.

    Grade of importance—in terms of influencing—Alpha towards the interviewee’s organisation.

  5. 5.

    Level Alpha provides the interviewee’s organisation with material or immaterial resources.

  6. 6.

    Level of impact of the interviewee’s organisation on Alpha.

  7. 7.

    Evaluation of Alpha’s ability to meet stakeholders’ expectations.

  8. 8.

    Description of Alpha’s impacts in a specific context with which the interviewee is familiar.

  9. 9.

    Level of trustworthiness towards Alpha’s commitments for future interactions with the interviewee’s organisation.

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Passetti, E., Bianchi, L., Battaglia, M. et al. When Democratic Principles are not Enough: Tensions and Temporalities of Dialogic Stakeholder Engagement. J Bus Ethics 155, 173–190 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-017-3500-z

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Keywords

  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Stakeholder dialogue
  • Dialogic theory
  • Consumer-owned cooperative
  • Social accounting
  • Critical dialogic accounting
  • Dialogic accounting