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The trend towards impact

21.04.2017

For companies and brands it has become more and more important to understand and demonstrate the impact of their commitments. FLOCERT’s Technical Services Director Frank Brinkschneider takes a closer look into the trend towards impact.

Cocoa audit in Ghana

We've come a long way. Several decades of sustainability certification, and increased compliance with ethical standards, have transformed the way businesses look at the performance of their supply chains. And as sustainable compliance moves from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’, new opportunities are emerging. More and more of the companies that have put real effort into ethical sourcing now want to better understand the impact of their commitments. They want to tell the story of change to their customers, stakeholders and employees. This desire is shifting the demand from compliance to impact services.

The right approach

Creating an effective impact service has to start with dialogue. In collaboration with our customer, we explore their business context, their relationships with key stakeholders and their approach to sustainability.
We ask: what interventions have they initiated? What changes do they envision? How can they best enable supply chain partners to implement change? And, finally: how can they adequately measure the correlation between input and intended outcome?

With those answers we co-design a tailor-made theory of change, In a nutshell, a theory of change defines the causal relations between the interventions and the planned outcomes, as well as the assumptions needed to reach these outcomes. A theory of change is important, because we can use it to establish measurable indicators and assumptions, and define a couple of pathways that will be essential to reach the expected impact.

Once it’s agreed, we can enable our customer to collect data along their supply chain, and to begin evaluating and measuring changes over time. All the different elements are then embedded into a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning framework (a MEL framework is a structured way to evaluate the monitored data on the whole impact program and draw the right conclusions.)

The framework allows us determine whether the expected change is happening, in the short, medium and long term. It means that data can be evaluated and transformed into meaningful information, allowing our customer to tell the story of what’s happening.

The right tools

Measuring impact is exciting but complex. It requires a whole new set of tools, from IT supported mobile applications for user friendly data collection, to professional data management and data evaluation software. And it needs dedicated buy-in and support across global chains.

In fact, impact demands joint effort and dedication from all players. Fundamental changes are only possible when stakeholders feel their needs are being met by the programs they are involved in.

Sector focus: food and beverages

One sector in which impact measurement has become a big focus is the Food and Beverage industry. For example, last year we created a customized impact service for a major chocolate brand that wanted to understand the impact of their particular engagement with Fairtrade certified cocoa producers in West Africa.

Together with our partners from Fairtrade International we established a theory of change, selected key performance indicators, supported farmers in the country of origin to perform on-the ground data collection, objectively verified the data and supported the National Fairtrade Organization in Germany to create a customized impact report. The report was such a success that the brand decided to expand the activity to Fairtrade sugar supply chains in Costa Rica.

Frank Brinkschneider is FLOCERT’s Technical Services Director. He also likes painting pictures professionally and in his spare time.