Measuring Our Impact: Our Approach
The Rainforest Alliance’s Evaluation and Research team assesses the ways in which our work contributes to our overall mission of conserving biodiversity and ensuring sustainable livelihoods. To evaluate our effectiveness, we collect data and conduct analyses at three levels.
At the broadest level, we gather Program-Wide Monitoring Data from the farms, forestry enterprises, tourism businesses and carbon projects we visit during technical assistance projects or certification, validation and verification audits. These data -- including the number of people employed by a business, harvest volumes, geographic location and the number of hectares set aside for conservation -- are aggregated to create a snapshot of our organizational reach. At this level, we can also collect data to determine patterns that reflect how best management practices are being applied, with the aim of strengthening ongoing project or supply-chain management. Although these data lack a control-group comparison that would establish what the situation might have been without our intervention, they provide a starting point for more detailed research.
The second level of data collection involves a more intensive sampling of a subset of the farms, forestry enterprises and tourism businesses with which we work. We might collect, for example, water-quality readings or household-level data on income that directly measure progress in achieving our sustainability objectives. This type of Sampled Monitoring -- as applied in a study that we commissioned on cocoa farms in Côte d’Ivoire -- typically involves the gathering of baseline data before certification, verification or technical assistance and then a follow-up in later years. Where conditions allow, data are also collected from a carefully selected control group to determine which practices have and have not worked. If we are unable to collect the information we need using current approaches, we will occasionally pilot new and innovative methods for acquiring and analyzing outcome-level field data.
At the top of the pyramid is Focused Research, composed of research initiatives that are explicitly designed to test a specific hypothesis and verify that our outcomes lead to long-term results. An example of this research is a study, currently in progress, that seeks to evaluate the impact of cocoa best management practices on household livelihoods in Indonesia. This type of research is usually conducted by third parties to ensure objectivity, and the Rainforest Alliance’s input is often limited to hypothesis development and assistance with understanding the management and policy implications of the findings.
Increasingly, all three levels of research are guided by the Rainforest Alliance’s “theory of change,” which details the logical sequence of activities and results through which we expect to bring about transformation and accomplish our long-term goals. The research not only examines our direct and indirect impacts on biodiversity conservation and livelihoods, but it also tests the assumptions underlying our theory of change -- providing us with the information that we need to adjust our approaches and hone our standards in a process of continuous organizational self-reflection and improvement.