Collecting information – a consideration of costs and benefits Scenario: An organisation is deciding whether to collect information about its use of, and release of, water. The organisation is contemplating whether collecting the information is worth the cost. Issue: Should costs and benefits be considered when determining whether to collect the information? Solution: Yes. Costs and benefits should be considered, but determining the costs and benefits associated with collecting and then using information is not necessarily an easy task. You need to ask yourself:
1 Is it possible to collect the information reliably? If there is no ability to collect reliable information, then there is no benefit to collecting it. Collecting unreliable information can lead to wrong decisions being made by those people using the information. There is little point in paying to collect information that is unreliable.
2 Is the information relevant to the organisation? Will collecting the information potentially change future decision making? If it is unlikely to change a decision – meaning it is not relevant to decision making – then there is little point in collecting the information. Only potentially relevant information should be collected.
3 Do other stakeholders have a justifiable right to know certain information? The managers of an organisation might collect information because they believe they are creating particular social or environmental impacts that some stakeholders have a right to know about. There will, of course, be limits as to how much information about impacts can be collected and disclosed, but if the organisation is creating significant social and environmental impacts, then information about these impacts should be collected and reported. Let us now think about the organisation’s water use and discharge.
Specifically, is information about water use and discharge relevant to the organisation? In relation to water usage:
• Yes: If water is particularly scarce in this environment, such that consumption will impact a variety of stakeholders, then the organisation arguably has a responsibility, and an associated accountability, to collect information about water usage.
• No: If there is an abundance of water and the usage has little or no impact upon other stakeholders, including the environment, then we would question the wisdom in collecting the information and paying the assorted costs involved. In relation to water discharge:
• What is of relevance is how polluted is the water being released, and what impact that will have on the environment in which it is being released.
• This information needs to be known by an organisation, and if the impact is significant, then the organisation has a responsibility and associated accountability to collect information about the release of water.
• The greater the potential impact of the released water on the receiving environment (and therefore the greater the potential benefit in controlling the discharge of water), the more the organisation should be prepared to pay to collect the information.
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