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Interview to Stephen King,
Senior Lecturer in Media at
Middlesex University, Dubai

Stephen is an experienced practitioner and lecturer with over 15 years’ experience working for global PR firms managing campaigns across Europe, the Middle East and Africa and he is a Fellow of Advance HE in the UK. Stephen teaches within our journalism, advertising and PR, and digital media programmes, and is a Member of the Middlesex University Institute of Sustainable Development. His research interests include sustainable development and corporate social responsibility, digital and video communications, social justice and public diplomacy.

Starting from one of your latest study “UN Sustainable Development Goals: A framework to evaluate sincerity for implementing long-term sustainability pledges”, would you like to explain its key findings?

The purpose of the paper was to propose a rubric to help evaluate the sincerity of pledges to advance the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs). It asks whether pledges to fix global challenges are credible and sincere, or simply a strategy to distract society at large in order to maintain national hegemonies, business as usual international relations, or to honour loyalty to other ‘particularities’ such as money, politics and power?

The study involved a literature review of sustainability reporting standards from the leading sources – e.g. the United Nations, Global Reporting Initiative, and ISO; and then explored relevant academic studies. This resulted in a rubric based on ‘perception’ – where what a citizen can perceive with the “eye and ear” could be used as evidence to support their judgement. This rubric is intended for use in evaluating Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) which States have committed to sharing with the UN every four years as part of the Agenda 2030 follow-up process.

The overall rubric is based on 4 “Cs”: COHERANCE: where actors are seen to walk the talk i.e. actions and outcomes are matched to promises; CONTENT: that reports are designed in a methodological fashion based on international standards; COMPREHENSIVENESS: that reports present both the failures, as well as the successes along with reflection on what needs to happen to mitigate repeat of the former. And finally, COLLABORATION: which examines the involvement of different stakeholder groups in the formation of a report.

The next step for the research team (or others) is to apply the rubric to a specific nation state and to use that to provide evidence for the validity of the rubric.

Sustainability has been shaping public debate for two decades now. Are there any interesting topics in this field who are worthwhile mentioning for their being at the forefront of communication research? 

I have based my research on perception due to the continuing lack of empirical data to drive public policy. The rubric was therefore inspired by the work of Lock and Seele (2017), Rex and Lobo (2015) and FIABIC international and UN Habitat (2017) who have all published or argued the use of a form of perception in research or policy.

Today, the SDGs have over 200 indicators to help track the performance of State actors. But these continue to be refined (latest update June 9, 2022), and there remain a large number of ‘Tier 2’ indicators which are not being universally collected. There are significant structural issues related to the gathering of this data – the most obvious being the scale of the project and the significant inequalities of wealth between nation partners. Therefore, I am proposing a new form of evaluation is required to help inform leaders and their publics.

How is this push towards sustainability going to change the way PR professional will design their projects in the future?

The UN declared a decade of education for sustainable development between 2005-2014 and the first graduates of this period will shortly begin taking the reigns as PR managers in key campaigns. It can be hoped that these young minds, equipped from an early age with tools and knowledge to address the current problems, will bring these talents to guide society to a more sustainable future.

Suggested by Stephen King also:

Schools2030 Global Forum

HESI+10 Global Webinars and Forum

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