Acorn Ideas

Issue No. 46, November 2016

Hi-Tech for Non-tech

Keeping up with and applying fast-evolving information management solutions is critical for industries to continue to innovate their processes, products and services. Breakthroughs in information technology are catalyzing step-change advances in manufacturing, medicine and transportation technologies that will make our daily lives more productive, healthy and efficient.

But even in the traditionally low-tech fields of social behavior and non-technical business risk, we are seeing great opportunities in how emerging information technology advances can leverage change for the better.

In previous Acorn Notes, we have looked at how network theory and big data analysis can help us recognize, predict, and guide decisions around patterns in social behavior when evaluating social and human rights risks, building stakeholder engagement plans and designing community investment programs that support the sustainability of developments in emerging market countries. Specifically:

  • Understanding Network Theory – helps us apply the same principles that LinkedIn uses to understand how network theory applies to make networks of stakeholders think and behave alike, and to design management plans that engage those networks vs just individual stakeholders (see Issue 38)
  • And using Big Data – can help us understand societal trends and, again, likely behavior patterns in response to changes in social systems, such as in-migration for large new project developments or provision of a reliable energy or water source to previously underserved areas of Africa.

But even as we practice applying these developments in the social sciences, we see new technology emerging that represent breakthroughs in how we can better predict and manage social risk. Take “blockchains” for example.

Blockchains are the web-based product registration and tracking systems on which bitcoin was based. They are being used by global manufacturers, buyers and investors to verify the quality of individual products ranging from organic grain to infection-free meat to responsibly-sourced diamonds as they move through the global supply chain to the consumer. The latter example shows how blockchains can not only facilitate and justify current socially responsible behavior by suppliers, but also enhance the market value of that responsibility (and therefore drive a demand for more) by minimizing the consumer’s uncertainty of the source and control of a specific diamond.

It’s no large step to imagine how registry and tracking of items in the supply chain could translate to increasing the transparency in the trade of oil, minerals and even cash worldwide, a challenge that the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI)1 has been striving to meet since its inception in 2003. And increased transparency along such important avenues for corruption is good news for human rights, poverty reduction and more secure, long term social license to operate for industries and their investors with their host communities, particularly in emerging markets of the world.

As we absorb the implications of blockchains on socially responsible investment, procurement and decision-making, we look forward to new technologies that will disrupt how we view and manage social behavior and risks. Consider, for example, how our behaviors and decisions as individuals, cohorts and networks can be tracked and predicted by data exchanged on our mobile devices and web-based “things”2. Simple analysis of data sent and received from our smart watches will cross-reference expressions of our behaviors, opinions, moods and decisions to background environmental changes (time, weather, short term economic and other demographic trends) to generate social behavior modeling that can ultimately help us predict and, ideally, interrupt or mitigate negative trends.3

One of the keys to effective understanding and management of social behavior will always be to know how to apply cultural and experiential subjectivity to data-driven results without invalidating the “true” picture of a social system or pattern. But at the same time, understanding and finding new ways to work with the boom of information technology will help us see and manage societal patterns that have in the past been obscured and beyond reasonable prediction.

Discovery and responsible application of these new opportunities to improve social performance is a tremendously motivating endeavor for us here at Acorn International. We have a lot to learn, and welcome your ideas and dialogue at .


2Web-connected and enabled thermostats, appliances, cars, traffic signals and electric grids, for example – collectively the “internet of things”.

3See related articles on Relayr – a Fitbit for non-organic matter, at
Using smart phones to develop human behavior models at


Issue 45 -Culture – Understanding its Impact on Business and Community EngagementNot Too Technical
Issue 44 -Not Too Technical
Issue 43 -Myanmar - Another step in the transition
Issue 42 -Meeting expectations in human rights reporting - a delicate balance
Issue 41 -FPIC Is Here To Stay
Issue 40 -A Multi-Stakeholder Partnership in Ghana: Marine and Fisheries Management
Issue 39 -The Colombian Social Responsibility Framework: An Evolving Model
Issue 38 -Social Network
Issue 37 -A Community Look-back on Ebola
Issue 36 -Ghana and the Voluntary Principles: Implementing the Human Rights Protection Framework
Issue 35 -Inundation
Issue 34 -Colombia: Local Hiring Requirement for O&G Industry
Issue 33 -Mature and Frontier Mining Geographies: Where does Greater Risk (and Reward) Reside?
Issue 32 -Local Content in Mining: Increasing Expectations and Potential Solutions
Issue 31 -Fast Money Beware: Non-Technical Risk Due Diligence
Issue 30 -Social and Environmental Performance - Considerations for Difficult Commodity Price Environments
Issue 29 -A Window into the Opposing View - Stakeholder Concerns about Oil and Gas in Mexico
Issue 28 -Why Non-Technical Risks Matter to the Mexican Apertura
Issue 27 -Equator Principles:Drivers of Sustainability in the Oil and Gas Industry?
Issue 26 -The Transparency Tightrope: Examining UNEP’s New Access to Information Policy
Issue 25 -July 2014: Bouston
Issue 24 - July 2014: Land Tenure and Property Rights - Where Legal Compliance May Not Be Enough
Issue 23 - May 2014: 3 Things I Learned in Mexico - Non-technical Risks in the Oil Industry
Issue 22 - April 2014: Capacity Building on Stakeholder Engagement
Issue 21 - March 2014: Above-ground Facilities and Stakeholder Engagement: Deploying the 'CAC'
Issue 20 - March 2014: A Starting Point for Shared Equity
Issue 19 - March 2014: What It Takes to Run a Great Consulting Firm
Issue 18 - February 2014: Considering Human Rights - Trends and Lessons in Oil and Gas Impact Assessments
Issue 17 - June 2013: Managing Environmental Health in International Development Projects
Issue 16 - January 2013: Integrating Environmental and Social Performance throughout the Project Lifecycle
Issue 15 - January 2013: The State of Shale Play in 2013
Issue 14 - August 2012: Building Environmental and Social Governance in Host Countries
Issue 13 - May 2012: Human Rights and Business: A New Era
Issue 12 - February 2012: Extractive Industries Confront Pressure for Greater Transparency
Issue 11 - January 2012: Key Updates to the IFC Sustainability Policy and Performance Standards
Issue 10 - June 2011: Oil & Gas and NGOs: New Rules of Engagement?
Issue 9 - February 2010: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 8 - January 2009: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 7 - May 2008: Top Ten Lessons Learned About Health Impact Assessment
Issue 6 - January 2008: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 5 - September 2007: Results of web forum with our International Partners
Issue 4 - January 2007: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 3 - May 2006: Suggestions and tips for safe international travel
Issue 2 - January 2006: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 1 - November 2005: The Top 10 “unspoken" criteria for determining the success of EIAs


About Us

Contact us

Phone: 832-900-3997