Sustainability efforts often fail due to a piecemeal approach that does not take into account the key factors affecting results, because they are not immediately visible in a focused or localized assessment context. We cannot, therefore, observe only the economic landscape or the social landscape or the environmental landscape. For example, the solution to managing deforestation may come less from environmental perspectives than from economic (e.g. low farm productivity) or social factors (e.g. inadequate policies or governance).

This multi-dimensional nature of good evaluation is not always easy. We partnered with a leading international NGO (Conservation International) and eight leading firms who were frustrated with supply chain investments that were not leading to the sort of systemic change they hoped for among the producer communities at origin.

The pilot started in coffee with a group that includes Starbucks, Keurig, S&D Coffee & Tea, and Farmer Brothers, who formed The Coalition for Coffee Communities (CCC) under the aegis of the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), to address the big sectoral issues that are commonly viewed as beyond the scope of any single organization or firm.

The mandate is to newly conceptualize the limited, siloed perspective of most development interventions to understand – in a functional way - the interrelated factors that can leverage change. Part of the novel approach is to gain a sense of the dynamics of the economic landscape in relation to the environmental and social landscapes. For this group of partners, that goes beyond any single supply chain or small community to identify the appropriate scale and then offer a clear and shared understanding of the key challenges at that level.

The process and tools make the information functionally available in a way that managers or decision-makers can make use of it. The purpose is to enable more enlightened investments and targeted actions that can collectively address critical gaps and avoid redundant and ineffective efforts. It also can serve to align diverse actors behind good science to generate consensus and partnership. In this way communities and government become part of the understanding as well as part of the answer.

The COSA-CI tools for the CCC guide sectoral or landscape-level investment in ecosystems, agriculture, human well-being, and can better inform local governance and decision making. To do that, the landscape indicators are being tested and advanced to function not only at the household but also at the community and producer organization levels. The coalition itself has already netted some stellar results, including regional producers organizing to protect a river and reduce contamination.

The Committee on Sustainability Assessment (COSA) is a consortium of institutions fostering effective ways to measure and understand sustainability in the agri-food sector. During our Partner Spotlight from 23-27 October 2017, we'll be examining pragmatic ways COSA metrics are driving innovations and sustainability practices, through the applications of tools ranging from impact assessments to performance monitoring. As part of the Partner Spotlight, a webinar on “Effective Tools for Understanding, Managing and Accelerating Impact” will be held on Thursday October 26th at 15:00 Rome time (13:00 GMT).

Metrics is a very relevant area of inquiry for the Partners in GFAR, who are embarking on a Collective Action to develop an "Innovative Approach to New SDG Metrics for Agri-food Innovation."

GFAR Secretariat is turning the spotlight on the work and Collective Actions of Partners in GFARwho share in our mission to strengthen and transform agri-food research and innovation systems globally. Not a GFAR partner yet? Join now!