LONDON — MHP Mischief has launched a consultancy to help businesses tackle the rising threats of discord and polarisation, in a joint venture with leading specialists in the field.

The new business, Accord, is led by political advisor and campaigner Alison Goldsworthy (pictured), the author of ‘Poles Apart: Why People Turn Against Each Other, and How to Bring Them Together’ and adviser to Stanford University’s Conflict and Polarization Lab.

Joining Accord’s leadership team is Steve Martin, CEO of behavioural and persuasion science consultancy Influence at Work, and MHP Mischief deputy CEO Nick Barron, who has led the agency’s ‘Networked Age’ research, ‘Communicating in a Polarised World’, to which Goldsworthy was a contributor.

Based in San Francisco and London, Accord aims to ‘help leaders to navigate divisive scenarios, to improve business performance, support innovation and strengthen stakeholder relationships’. Its launch clients include global brands in the healthcare, technology and not-for-profit sectors.

Barron said the consultancy had been set up in response to “discord and polarisation becoming the hallmarks of our age.”

“From business to politics, as societies become more divided across a growing range of social issues, leaders are finding themselves dealing with rising levels of activism from employees, consumers, shareholders and influencers,” he said. “We believe we can build something of scale offering a wide range of services beyond pure-play comms. Accord is a management consultancy where comms plays a major role, but it also covers a whole range of services and capabilities from experience design to leadership coaching. It’s an opportunity to have a real impact.”

MHP Mischief was recently acquired by Next 15, which Barron told PRovoke had “encouraged us to invest, take risks and make our offer more multifaceted, so after all our conversations about clients wrestling with the challenges of polarisation and how behavioural science might be able to help them, it was the obvious thing to scope out how we could create a new standalone offer as a joint venture with Ali and Steve.”

Goldsworthy told PRovoke: “When we worked together on the polarisation report, it had more than 6,000 downloads – I’d be happy to get that if we were a global think tank. It showed an unmet need on a global scale that we are uniquely placed to meet. This is a real chance to influence behaviour and bring people together on the ground, beyond comms strategy.”

She said: “One of leaders’ biggest problems is working out how to respond to an increasingly tribal landscape when it happens among their customer base, employees and other stakeholders, given that divides are likely to be amplified before they get better. Tension between groups can produce innovation and bring about better scrutiny and performance, but often people wait until a crisis hits and it’s too late.

"But the end game is not a boring amorphous blob of agreement – it’s to help leaders be able to understand and manage conflict and difference in a way that improves business performance rather than harms it, and – if they have got it wrong – how can they clear up the mess they have made.”

MHP Mischief’s head of brand and reputation Rachel Bower is also part of the core Accord team working with clients, and the consultancy has an advisory board made up of specialists in depolarisation, conflict resolution, persuasion science, employee engagement, international relations and reputation management from both sides of the Atlantic.

They include: Sharath Jeevan, founder of Intrinsic Labs; Saumitra Jha, associate professor of political economy at Stanford Graduate School of Business; Salma Mousa, assistant professor of political science at Yale University; Ben Kohlman, former director of the Chief of Naval Operations Rapid Innovation Cell; behavioural insights expert Alex Chesterfield; and Laura Osborne, MD of corporate affairs at campaigning business group London First.