by Alexander Buhmann
BI Norwegian Business School

Measurement and evaluation (M&E) has long been said to be the “Holy Grail” in public relations. And the development of professional standards for M&E may be one of the most promising ways to advance public relations practice. Hence, moving away from incommensurable terminology and black box measures towards industry-wide standards in M&E has been the aim of many and for many years. Without a doubt, developments in standards have gained some considerable traction—most visible maybe in the evolution of the Barcelona Principles, but also in effort by the IPR Measurement Commission, and the Social Media Measurement Standards Conclave or the International Task Force on Standardization of Communication Planning/Objective Setting and Evaluation/Measurement Models. These efforts (and others) have tried to navigate a difficult middle way between regional and cultural differences across the globe as well as between academic approaches and results-driven approaches in practice.

Regardless of an apparent push in framework and standards design, the acceptance and application of standards in the practice varies significantly. This rases the question: what makes standards stick? There is, so far, little evidence on the general process of standard setting and following in M&E; e.g.: What are the underlying dynamics that lead to the formulation of particular standards? What are the general factors of the (varying) success of measurement and evaluation standards? What brings applications from mere talk to the level of action?

To better understand the process by which M&E standards are developed, we have analyzed the trajectories of four seminal standards attempts: the Barcelona Principles and the AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework (IEF) as well as the DPRG/ICV Framework used in German-speaking countries and the GCS Framework in the United Kingdom. For each of these, our analysis shows not only central steps undertaken in designing a standard terminology, but also reveals the different strategies in engaging audiences, experts, and adopters, as well as supporting and enforcing the various standards attempts though symbolic efforts such as labels, certification, or public knowledge resources.

Such research on standardization processes is, of course, not aimed directly at “finding the Grail”, but seeks rather to explicate the central dynamics of the “Grail Quest” itself. It is our hope that this work may add a new dimension to understanding one of the most important practical domains in the field. Further, the approach taken here may inspire related research on other important standards in the field, such as in public relations ethics or corporate reporting, were pathways to standards are still little understood.

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