To help celebrate the 30th anniversary of GlobeScan, I had the great pleasure of speaking with our founder and current Chairman, Doug Miller, to gain his personal insights into the evolution of the company and its global context.
Tell me about the origins of GlobeScan, our heritage and values.
Back in 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development was asked to formulate “A global agenda for change” in response to an urgent call by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Their mission was to propose long-term environmental strategies for achieving sustainable development by the year 2000 and beyond. These were the early days of sustainability.
My passion had always been in environmental topics – I was a campaigner at heart. But I soon learned that my own views were not as important as understanding where collective opinion was going. The whole focus of GlobeScan has always been on what a scientific sample of citizens wants. Our origins were based on modest Canadian values. And today, as far as I can tell, modesty still works in every culture around the world.
Our 30-year journey began by looking at awareness of environmental concerns in Canada and the USA, which was followed by a 1997 international environmental study across 30 countries. In parallel with this public opinion research, we began our GlobeScan Survey of Sustainable Development Experts around the world back in 1994. Now produced in partnership with SustainAbility, we started this survey of business, government, NGOs and institutional leaders to examine the evolving sustainable development agenda and leadership in the field.
What have been some of the milestones that you’ve seen since that time?
Since 1987, GlobeScan has been providing evidence-led insight and strategy to global companies, NGOs and governmental organizations.
GlobeScan’s Millennium Poll on the changing role of corporations was very instrumental in fostering the CSR (corporate social responsibility) movement through the first decade of the new millennium. That was also the phenomenon that helped to take our work outside of the environmental pillar of sustainability and took us into the social and economic pillars of sustainability. That shift of focus was formative in moving us along in our thinking and expertise.
The launch of our Radar global public opinion survey enabled us to explore the views of the global public on a range of critical issues facing the world, from sustainable development to the relationship between business and society. Our BBC World Service Poll (2005–2017) has given us the opportunity to gain insights on broad trends as well as regional and demographic-specific perspectives on important social and political issues. In collaboration with National Geographic, we launched Greendex, a study which measures, compares and tracks sustainable consumer behaviour around the world. And our partnership with SustainAbility on The Regeneration Roadmap aimed to provide a path to achieve sustainable development for future generations.
How have external events shaped our development and the role we played?
We saw the rise of the perceived and recognized power of stakeholders to create change for social good as communities started to win over corporations and other organizations that were trying to establish factories or mines in their community that were going to have an adverse effect. GlobeScan’s insights were a key part of the stakeholder empowerment decades, and the power of our findings credibly demonstrated that a wide range of stakeholders had become an important part of the ecosystem for consideration on key issues. Shareholders were no longer the only important ones to manage.
You talked earlier about how we’ve been looking at the citizen view for 30 years. What’s your perspective on how we balance our research across different audiences?
At GlobeScan, we are really trying to understand how society is evolving, not just in a directional way, but through the processes and interactions that happen to change the culture of conventional wisdom as well as the direction. We achieve that balance between public opinion – being the social context within which things happen – and also from views of stakeholders and experts. We are experienced in helping leaders to advance their leadership and also their “followership”, which is just as important as leadership.
What do you see as a key strength for GlobeScan now and what role do we need to play?
Today, GlobeScan is still in some ways a manifestation of those early days, the twinkle in the eye of trying to make some positive change. Our mission is to build trusted leadership to create a better future which aligns with the new realities facing our clients and the need for progressive leaders to drive positive change.
We have a deep understanding of evolutionary change in society and our role is helping crystalize what people seem to want, and helping leaders get the trust and gather the constituency to evolve things in that direction. With our focus on leadership and how it can maximize its credibility and build trust, GlobeScan is in a good position to help well-intentioned organizations contribute to the evolution of society in ways that are consistent with what the global public wants.
In these uncertain times defined by low trust in institutions, rapid technological change, hyper-transparency and a growing list of emerging trends to respond to, understanding the expectations, concerns and hopes of stakeholders has never been more strategic.
What do you think the future looks like for GlobeScan?
As a B Corp company, GlobeScan can now support the growth and success of a business community that is focused on the common good, not just profits.
So, in another 30 years and 30 years after that, I firmly believe that the GlobeScan team will have more and more understanding of societal change and have the reliable execution to help evolve leadership and followership toward a future that we want for our children.
Back in the early days I thought we had to affect massive societal change in order to achieve sustainability. But, as I’ve gotten older, I see that a five-degree change is going to be absolutely epic.