Making sense of CSR in construction: Do contractor and client perceptions align?

The achievement of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) objectives is increasingly being viewed as of key importance in the procurement process of public sector construction projects. As such, main contractors and public sector clients are increasingly interested in and keen to espouse the benefits of CSR strategies and their measurement. However, it cannot be assumed that both sets of broad stakeholders share a common understanding of what CSR means, what it constitutes and how it can be used to serve vested interests. This research aims to provide a deeper understanding of the motivations for stakeholders across the public procurement divide to participate and engage in CSR related to the procurement and delivery of construction projects. In-depth semi-structured interviews with practitioners from main contractors and various public sector client organisations were conducted. These formed the basis of analysis in order to explore how each constituency made sense of CSR. The theoretical frame used to analyse the data drew from Weick's (1995) sensemaking approach and revealed similarities and differences in the understanding of CSR between the constituencies on either side of the contractual divide. The importance of, and motivation for, CSR participation is shared by constituencies, but an agreed definition couldn't be reached, and what 'counts' as CSR in one geographical location for one client, may not count for another. These findings challenge simplistic assumptions about CSR and highlight significant limitations on what CSR can deliver via public sector procurement processes.