Navigating Societal Issues In A Complex World

Vaccine mandates. Reproductive rights. Social justice. Net zero. Gender equality. Human rights.

The list of societal issues that have dominated news cycles — and our lives — over the last couple of years goes on and on. To this list we can, of course, now add the war in Ukraine.

Something critical has changed over the last few years. These issues are no longer just topics for political discussion. With the rise of stakeholder capitalism and falling trust in the ability of governments to solve our biggest challenges, companies are facing rising expectations to take a stand and, increasingly, to take action themselves.

We’ve seen this picture borne out in recent weeks as Western companies have faced mounting pressure to take a stand on Russia, and it is also reflected in our own research. According to Edelman’s 2021 Connected Crisis study, 68% of executives said that their respective companies are facing pressure to be more vocal about key societal issues. And to complicate matters, this pressure is increasingly coming internally as well as from external parties.

While simply making a statement might seem the easiest path to take, it may be easier said than done. The decision of whether to act — or speak up — on any given issue is fraught with complexity:

  • Do your different stakeholders agree on the right approach? (Spoiler: probably not)
  • Is your own business on a strong footing on the issue in question?
  • Are you getting stretched thin with commitments over myriad issues?
  • Can you justify taking a stand on certain issues but not others?
  • How can you maintain consistency and integrity across your various decisions over time?
  • The sheer number and variety of issues facing companies today renders any attempt at ad-hoc decision making inefficient and inadequate, with decisions based in emotion or bias rather than business considerations. Companies and their leaders need a clear, consistent approach to deciding when and how they will speak up or act – a decision framework for complex times.

Introducing Societal Issues Navigator

That’s why we’ve developed Edelman Societal Issues Navigator — to provide a consistent, strategic approach to help companies chart their course through societal expectations on complex issues.

Societal Issues Navigator combines our expertise in helping companies evolve their business in the face of societal expectations, with a digitally powered decision-making framework.

This framework revolves around several key sets of considerations, based on our team’s years of experience in counselling clients through these issues and grounded in key dimensions related to building and maintaining trust. Each has layers of complexity requiring data-based insights and thoughtful discussion across groups of stakeholders, and which affect the approach a company should ultimately take, both internally and externally.

Through this process, we empower companies to move forward with confidence, safe in the knowledge that they have considered the right factors and that their decisions are grounded in a rigorous, purposeful approach to navigating societal issues.

Find more information on our Societal Issues Navigator offering here.

Dave Fleet is Global Head of Digital Crisis.