Co-creation increases employee corporate social responsibility for many, but not all, employees

April 29, 2019

Co-creation of sustainability programs can lead to more support from employees

Story by Rob Rombouts

Engaging consumers and constituents in design efforts can strengthen connections with an organization. New research featuring Western employees as the study sample provides further insight into this relationship.

By asking consumers to help co-create value through contributing ideas to develop new products or programs, organizations benefit from the final design, but also through increased engagement, and better perception from the consumers. But not all consumers will respond to such initiatives in the same way.

Extending co-creation to an organizational context, new research featuring Western employees as the study sample found that some people respond better to opportunities for co-creation than others.

Bonnie Simpson and Jennifer Robertson, Assistant Professors in the DAN Department of Management and Organizational Studies and Kate White, from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia, conducted the research, investigating the impact of co-creation on engagement with corporate social responsibility efforts.

Working with the Western’s Sustainability office, the researchers asked staff and faculty to propose ideas for the Green Office program, and then measured intentions to participate in future sustainability efforts, as well as perceptions of Western’s environmental responsibility. The results showed that co-creation was effective in getting people with a more interdependent self-construal (i.e., that view themselves as more connected with others) to have higher intentions toward the program, and increased engagement with the organization.

“By being asked to engage in the task, respondents perceived Western as a more environmentally responsible organization compared to those who were merely provided information about the program,” said Simpson.

However, for people who viewed themselves as being more independent, (i.e., view themselves as more separate and distinct from others) it did not have the same effect. This aligned with conclusions from previous research conducted by White and Simpson which showed that people with a more independent self-construal are also less likely to respond to public charitable appeals. These results are useful for designing future programs particularly because “self-construal is something we can prime,” said Simpson.

“By using the language of we, us, our (interdependent pronouns) we can make co-creation more effective.”
In this research, a second study was replicated using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, where participants were asked contribute ideas for a program from a fictional organization, replicating the same results.

“It’s pretty rare to see many organizational behavioural experiments. You have to be able to get into the organization first, which can be difficult,” said Simpson. “The fact that we could collect within an organization was great.”

“We are proud of the Western Sustainability office for letting us work with the program,” said Simpson. “People don’t necessarily think of the Sustainability office as being research involved.”

Following the study, the researchers prepared a report for Sustainability Western for consideration for the Green Office program, and other programs.

This research also raised whether “co-creation might work in differently in organizational versus consumer contexts,” said Simpson. “For some organizations, being involved in co-creation may come from the top-down, and employees may feel like they are being told to complete the activity.” If employees feel coerced into being involved, their support of the initiatives may be diminished.

The full article can be found in the Journal of Business Ethics: How Co-creation Increases Employee Corporate Social Responsibility and Organizational Engagement: The Moderating Role of Self-Construal.


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