Setting the research agenda for measuring sustainability performance: systematic application of the world café method

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The purpose of this paper is to first present potential areas of research for measuring sustainability performance that emerged in a joint researcher–practitioner workshop at the 19th Environmental and Sustainability Management Accounting Network Europe Conference, organized in cooperation with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Second, the methodology applied to gain these insights, the world café approach, is critically reviewed.

The applied method, a world café approach, facilitates collaborative dialogue and was used in the workshop to uncover underlying research themes. A generalized process flow diagram for a world café is presented, highlighting critical aspects that can guide researchers considering the use of the world café method. The results are structured by means of the 5 W (who, what, where, when, why) and 2 H (how) questions, also known as the elements of circumstance.

Key topics discussed by conference attendees are identified and an overview of potential areas of research are established concerning “measuring sustainability performance”, with a topical focus on impact measurement and value of sustainability. Furthermore, based on the topics identified by practitioners and researchers, this paper develops a list of questions that can guide future research. Finally, the world café method as a means of generating insights into complex topics such as sustainability performance is evaluated.

Practical implications
The list of research questions identified in this paper can serve as guidance for researchers for selecting relevant, practice-oriented research topics. The value of the world café method as an approach to facilitating the generation of participatory and collaborative insights was confirmed for sustainability management. The generalized process flow diagram can act as a starting point when considering the world café method for facilitating large transdisciplinary groups.

Social implications
The world café is a method for facilitating practitioners and researchers exchange, and thereby presents an opportunity for spanning the research–practice gap. By bringing practitioners and researchers together to identify research areas, future research is more likely to have positive social implications.

The paper presents a recent interpretation of future research gained from a large number of sustainability professionals, including practitioners and researchers, by bringing them together using a world café. The world café is a valuable method for a collaborative set-up with immediate feedback loops, which encourages dialogue, in contrast to surveys or individual interviews, on future developments in the field.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainability Accounting, Management and Policy Journal
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)455-469
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 18.09.2018